Why You Should Avoid Slot Machines (And Why You’ll Probably Play Anyway)

Man Hiding His Eyes From a Row of Slot Machines

Real money slot machines are big earners in the casino industry. When you walk into a casino, it’s hard to ignore how many of these machines take up most of the gaming floor. Do you ever wonder why that is?

There are many reasons, but it mostly boils down to the simple fact that it’s much easier to control the payout (and the perception of that pay) of a machine than it is the tables.

That being said, there are a number of specific reasons why you should avoid slot machines.

1 – All the Myths About Slot Machines Are Myths

You’ve heard them all before, from amateurs and old timers alike. The 20-something card wiz tells you to play that machine because it hasn’t paid out a jackpot in years. The grubby 70-year-old Las Vegas native with three-day stubble tells you to avoid the computerized slots because the reel slots are mechanical and can’t be messed with. Your uncle’s cousin’s goddaughter’s former landlady knew a pit boss who once told her that the best machines are the ones at the end of the row.

It’s all nonsense, but it’s part of what casinos are selling you—an experience. Part of the draw, the mystique, heck, the fun of playing slots is the enigma and mystery surrounding them. It’s the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could hit that big jackpot that would change your life.

Slot machines are impenetrable. It’s just you and the computer.

The truth about all those myths is that they ignore the fundamental laws underlying the existence of all casinos. Math is king, and the math has been worked out long in advance to ensure the house wins in the end.

For most casinos, the majority of their profit is coming from the machines. Not the table games, the machines. Table games allow humans to use their brains to take intelligent risks and even count cards. The machine’s impenetrability stops all that. You can’t outthink them because they’re truly randomized by a number generator.

To put simply what’s going on in these really complex machines, you have to understand how random number generators work. Essentially, they’re little microchips in the slot machines that are constantly generating random outcomes. When someone plays, the microchip communicates whatever number it happens to be on to the machine.

There’s no way to affect this chip. There’s no way to hack it. You can’t try to figure out the algorithm and use it to your advantage. It’s not possible. That number is random, and more importantly, these chips are designed to pay out at a set percentage, over time, no matter what. And that time period is very long.

What does that mean? Well, it means that hot and cold machines don’t exist. A machine doesn’t have to “make up” for the jackpot today, tomorrow, or even this month. Losses and wins can rack up over such a long period of time that one jackpot here and there is essentially meaningless.

2 – You’ll Never Guess When They Raise the Price

There’s another series of myths out there about slot machines, but it’s not the players who believe them. It used to be the casino owners.

Because it’s possible to change the payout frequency of a machine, it is indeed possible to create a “tight” machine and a “loose” machine. It’s also the case that casinos used to put loose machines in strategic areas to try to entice people to play because they suffered from the delusion that certain savvy players could sense when a casino’s machines were too tight and move on to a different casino.

This was a real fear for casino owners. If word got around that their slots where too tight, they’d lose out on big revenue—remember, slots are the big money earners.

Casino Sign That Reads Loose Slots

That was then. This is now. There are people with degrees that you and I can’t even pronounce who study the insane math behind slot machines, and they’re all friends with more people with unpronounceable degrees who study human behavior in casinos. They’ve worked together for decades to try to figure out what influences gambling behavior, and they’ve learned something over the years.

Even savvy gamblers can’t tell when a machine is tight or loose. It’s all in their head.

And that’s bad news for you… What this means, essentially, is that slot machines can’t be manipulated (up to their legal limit) to pay out more or less. It’s completely in the hands of the casino. But whatever they choose to do, you’ll never guess it no matter how good you think you are.

So, that slot machine you’re convinced is looser than the others? It’s not. The machine in the back corner that a man with shades and a bad toupee told you is his go-to lucky machine? It’s not any different from the others. And when the casinos decide to make every machine a bit tighter? You’ll have no clue (and neither will anyone else).

3 – The Odds Are Against You

When it comes to slots, the advantage of the casino is measured in years. It may take a very long time for it to become clear that a machine is profitable. Casinos don’t mind of course, but you do.

Although, keep in mind, not all games are created equal. Most people don’t want to play the boring old machines with little flash or pizazz, they want to play the progressives, the ones that pay out big. Who hasn’t had a fantasy of dropping a dollar into a machine and becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams?

The problem with the progressives (and the reason casinos love them so much and have invested so much money into making them loud and visible) is that, to be able to afford those large jackpots and still maintain their set payout rates, they actually have a much lower chance of paying out in general.

This is a double problem for you when you consider the “casinos win over time” issue. The cost of playing for the casino is whatever their payout rate is, but the cost for you to play could be very different.

For example, when you put in a dollar, the casino has to pay back some percentage of that dollar over time. Because that time period is very long, it will likely be paid out to someone else. You’re not the one who’s going to get the payout because you can’t sit in front of a machine for months.

Megabucks Slot Machine Progressive Sign

So, you might pay a dollar to play, lose that dollar, and be done. And you’ll end up being the loser that pays other people’s jackpots.

This is one of the big reasons that you hear over and over how important it is to quit while you’re ahead. It’s because the odds are stacked against you. The casino is going to do everything in its power to get you to keep playing because it knows it will get its money back in the long run.

If you get a big payout on a machine, you should probably walk away afterward.

Another big way the casinos get their money back is through slots with multiple paylines. The psychology of these machines is impressive when you think about it.

For most slots, the best strategy is to cover all paylines with the minimum bet. You want to do this for the same reason I mentioned above, the machines are designed to pay out over the long term but you can lose a lot more in the short term before there’s a payout.

Playing the maximum is going to get you in trouble. You’ll end up losing more on each play, which the machine is happy to gobble up.

4 – You’ll Play Anyway Because It’s Easy

Here’s the rub in all of this: You’re going to play slots anyway. You may not want to. You may think you’ll avoid it. But sooner or later, you’re going to play.

The main reason is because they’re so easy. Slot machines are generally everywhere and are far more common than tables. In most places where gambling is legal, you’ll find slot machines crammed into places where you’d never expect them—restaurants, gas stations, you name it. They can be played in an instant and have a low entry fee of just a few bucks.

Playing the tables is different. It’s an experience. You sit down planning to be there for a while.

You’re usually spending more each time, but you’re prepared for that too. You’re chatting with the other players, the game takes time to play, and you have to choose to be in it. At the tables, you choose to be social and be around people to participate.

With slots, on the other hand, you can play while searching the internet on your phone if you’re so inclined. You don’t have to pay much attention at all. You might be on a call at a gas station and drop a few bucks in for fun.

And if you lose? You’ll probably just walk away. It’s uncommon for people to sit at a slot machine for long periods of time because it’s just plain boring. Tables have action and drama. They have interesting characters, stimulating conversations, high-stakes betting, and moments of hope and despair.

Slots don’t, which means you’ll probably give up long before you even get a payout.

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with playing slots if you truly enjoy them, just be realistic about what you’re getting into. Slots aren’t known for their payout rates—they’re known as moneymakers.

If you are honestly enjoying yourself at the slot machines though, have at it! But if your ultimate goal is to walk away from a night at the casino with some money in your pocket, then you’re better off playing a table game.