How to Tell If a Slot Machine Is Honest

Casino Background Illustration, Slot Machine with Money Flying Around It
When people ask in gambling forums or general question and answer sites like Quora if slot machine games are honest, someone with at least basic knowledge of slot machines usually answers.

Most of the answers I see boil down to yes because cheating would be pointless in a game that already favors the casino.

While I agree with the sentiment my experience has been different. And this is one of the reasons why I don’t like to play slot machine games very often.

Honesty Is Whatever You Decide It Should Be

In a political campaign both sides accuse each other of committing awful acts of deceit such as lying to voters, possibly breaking obscure laws, or polishing their resumes.

Many voters are savvy enough to take a lot of these accusations with some skepticism. Some hard core party supporters believe everything their candidates tell them.

If you play an arcade game like a western-style shooter, you expect the guns to sort of work like real guns. If you take clear aim at a bad guy you should hit him. But that doesn’t always happen.

I’ve played arcade games that were “crooked”. The gun sights were off. An arcade technician told me that despite what it seemed like the misalignment wasn’t intentional. The sights drift over time as people knock the toy guns around.

Is that true?

Either way, you don’t know if the arcade game is letting you aim properly. Once you realize the sights are off you can adjust how you aim the gun and make better shots.

Question Mark Next to Slot Machine GameWhen I was a teenager I met some people who worked for a carnival. They called themselves Carnies and they spoke a language that sounds a lot like the Harry Potter snake language. My Carny friends told me their games were often rigged because they are so simple anyone can eventually learn to beat them.

Is that true?

In both situations someone told me what they claimed was the inside story. In both situations I learned that if I adjust my expectations I could play the games better. But that didn’t always mean I would win.

Experts Explain Slot Machine Games All the Time

If you want to know how slot machines work you can buy a book, read a blog post, or ask a casino technician. It’s easy to get an explanation. I believe the majority of these explanations are accurate as far as they go.

Because so many people have explained how slot machines work almost anyone can now explain how they work. There are even Wikipedia articles about slot machines and probability and everything else related to basic gambling science.

If you want to know how slot machines work you don’t have to go to slot machine school. The Internet made it easy for everyone to share what they know.

And if that’s the case I find myself still amazed every time I come across a new slot machine game secret. I don’t mean those “how to win” articles. I mean things about game tricks.

Yes, some experts say slot machine games play tricks on you. I suppose it’s all part of the experience. The harder the game is to beat the more you enjoy it.

But shouldn’t you know the game is hiding something from you?

Does the Slot Game Tell You Its Theoretical Return to Player?

In my experience it’s been easier to learn these ratings for online games than for land-based casino games. I guess it depends on whose laws govern the games you’re playing.

If you click on the “Help” or “Info” button for a slot game and bring up the Pay Table screens, you should be able to find everything you need to now about playing the game. Sometimes the last screen tells you how much of a chance you have to win.

That’s the RTP or theoretical return to player. This percentage, subtracted from 100, tells you what the house edge is. The house edge, as many people know, is the average – over a long period of game play – that the casino expects to keep from all player wagers.

Casino Slot Machine Floor, House Icon with Casino House Edge Text

The house edge and the RTP assume that players win some of their money back and that every now and then a really big prize is paid out. It’s all math and the games make no guarantees.

What few gambling experts who talk about the house edge and theoretical return to player tell you is that a really bad player increases the house edge. I call this the “hidden edge” in every game.

Slot games have other hidden edges.

Even if a slot game tells you its RTP that doesn’t mean you’ll keep 85%, 90%, or 95% of your stake. That’s a projected average over time. It assumes someone – probably not you – will win a major jackpot.

You’re paying for someone else’s jackpot. The game doesn’t tel you that. It’s not exactly dishonest but it’s an omission of an honest fact.

As one of my older friends once said, who wants to spoil a good game with honest facts?

Does the Game Tell You the Chances of Winning a Prize?

Since I don’t spend much time playing slot machine games I can’t promise this is always true. But I have never found a game that told me both the RTP and the “this game has a 1:4 chance of winning”.

That “1:4” chance ratio is used in a lot of games. You’ll find it in every lottery game. The ratio represents a theoretical average of how often a prize of any amount is awarded.

Jackpot Text on Stack of MoneyI think that’s another gray area in honesty. I’d like to know my chances of winning a jackpot. If you play Euro Millions, Mega Millions, or Powerball every news story about the next big jackpot tells you the odds of winning that huge prize.

Slot machine games are silent on how likely it is you’ll win their biggest prize. Do slot machine games pay better than lottery games?

No self-respecting card player should care but slot machine games and lotteries are more poplar than baccarat, blackjack, and poker combined.

If You Play Online Slot Games, Do You Know Who Is Running the Game?

I’ve read that for about $25,000 or $50,000 you can start up an online casino of your own. All you have to do is set up an account on a licensed gaming server.

Hand Reaching Out to Laptop Displaying Online Slot Game

These servers are run from data centers in countries like Canada and Malta. They certify their games’ integrity with independent testing bodies. If you check your casino’s website and game credits you should see their licensing and certification information.

But is that good enough?

Turns out it’s not always good enough. I’ve seen a few discussions in gambling forums about illegal online casinos stealing software from the gaming servers.

Savvy players who check the website addresses of the games loading in their browsers and phones recognize the legitimate gaming server addresses.

They know when someone is running an unauthorized copy of a casino.

If the online casino stole its software then can you still trust the certifications?

I’d say that’s a dishonest casino to begin with. And that means their games are dishonest. Even if the software says it is licensed and certified you don’t know how good that hacker is.

If you find a slot machine game that your instincts say shouldn’t be where you found it, dig a little deeper. At least trust your instincts enough to take a closer look and find yourself some trustworthy online casinos.


There may be other ways a slot machine game deceives you. I hate the older slot games that offered the “double or nothing” bonus. Once a friend explained the odds on those games to me I decided never to play them.

Slot machine games are supposed to be fun. But even though I know the games are favoring the house I’d still like to know what to expect from a game. I think that’s only fair.

If the game is not being completely honest with you then is it being honest with you at all?

And that’s a good question to ask of any gambling game. You can be satisfied with any answer you get. Just ask the question and get the answer.

Otherwise, you’re not gambling so much as you’re paying someone else to take advantage of you.