A slot machine is loose when it pays out a lot of money. It also needs to do this often to be considered loose. You’ll see some writers say that a loose slot machine is one with a high payback percentage, but that’s not enough to qualify as loose. It also needs to have low volatility.
What’s the difference?
The payback percentage is a function of how much the prizes pay compared to how often they hit. I could create a slot machine that pays off only one prize every million spins and that pays off 1.2 million coins when it does.
That machine would provide the player with an edge, a payback percentage of over 100%, but it still wouldn’t be a “loose” machine. In fact, it would be one of the tightest machines in the casino, because it only hits on average once every million spins.
That’s what volatility means when you’re playing slots. The more often a game hits a winning combination, the less volatile the game is. Most slot machine games have a hit ratio of around 30% or so now, which means that you’ll see some kind of win about 1/3 of the time.
The size of the wins is small enough that the game still makes a profit for the casino.
Your goal should be to find the loosest slot machines you can.
The Best You Can Do Is Estimate
The math behind slot machines and other gambling games is based on long-term results, not short-term results. You can make some guesses about the settings for a game based on short-term results, but they’re not necessarily accurate.
Here’s one way you could measure the hit ratio for a slot machine game, though:
You could track how many spins you make, and also track how many of those spins resulted in a win. That would provide you with the actual hit ratio for that session.
For example, if you made 300 spins on a slot machine over the course of half an hour, and you saw 100 winning spins, you had a hit ratio of 33.3%.
If you only saw 50 winning spins, your hit ratio would only be 16.67%.
The game with the 33.3% hit ratio is probably “looser” than the game with the 16.67% hit ratio.
The Concept of Naked Pulls
Years ago I read a book about strategy when playing slot machines by John Patrick. It’s a terrible book, and I don’t recommend it.
But he did offer one concept that I thought was interesting:
The naked pulls concept.
A naked pull is one in which you get no winnings at all.
Patrick’s advice is to quit playing a slot machine once you’ve had a certain number of naked pulls in a row. I don’t remember if the number he suggested was 7 or 9, but it was something like that.
Here’s the thing, though:
A slot machine could have a hit ratio of 50% and still see 7 or 9 losing pulls in a row. It won’t happen often, but it will still happen several times a day just because of random variance.
Slot machines aren’t set on times or cycles. They have a random number generator which determines how often a winning symbol gets hit, but it doesn’t have a memory of what happened on previous spins.
Every spin of the reels on a slot machine is an independent event. This means that it isn’t affected by the previous spin.
Some of the time, if you walk away from a machine that has had several losing spins in a row, you’ll have avoided a tight machine.
Other times, you’ll just be walking away from a loose machine for no reason other than short-term variance.
What’s More Important? Hit Ratio or Payback Percentage?
Deciding which of these 2 factors is more important is more about your temperament as a gambler than anything else.
If you’re impatient and don’t want to lose a lot of money fast, you should look for a game that seems to have a high hit ratio. I’ve played slot machines in land-based casinos which hit 40% of the time while I was there. I didn’t walk away with a lot of winnings, because the sizes of the prizes were low.
But I didn’t lose a lot of money, either.
You could find a game with a hit ratio of only 20% that has a payback percentage that’s 5% higher than a similar machine with a 40% hit ratio.
You can’t really rank these 2 factors in importance, because they fall into a relatively narrow range.
Most slot machines have a hit ratio in the 20% to 35% range, and their payback percentages fall in the 75% to 95% range.
The payback percentage has the bigger range, but it’s impossible to calculate with any degree of statistical confidence.
How Would You Calculate a Payback Percentage for a Slot Machine Based on Your Actual Results?
The math behind calculating a payback percentage isn’t hard. You just calculate how much money you’ve wagered in a machine and how much you have left when you’re done. The amount you’ve lost is divided by the amount you’ve wagered to give you the actual payback percentage for that session.
I did this as an experiment not long ago. I played a slot machine for $1.25 per spin over the course of 400 spins. It’s easy to see how much I wagered in that scenario – it was $500.
When I finished playing, I had lost $100, which meant that I’d gotten $400 back in winnings from the game.
This means I lost 20% of what I wagered, which would be the game’s “hold.”
The payback percentage was 80%.
What does that say about how loose or tight the game is?
When you’re calculating things like payback percentage and house edge, you’re calculating statistical events.
And if you’ve read much of what I’ve written about probability and gambling, you already know that in the short run, anything can happen.
If I’d finished that session with $600 and a net win of $100, I’d have seen a payback percentage of 120%, and I can promise you one thing:
That’s NOT the long-term expected payback percentage for that slot machine.
It can be a fun exercise to keep up with your actual payback percentage over time. If nothing else, it slows down the number of bets per hour you’re making, which will have the indirect effect of reducing your average hourly losses.
Some Tips for Finding Loose Slot Machines
The problem with offering tips for finding loose slot machines is that many of them are based on pure conjecture.
For years, everyone suggested that you play the slot machines closest to the walkways in the casino. The premise was that some slot machine technician had suggested the managers put the loosest machines there so they could attract more gamblers.
This is a myth that has since been dispelled.
Another piece of advice you’ll often see is that you should play flat-top slot machines instead of progressives. In this case, I lean toward believing this one. You could play a progressive slot machine where the jackpot is high enough that you could have an edge over the casino, but it would still be tighter than a game with a 1000-coin jackpot.
In other words, if you’re not likely to hit the jackpot in your lifetime, it might as well not exist when calculating how loose or tight the game is.
You’ll also see people advise you to play for higher stakes. The idea is that the payback percentage goes up as the denominations go up.
This is likely true, too, but you still shouldn’t play for stakes you’re not comfortable with.
The best possible advice I could give you about finding a loose slot machine is this:
Give it up.
It’s virtually impossible to accomplish this goal.
Also, almost any other game in the casino will cost you less money in the long run than the slot machines will.
But if you are going to play, at least try to play the games with the flat top jackpots for the highest denomination you can easily afford.