How to win at the Slot Machines
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Over the years, I've taken apart, worked on, or at least paid attention to just about anything electrical or mechanical. Although I never was much of a gambler, I've had the opportunity to work on gambling machines, particularly the "reel" type slot-machines, and the newer "video" slots.

Back in the late 1980's, I got a job as a "Slot Machine Technician" for a local company that refurbished slot machines and sold them to the public, where the law allowed. I got the job by answering an ad in the local paper. Although I had no experience with actual slot machines, I was familiar with the guts inside, as most of the parts are also used in other applications. My employer ran into trouble with the law and had to shut down after a year or so, but I still have a chance now and then to work on the video type slots often found in taverns.

Anyway, I'll tell you what I've learned about the machines.

The early-model "reel" type machines, where you actually had to pull the handle, were the most honest type. Once the reels were set spinning, a device of one type or another would RANDOMLY stop each reel. This device had no knowledge of where the reels would stop beforehand. After the reels were stopped, another device, maybe even a microcomputer chip, would then check the position of each stopped reel, and calculate the payout, if any. The odds of winning, were determined when the machine was built, based on how many possible stopping positions each reel had, along with what combinations paid out. On this type of machine, if one of the reels stopped only "one click" short of you hitting the jackpot, it means that you really were that close to winning! On the other hand, that does not mean you are getting "hot" and should keep playing, because this was truly a game of chance.

Interestingly, on the early model machines just described, a part of the mechanism that stopped the reels from spinning, looked similar to a bicycle sprocket. The spaces between the teeth were actually slots of varying depth, that corresponded to the value of each symbol shown on the reel, and used in calculating payouts. THIS is where the name "SLOT" machine came from!

Then came the newer "reel" style machines, that dominate today's casinos. Although they still feature reels that spin, they simply are not the same! On these, the "reels" are turned by what is called a "stepper motor", which is a special motor that can be commanded by a computer to rotate to an exact position, then stop instantly. The entire game is based upon a computer program, which most likely knows if the next spin is going to be a winner, before you even put your money in the machine! And unlike the older machines that could honestly tease you by randomly stopping one click away from the big win, these machines are programmed to do just that, tease you. A good example is a machine that takes 2 coins for the max bet, which they always suggest you should play. If you play just one coin, by golly the reels are likely to stop on 7-7-7, which pays NOTHING, with only one coin bet. So you think, damn, I should have played both coins, but if you did play both coins, guess what? It wouldn't have stopped on 7-7-7 then! But it might stop just one click from it, just like it's programmed to do. Years ago, some government agency would have prohibited something like this, calling it cheating. But these days, the government gets a percentage of every dime that goes through the machines, and the more people you can fool, the better, as long as the politicians get their cut!

Then there's the "video slots" you see in the bars, c-stores, and even casinos. These are basically the same in operation as the newer reel-type machines just described. The main difference is that the spinning reels have been replaced with graphical pictures stored in a computer chip and displayed on a TV-type display monitor. The program in the computer works very much the same, including teasing you in to thinking you're getting close to the big win. Some of these machines feature "skill-stop" buttons to manually stop the "reels", but rest assured, the computer is still in charge of whether or not you're going to win. These machines generally have adjustable odds, meaning the owner can change the payout percentage, but not while the machine is in use.


The answer is: Leave your money in your pocket, and walk right past the machines. However, while you're walking past, it is perfectly ok to observe the other fools feeding $20 bills one after another into these things. As the old saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted!

Here's the reasoning behind my answer. The machines in a casino can pay back around 85 to 95 percent, while the video slots in a tavern often pay back only about 50%. This means if you were to put $100 in a machine and play it 100 times at a dollar each, and not play any of the winnings, you could end up with 50 to 95 dollars won back. So far, the machine may have only taken you for a few bucks. But almost everyone plays the credits they won, without keeping track of them, and if you simply keep playing the machine, eventually it will take every penny from you! (That's why the machines don't show a running total of what you've won compared to what you spent, but instead lump it all together as "credits".)

Of course your buddy will tell you he cashed out for $250 last night at the bar. But during the week before, he probably stuck many times more than that in the machines. And even if it was his first time at the machines, don't worry, that $250, plus a lot more, will get stuck back in the machines next week!

The Bottom Line: The machines are a computer, programmed to make you think you are going to win. But in the long run, you're NOT going to win! Don't believe me?? If you insist on playing, you need to take a small notebook with you. On one page, mark down EVERY DOLLAR you  put in the machines. On another page, mark down EVERY DOLLAR that you cash out.  At the end of the week, add up all the money you put in. Then add up all the money you cashed out. Now subtract the total amount you cashed out, from the total amount you put in. That's how much you LOST! The longer you keep doing this, the more accurate the result will be, and the more you'll LOSE!

(HINT: Most gambling joints serve alcohol, which will impair your ability to keep track of the numbers. That's why they do it! Try to make note of all money put in the machines, or cashed out, immediately. Then take the figures home to add up later with a clear head.)

PS: The State Lotteries work very much the same! Best advice: You can't lose if you don't play!

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