Learning to Win at Slot Machines

Man With Hands Over Head in Front of a Row of Slot Machines on Left and a Man Playing a Modern Slot Machine on Right

Not long ago I read a blog post from a “slot machine expert” where he started to explain how to win at slot machines. Some of his advice wasn’t terrible, but some of it was pretty misguided.

As best I can, I’m going to cover the truth behind some of his advice without shaming him publicly by name. Even though I think he gives bad advice, I like how effective he is as a marketer, and I’m not a name and shame kinda blogger.

Here’s the truth about some of the advice you’ll find online about learning to win at slot machines.

Claims about Winning Jackpots

One of the first things I noticed about Slot Guru X’s guide to winning at slot machines is that he starts off with claims about how much he’s won playing slots. He claims to have won XX slot machine jackpots in the last X months.

I don’t doubt that he’s actually won that many jackpots. He might have, or he might not have.

But just winning that number of jackpots doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not he turned a profit playing slot machines.

If you play slot machines long enough, you’ll hit your share of jackpots. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a net winner. In fact, the math behind the games almost guarantees that you’ll be a net loser.

Here’s an example:

My friend Patrick visited the Winstar World Casino 36 times over the last 9 months, so he played 36 sessions on the slots. During that time, he won jackpots 12 times for an average of $1000 each. That’s $12,000 in winnings.

On this other 24 sessions, though, he showed losses. And his average losing sessions were way less than $1000 each – on average, he lost $600 per session during his losing sessions.

What was his net?

He lost $600 X 24 sessions, or $14,400. He won $12,000.

His net loss was $2400 over 36 sessions, which means he lost an average of $66.67 per session.

That’s not bad. He’s had a lot of fun for his money, and he’s probably done better than the average slot machine player.

But claiming that he won 12 jackpots in the last 9 months doesn’t say anything about whether he’s a “slot machine winner.”

Also, claims about having multiple degrees doesn’t really do much to establish your bona fides as a slot machine winner, either. You can claim to know everything about statistics, engineering, and business all day long and still be wrong. My ex-wife has a PhD, but she’s still an idiot about almost everything.

Can You “Take Control” of Your Slot Machine Results?

The next section of the post I read was about “how to start to take control.” He suggests that there are 3 steps to improving your results at slot machines. First, I want to point out that yes, slot machines really are random, so you can’t really take control.

But what are the 3 steps, and do they make a difference?

The first step is “assessing casinos.” This isn’t terrible advice, although you have a limited amount of information you can use to assess casinos. The best way to assess casinos, in my view, is to look at how good their slot machine club rewards are. Also, if they have video poker machines with good paytables, that’s a point in a casino’s favor.

The next step is “choosing slot machines.” There’s some truth to this, too. Generally, slot machines with smaller jackpots pay out more often. Progressive slot machines are almost always a bad bet. The more bells and whistles and bonus games a slot has, the worse it usually pays out.

Slot Machines

His final step is to “identify your gambling goals.” This isn’t bad advice, either, although if your gambling goals involve anything other than having a good time on a specific budget, slot machines are probably something you should stay away from, anyway.

The problem is that I can give good advice under each of those categories, but I’m not sure that Slot Machine Guru X’s advice is going to resemble mine.

For example, this guru suggests that the first 2 steps can increase your odds of winning by choosing the right casinos and right slot machines. Every fraction of a percentage point matters, he says.

I’m not sure this is true. The percentage points are all in the casinos’ favor, regardless. No slot machine has a positive expectation for the player.

So, if one slot machine has a house edge of 6%, and another slot machine has a house edge of 9%, you’re going to lose all your money on either machine if you play long enough. In fact, that house edge doesn’t really have much to do with your probability of winning during a session. The game’s volatility is probably more important.

Identifying Your Gambling Goals

Slot Machine Guru X suggests that identifying your gambling goals means understanding what it means to you when you say the word “winning.” For example, if you care about getting comps, you have a different set of goals from the player who wants to take home cash. You can do both, but understanding which is more important to you is a good thing to do.

