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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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How to Win at Slots? Do the Math!

4 June 2008

Using strategy implies that you are seeking to gain an advantage that hopefully will lead to victory. If that's the case, there is no strategy for playing the slots.

Slot machines are programmed to guarantee a profit for the casino owners. There's no way around it and there's no way to beat them. It's all about the math.

The vast majority of the money a slot machine takes in over the course of tens of thousands of plays is returned to gamblers as a collective group in the form of winnings. The only way for individual gamblers to win, however, is to have luck on your side.

Every slot comes with information that details the math about that particular game, but those so-called "PAR sheets" are made available by the manufacturers only to casino operators.

There's an excellent publication from International Game Technology (IGT) titled "Introduction to Slots and Video Gaming" which contains a section on slot math. You can download it from the company's Website at www.igt.com.

Even though the information represents basic operations, a complete understanding of it gives slot players the knowledge necessary to take the mystery out of the games.

Before analyzing one example, there are two facts about slot machines you need to keep in mind:

  1. The reels do not spin independently of one another. Each combination of symbols or screen grid you receive is pre-determined the instant you initiate a play.
  2. The machine's RNG (random number generator) is constantly cycling through combinations, even when no one is playing.

Our model is a traditional 3-reel spinning slot with a single pay line. If each reel has 32 "stops" (positions at which the reel can stop), you multiply 32 X 32 X 32 to determine the "reel cycle", or total number of possible combinations you can get, in this case 32,768.

Of those 32,768 combinations, 3,277 of them are programmed to be winners of varying amounts. The "hit frequency" of this machine, therefore, would be 3,277 divided by 32,768, or 10 percent, meaning that the mathematical probability of winning is once every 10 spins.

If the top jackpot symbol appears two times on reel one, two times on reel two, and once on reel three, the odds of hitting the top award during any given reel cycle are 2 X 2 X 1, or four times. Divide that into the total number of possible combinations and you get 8,192. The mathematical probability of hitting the jackpot is once every 8,192 reel spins.

The math from machine to machine varies, depending upon the number of reels, the number of stops, and the number of times the jackpot symbol appears on each reel.

For example, a 4-reel spinning slot could have 64 stops per reel, which translates into a reel cycle of 16,777,216 combinations, of which 2,516,582 are winners. A 5-reel video slot could have a reel cycle of 62,015,625 combinations, of which 3,931,452 are winners. The chances of hitting the top award car soar into the millions to one.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp