If you play slot machines online, you probably have figured out by now that they can drain a lot of money. This is because this is precisely what they were designed to do—empty your pockets while bringing the casino massive amounts of revenue. The house edge for slots ranges between 2-15%! This makes your typical slot machine one of the worst bets in the casino if you actually want to win.
That said, you may be losing more money than you need to at slots. It is common to endure long dry spells between payouts, but playing with the wrong set of assumptions can lead you to make decisions which cost you even more.
If you have not yet, I recommend reading our slot machine FAQ. This is a good introduction to online slots. If you are already pretty familiar with slot machines, read on to learn some common myths and misconceptions which can put a hole in your wallet. Slots are a lot of fun, and there is no reason to avoid them, but you should at least have realistic ideas about winning before you start pulling that virtual lever.
Here are 7 assumptions which may be costing you more money than you should be losing playing slots:
- A “near win” mentality
- The belief that visual patterns you see mean something
- The notion that other bizarre “systems” can work
- Misunderstanding what the payout percentage means
- The idea that machines run “hot” or “cold”
- The Gambler’s Fallacy
- The myth that online casinos punish you for participating in their rewards program
Let’s break it down.
1. A “near win” mentalityYou have just taken a spin with no payout. As you get ready to put another coin in the virtual machine and try again for the jackpot, how do you feel?
Think really hard about this. Do you feel like you are losing? Maybe—but don’t you really feel like you just have not won yet?
When we play slot machines, winning always feels like it is right around the corner. We reason that any slot machine is likely to pay out eventually, and that if we can just hang in there long enough, we will be the ones who take home the prize. Not only that, but we convince ourselves we are inching closer and closer to that moment with every spin.
This is no accident; slot machines are built to play on this “near win” mentality. To that end, some slots even have a “near win line” which displays symbols meant to entice you into thinking that you are within some actual proximity to a payout.
The “near win line” shows up right above the pay line. It may show a winning combo, or it might show the one symbol you desperately needed to generate a win on the pay line on your previous spin. Of course, that symbol is just out of reach. If only you could nudge the machine and have it inch down into place! Maybe on your next spin … right?
The thing is, all of this is illusion. Even if the slot is showing the symbol you needed right above the pay line, that is just a visual display meant to warp your thinking and make you believe that winning is close by. But it is just an image, nothing more; it is completely meaningless. The actual result of your next spin is determined by a random number generator (RNG). The RNG does not care what symbols happen to be displayed on your screen right now.
In fact, on that note, the RNG may only generate what appears on the pay line, not on the near win line! What shows up in the near win line may be decided through an entirely different algorithm, and most likely is programmed based on the result of the pay line.
Bottom Line: The near win line has no bearing on the results of your spins—that is determined by a random number generator. It is there to manipulate you into thinking that winning is within your grasp, but that is just an illusion. If you want to manage your bankroll responsibly, learn to ignore the near win line and discard the near win mentality.
2. The belief that visual patterns you see mean something
Have you ever heard of the so-called “zigzag system” for playing slot machines?
This system holds that the patterns you detect across the slot reels are somehow meaningful. It encourages you to search for zigzagging lines of symbols, “X” formations, or “V” formations. If you spot a formation, this “system” tells you to keep playing, because you are close to a payout.
But this works on the same fallacy as the near win line discussed above. If you see a “V” shape formed by the symbols that you want to line up, you are only looking at a visual illusion of the reels on the sides “lagging” behind the one in the middle. Really, there is no significance at all to what you see.
How something like this can be considered a “system” is beyond me. It has no basis in logic whatsoever.
You may say, “But what is the harm? If there is no such thing as a real system for winning slot machines, surely I can use a system like this one just for fun?”
True enough—you can use a “system” like this if you want. Just make sure that you never lose sight of the truth, which is that it will not actually help you win. Do it for fun and for no other reason.
If you are looking for strategies that can help you, check out this article. The tips and tricks I share there mostly concern choosing slot games which are more likely to pay out in the context of your bankroll and gambling habits.
Bottom Line: The belief that the visual patterns you see on the slot reels matters is false. It is grounded entirely in the illusion created by the “near win” mindset.