He also suggests thinking about how big or small your goals should be. In other words, if you’re hoping to win money, do you want to win $1000 here and there, or is your goal to win enough money to buy a car? If your goal is to get tickets for sporting events, do you need VIP seats or are regular seats good enough?

So far, I don’t have too many problems with the idea of setting some goals as a gambler. That can be a fun thing to do. I like to parlay a starting bankroll of $100 at the roulette table into $500 and quit, but that’s just a goal I like to try for. I understand that setting that goal does nothing magical in terms of improving my probability of winning at roulette – it’s a negative expectation game regardless of my goals.

This is when Slot Machine Guru X starts skating on thin ice, though – he offers “inexpensive” consultations over the phone. Personal coaching for slot machine players. I don’t think you need to spend $20 on an hour of personal coaching, but I also suspect that he charges more for consulting than that.

Please. I beg of you.

Save your money.

Don’t buy consulting time with gambling gurus who want to teach you how to win at slot machines.

I don’t care how personable they are.

The Skill Involved in Making Decisions

He also goes on to discuss how making choices is a skill. It’s a common technique among shady experts to state the obvious as if it’s somehow profound. Of course, making choices is a skill. Who doesn’t already know that, though?

The problem is that few of your choices at slot machines improve your probability of winning. In point of fact, there are no “winning strategies” for slot machines. The highest expectation choice, mathematically, for playing slot machines is to not play them at all.

Slot Machine Guru X skates on more thin ice when he claims that winning at slot machines ISN’T entirely random.

That’s entirely wrong.

Row of Slot Machines

You can’t really improve your probability of winning – not in the long run. The probability of winning at slot machines in the long run is 0.

The probability of winning in the short term is anyone’s guess. You can’t get much information based on the short-term data you can gather at the casino to make any winning choices about which slots to play.

Guru X claims that this is an engineering approach called a systems approach, but that’s just more smoke, mirrors, and nonsense.

I’d love it if I could choose the right slot machine at the right casino every time.

But it’s impossible, regardless of how badly you and Guru X would like to think otherwise.

The Claims Get Bigger as the Page Goes On

One thing you’ll notice about so-called experts’ sales pages is that they start off making small, reasonable-sounding claims early in their content. It’s like boiling a frog. They start off with warm, pleasant water, and they turn the heat up gradually until the frog is boiled.

The next claim is that if you do your homework, you can choose a casino with the best odds, and then you can make a short list of the possibly best slot machines in that casino.

At that point, he claims (rightfully) that casinos use strategies to help them win. The example he gives is the free drinks, but the example he SHOULD use is the odds being in favor of the casino on every bet you place on every game on the casino floor.

Do Winning Strategies for Slot Machines Exist?

Of course, they don’t, in spite of what Slot Machine Guru X would have you believe. You can’t really improve your odds of winning by choosing the best machines. That’s fool’s errand. You can’t possibly observe enough action on a slot machine game to make an informed decision about whether its odds are better than the game’s next to it.

Pattern-based slot machine strategies don’t work because those patterns are only visible in retrospect. They have no predictive value. The casinos’ control over their environment is a red herring. Just because they make it hard to find the exits doesn’t imply that you can exert control over that environment, too.

Row of Slots Games

Unless you think that being able to find the exit quickly or turn down free drinks count as “winning strategies.” If so, you’ve set your sights appropriately low.

Conclusion

I could go on for multiple posts debunking this kind of advice, but I think smart gamblers get the point. If it were possible to get an advantage at slot machines, people wouldn’t sell those tips. And, casinos would change the rules to eliminate that loophole.

Any slot machine strategy can look like a winning strategy in the short run. 20% of the time, a gambler will come home from the casino a winner just because that’s how the math of the games work.

That kind of feedback is a false positive, though. You didn’t need Slot Machine Guru X’s strategies to get that win.

It was just random.

Sorry.