I wanted to write a post today to address several big questions about slot machine play that comes up time and again when talking to friends or reading slot machine forums and blog posts.
It all boils down to one major question – do slot machines pay more at night?
The difficulty in dealing with these kinds of questions is that most people only have a passing understanding of how slot machines work. Expecting people to also understand the basics of probability math is maybe asking a little too much. The US public education system ranks right in the middle of the pack in terms of math instruction.
I’ll answer several time-related questions about slot machine payouts all on one page to make it easier for people to understand how, or even if, the time of day affects a slot machine’s payouts.
How Do Modern Slot Machines Work?
I think a lot of misconceptions about slot play can be cleared up by explaining to people how modern slot machines work.
Modern slots produce results using a random number generator. A slot machine’s random number generator is constantly producing strings of random numbers.
When you press a game’s spin button, you’re really just instructing the random number generator to capture one of the billions of results constantly being produced. The machine compares that random capture to the game’s programming, and you win or lose.
Not only would designing a slot that reacted to your every win and loss be extremely complicated, but it would also be unnecessary. Slots are programmed to produce a certain return for the casino operating them.
This programming produces a specific result over time. Over the short term, you won’t necessarily be playing against the payback percentage released by the game’s manufacturer.
Modern slots aren’t rigged to pay back different amounts at different times – it’s the exact opposite. Slots are programmed to pay back a specific amount over an infinite amount of time and across an infinite number of spins.
Casinos don’t need to program machines to pay back more or less to manipulate player behavior, because slots are profitable long-term for their operators.
When Do Slots Pay the Most?
There’s something I’ve never understood about the argument that slot machines pay more at night.
Why would casinos incentivize play during their busiest times? Wouldn’t it make more sense to program the games to pay back more during their off-peak times, to draw in a bigger crowd during the times when the floor is relatively empty?
Take the Winstar World Casino in Oklahoma. They’re as busy as they’re ever going to be at 9:30 on a Saturday night. Would the casino benefit from adding even more people? In fact, Winstar is close to capacity on weekend nights, so drawing in more people wouldn’t make any business sense.
It would be smarter of the operators at Winstar to program the slots to pay out more during their lightest time – say weekdays from 6 AM to 8 AM. If slot players figured out that Winstar’s slots got hot early weekday mornings, I guarantee you the crowds would gather at those times.
Slots don’t pay more or less at any particular time. They’re not programmed to do that, and it wouldn’t make sense to program games that way, anyway.
What’s the Best Time to Play Slots?
I like answering this question because it makes me dig a little deeper into a person’s gambling habits and preferences.
The bottom line is that there is no ideal time to play slot machines for real money. Trust me, if slots paid double at a certain time, you’d see me lined up to play with everybody else. That’s not how the games work.
That means the best time to play slots is the time that suits your wants and needs.
I have buddies who prefer to play slots on a crowded floor. They like the energy, and they say the high-energy and loud environment keeps them hyped to play longer.
I have other buddies who, like myself, prefer quiet. If I could find a completely empty casino floor, I would be in heaven.
Those of us that prefer a slightly less crowded floor should stick to daytime, weekdays, and non-holidays. Avoid convention season in big cities – usually, casinos are busy around the clock when there’s a big convention in town.
If you’re looking for an angle to find slots that pay back more at certain times, you’re barking up the wrong tree entirely. There may have been a time when loser casino operators manipulated the physical reels of slots to reduce customers’ chances of winning or whatever, but the modern games operate so differently from the slots of old that the comparison just doesn’t make any sense.
The reason you think slots pay more at night is that you have a human brain designed to see patterns.
Why Does it Seem Like Slots Pay More at Different Times?
This is a much more interesting question, one that I think I can answer more thoroughly than any other on this page.
Our brains evolved to look for (and act on) patterns. This was extremely helpful when we were trying to figure out how to hunt, what foods to eat, and how to organize a society. It’s less helpful when we’re playing a game of chance against a computer.
Pattern recognition, as useful as it is, is notorious for producing false results. For example, if you are a caveman, and you hear a loud noise, I can think of two choices you could make that would be detrimental.
If you assume the loud noise was a predator and run away, but it turns out to be just the wind, you’ve expended precious energy for no reason and abandoned your living space. If you assume it’s the wind, but it turns out to be a predator, you’re going to end up on the menu.
Gamblers have negative implications for recognizing patterns where they don’t exist, but they’re maybe not as serious as our caveman example.
The biggest downside to trying to find and profit according to some slot machine pattern that doesn’t exist is that you’ll be blowing through your bankroll with false hope. If left uncontrolled, you could end up in financial ruin. You won’t necessarily be eaten by a wild slot machine, but metaphorically speaking, your wallet could be on the menu.
It turns out that our brains get a tasty little chemical reward for finding and analyzing a pattern. A release of hormones in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex indicates that the brain gives itself a little boost of feel-good after each successful pattern-finding and recognizing mission.
The news isn’t all bad for people who find themselves in thrall to slot machine magical thinking. Some research indicates that people with more efficient structures in their hippocampus were also more likely to find patterns where there aren’t any. In short, if you’re the type of person who believes that slot machines pay off more at night, you may be a quicker thinker than the average person.
Your biggest takeaway from this post should be that there’s no such thing as a more or less profitable time to play slots.
You should absolutely have preferences in terms of what times you like to gamble, and sometimes time is a big factor, like if you’re on vacation and have a limited window for gambling.
If you’re trying to manipulate your chances of winning on slot machines by playing at different times, you’re on a fool’s errand. You’re much better off finding games that are fun, match your bankroll, and give you good entertainment value for your budget.
You can’t beat the slot machines with a clock.