3. The notion that other bizarre “systems” can work
The zigzag pattern “system” is not the only weird one I have heard for slot machines. Another great example would be the “60%” system. With this system, you stick with one slot machine until you have either won or lost 60% of your bankroll, whatever that amount may be, and then you move to another machine. Why? Who knows? It is totally arbitrary.
There is also a system where you play a slot game for 5 minutes, and then move to another game, and play that one for 5 minutes, and so on. I have also heard a variation on that “system” where you do the same for 10 minutes at each game. Why? Again, who knows? This seems to be related to the assumption that slot machines are sometimes “hot” or “cold”—more on that shortly.
Then there is the idea that at a land-based casino, you should play only “warm” coins. When I say a “warm” coin, I am speaking quite literally. You are literally supposed to rub the coin or breathe on it to heat it up, and then put it in the slot. For some bizarre reason, people think this is going to generate a win.
None of these methods work online or offline. Again, the result of a slot machine spin is determined by a random number generator.
The RNG has no clue how long you have been playing the slot game—be it 5 minutes, 10 minutes or an hour. The RNG has no idea whether you have lost 60% of your bankroll or not.
For that matter, the RNG has no idea what strange patterns you see in the reels. It does not share any of your misconceptions concerning how slot machines work. It does not even know the concept of a “hot” or “cold” machine.
In other words, the RNG is merciless, so you should treat it as such.
Bottom Line: Slot machine “systems” are bunk; they make no sense, because none of them acknowledge that it is a random number generator which determines whether you win or lose a spin.
4. Misunderstanding what the payout percentage means
When you are looking for a slot machine to play, you are supposed to search for one with a high payout percentage. For example, you should play a machine which lists a payout percentage of 98% over one that lists a payout percentage of 75%.
But what does that actually mean? Here is where a lot of slot players have some confusion.
Many people believe that the payout percentage is an indication of the amount of your own money you can expect to get back.
For example, you might think that a slot game offering a 98% payout rate will give you back 98 cents for every dollar that you stake.
This is not how it works, however; the percentage listed by the game’s manufacturer instead refers to the long-term payback rate of the slot machine.
Usually this is calculated according to the expect lifespan of the machine. Offline, that might be something like a decade. Online, a slot “machine” obviously will never reach a point of mechanical failure, so instead some arbitrary time period must be selected to determine the payout rate. But you can be assured it will be a long span of time!
So over a very long time period, the game will return around 98% of what players have put into it.
This includes very large jackpots—so you have to realize that outliers are taken into account when the percentage is calculated. Yes, 98% of what goes into the machine may come out again over time, but a lot of that will probably go to the winners to very large jackpots. In other words, you may not see much of that, if any of it.
The vast majority of slot players run through their bankrolls before they ever score a big jackpot.
So even though the machine may return a high percentage over time, it rarely does that for any one specific player. Most players simply continuously lose money, perhaps with a small to moderate win now and again to buffer those losses.
Bottom Line: You should select slot games with high payout rates, but you must not misunderstand what those rates mean. If you play a game with a 98% payout rate, that does not mean you will actually get back 98 cents on the dollar. It means that over a period of years, the game will pay back that amount to the pool of players on average. As jackpots are incorporated, that means most players will get back very little.
5. The idea that machines run “hot” or “cold”
I have mentioned now a couple of times the notion that a slot game might be “hot” or “cold.”
This refers to the belief that there are periods of time when a slot game is more likely to pay out. This has always been a common myth about land-based slot machines, and it has carried over into the online world.
Some people think that a slot may run hot or cold at different times of the day because they are convinced that casino personnel come by and reprogram the payout percentage (which is a myth).
Others have the conviction that if they sit down and play the slot, it will be “warmer” during the first few minutes of play, and then gradually get “colder.”
Some people think that a slot machine gradually gets “warmer” as more time passes since a previous win. Others believe the exact opposite—that a slot game gets “warmer” after it pays out a jackpot, and that it is possible to enjoy a winning streak.
It is understandable that we are prone to believing these kinds of things. As human beings, we are natural pattern-seekers. We look for ways to make sense out of the chaos of our environments and our lives. But sometimes that leads us to see patterns which simply are not there.
Slot games never really get “hot” or “cold.” The random number generator determines whether you win or lose, and the RNG has no memory of previous events. As a result, every spin is disconnected from the last in every way. The slot game has no intelligence and no memory. It has no idea if there is a winning streak in progress or not. So whatever you deem will make the game run hot or cold, you can be assured the RNG does not share your belief.
Bottom Line: Slot machines do not run “hot” or “cold.” Like most of the other misconceptions about slots, this belief comes down to a lack of understanding of how slot machines really work.
6. The Gambler’s Fallacy
Sometimes referred to as the “Monte Carlo” fallacy, the Gambler’s Fallacy is a mistaken belief that disconnected events are somehow causally interrelated.
Specifically, it is the belief that if an event happens at an increased level of frequency for some period of time, it will occur less frequently in the future. The fallacy also incorporates the converse assumption—that if an event is happening less often now, it will happen more often soon.
In gambling, this is one of the reasons why people believe that slot machines run hot or cold. If a machine has not been paying out a lot, it seems like it is “cold.” If it has been paying out frequently, it seems like it is “hot.” This leads gamblers to want to try and exploit the situation.
But the situation itself does not actually exist, however real it “feels.” This is because the random number generator is random, and does not remember previous spins of the slot machine.
If you want an example of this fallacy which does a good job illustrating why it does not make sense, consider the matter of childbirth described by Pierre-Simon Laplace in his book A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities in 1796.
In those times, it was financially more viable to have a son than a daughter. So families that had a lot of daughters would try again and again for a son.
There was of course a roughly 50/50 chance of having a boy or a girl. But families misunderstood what that meant. If a number of families in the same county welcomed new sons into the world within a given month, parents of a child not yet born would start to fret that they would have a daughter. Why? They assumed that the ratio for the county would have to be around 50/50. Thus they figured the fact that other mothers had borne sons meant they were more likely to bear a daughter.
This example really showcases the absurdity of the Gambler’s Fallacy. The sex of a child is determined by chromosomes. It is a biological process which has absolutely zero connection to the birth of other children sired by other parents. Probabilities are at play, but there is no causal link.
With the spins of the slot machine, it is exactly the same as it is with the children. Just as the expecting parents would start to expect a daughter if other families had sons, you might start to expect a win after a long string of losses. But in both cases, there is no causal connection between the observed events and the expected event. Chromosomes determine the sex of a child, and a random number generator determines the outcome of the slot machine spin.
Bottom Line: The Gambler’s Fallacy can lead you to keep pulling the virtual lever of a slot machine game online expecting a payout after a long dry spell. But the belief that your luck is “bound to turn” is irrational.
7. The myth that online casinos punish you for participating in their rewards program
Finally, one more very damaging myth I have encountered is the belief that participating in a VIP slots reward program will actually decrease your chances of winning a payout.
The idea of course is that the casino hates giving you all those rebates, and wants to find a way to recoup the money.
This is not how things work, however. The rebates that the casino offers you as an incentive to play slots frequently are more than made up for through your losses. Rewards programs like these put money back in your pocket, but they also pay off handsomely for the casinos. So there is no need to recoup the costs; these programs already pay for themselves.
Plus, I know I keep mentioning these three words, but I will say them again: random number generator. Random number generators cannot be altered to deliver different results based on whether you are participating in a loyalty rewards program or not.
Bottom Line: Many people worry that online casinos cheat customers who participate in VIP slot rewards programs by rigging games to pay out less. This is simply not true, and it is a really foolish reason not to participate in a program which can put money back in your wallet.
Conclusion: Slot Machines Are Truly Random, and Acknowledging That Will Save You Money
I would never discourage anyone from playing slots. Slot machines are ridiculously fun, and online there are hundreds out there for you to try.
But I do feel it is important for every gambler to understand the nature of games of chance. Slot machines do not get hot or cold, they do not respond to arbitrary systems, and they do not remember whether you have been winning or losing, because they are truly random.
Once you know that, you will make smarter gambling decisions. Whether you won or lost your previous spin, you will decide to pull the virtual lever again not because you are convinced that a jackpot is waiting for you, but because you are having an awesome time playing slot machines online.
This will prevent you from mismanaging your money, which will ultimately help you to have more fun—and maybe even win some money along the way!
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