Surprisingly, there were mechanical vending machines around in the late 1800's that dispensed food, beverages, candy and smoking supplies. They became known as slot machines and paved the way for the machines used for gambling which came along shortly thereafter.
In 1887, at age 29, Charles Fey, an American mechanic from San Francisco, invented the first slot machine for gambling. It was called the Liberty Bell and can still be viewed at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno, Nevada.
It is also interesting to note that the early slots paid out in sticks of chewing gum, cherries or other fruit and goodies. Those symbols have survived on the reel slots of today. The bar originally represented a stick of gum, the cherries and some of the other symbols are self explanatory.
For years, the slots paid no bonus but a jackpot mechanism was added in the 1920's. With that addition, the template for all mechanical slots was established. Mechanical slots thrived for over 80 years until advances in computer chips resulted in their relatively sudden demise. Today a mechanical slot is a rare find indeed.
I personally mourn their passing because I always did well when playing them. Mechanical slots were susceptible to various methods of cheating like using slugs, magnets, and other insertion devices. Not that I would ever stoop to anything dishonest like that, but I did seem to hit upon the use of a certain vibration that resulted in those tight fisted one-armed-bandits surrendering some of their bounty. When my partner would pull the handle, I would drum the beat from a song by the Monkees on the top of the machine and Wah La! A win with almost every pull. In fact, back in 1972, I and my girlfriend was severely threatened by a burly casino security officer as a result of his witnessing our use of this tactic. No problem though, we had already won enough to pay for a nice steak dinner.
Mechanical slots used a system of gears, clutches, pulleys, doors and stops to initiate the various pay outs. When certain combinations of stops (on the reels) came together, it mechanically triggered a coin dispenser. All pay outs were completely random, at least that is the way they were designed.
Earlier I alluded to the fact that a couple of decades ago computer chips began to be used in slots. Although the outward appearance of the machine remained relatively unchanged for many years after the advent of computer chips, the inner workings and soul of the slot machine was now quite different. No longer controlled by haphazard mechanical devices, software containing a random number generator now dictated where the reels would stop. But much of the slot playing public was unaware of the change at first (except now there was a button they could push to spin the reels if they got tired of pulling the handle). At the same time, mechanical bells and whistles were now replaced by a cacophony of recorded sounds; loud recorded sounds. The noise level in the casinos increased dramatically, so much so that a player in some casinos might be tempted to wear ear protection. But that's progress I suppose.
I don't think it immediately sunk in to the average died-in-the-wool slot player that he/she was now playing a computer. But the difference in operation and patterns and pay outs soon made it apparent that a new era had dawned. Some liked it, some didn't.
There has always been an element of purists among slot players. Even today, many reject the new video slots and the wide variety of games and themes offered in that format. When they began playing slots they excitedly watched the reels that decided their fate on every spin and they aren't about to play those new fangled gadgets now. Only trouble is they have already been playing those new fangled gadgets for many years, they were just disguised as the traditional machines. But new slot players and younger players have no problem with the more exciting and versatile video slots and even many of the players who once preferred the traditional machines are being won over. It is my opinion that eventually the purists will also fall into line and the traditional mechanical reel type machines will go the way of the dinosaur.
Other than appearance and hooplah, what is the difference between the new video slots and the traditional 3 to 5 real machines? Well, if you only played one coin per pull, you would come out about the same in the long run. The percentages haven't changed, just the presentation. Of course you can lose a lot more money a lot more quickly on the new machines because most of them feature multiple coin play (up to 5 and maybe more) and multiple line play (up to 9). Whereas a player doing battle with a traditional nickel slot couldn't invest more than 25 cents at once (and usually no more than 15 cents), today's nickel video slot player can risk as much as $2.50 per play. And when you figure that nickel slots have a much higher house edge than higher denomination slots, the player is really getting the short end of the stick. This is especially true of a player who has the mind set of always playing the maximum number of coins. He would be better off playing the dollar machines. But the belief that it is always best to play maximum coins is something that would be better discarded when dealing with the new video slots.
The one area where the new multiple coin, multiple line video slots might be helpful is if a player is working with some kind of progressive slot system. Some systems call for a player to continually increase his betting amounts until he recoups his losses. But this is a very dangerous way to play.
Gambling is about percentages and though slot players know the odds are against them, few know or understand just how great those odds are. A 5% edge means that out of every dollar deposited into a slot machine, over the long run you will only get 95 cents back. You will lose 5% of your total bankroll every time you run it all through the machine. Your bankroll continues to decrease by 5% every time you play the total amount left so that eventually, even though 5% may not sound like much, your bankroll will be reduced to zero.
A few months ago I did some research on the house edge enjoyed by casinos all over the United States on the various denominations of slot machines. The national average pay out for nickel slots was 91.9%. This gives the house an edge of 8.1%. The national average pay out for quarter machines was 92.7% which translates into a 7.3% house advantage. Surprisingly, the national average for 50 cent machines was only 92.2%, even less than quarter machines. But I think this result was somewhat skewed because there was only about half as many results published for 50 cent machines as the other denominations and Atlantic City really pulled that average down because machines found there have exceptionally poor payouts as compared to other locations. Also, there were more 50 cent machines listed for Atlantic City than anywhere else, so you can take those figures with a grain of salt. Everything considered, it looks like 50 cent machines have about the same house edge as quarter machines. Dollar machines averaged 94.4 percent which gives the house 5.6%. And, as might be expected, the highest payouts came on the 5 Dollar machines which averaged 95.7% with the house keeping 5.3%.
There is only so much space in any casino, so the game taking up that space must justify its existence by returning a set amount to the casino. Since there are smaller amounts being played through a nickel machine than say a dollar machine, the house take on that nickel machine must be much greater than the take on a dollar machine. The nickel machine must produce a designated amount of profit at least relatively comparable to the dollar machine in order to justify its space on the casino floor. That is why it is generally advisable to play the highest denomination machine that you can afford without over loading your bankroll. Remember, a few small percentage points of house advantage means a lot over an extended period of play.
In fact, because of the percentages and because slots offer big jackpots from time to time, slot players are much more likely to lose their bankroll than table game players. Table games do not build up jackpots, but slots do. In a table game such as blackjack or baccarat, you will seldom lose more than 4 or 5 times in a row and you are likely to also experience some winning streaks along the way. But it is not uncommon for a slot machine to go 10, 15, even 20 plays with no payouts or only meager returns while it builds up a jackpot that it may not pay for another 1000 spins or more. And the player often needs that jackpot just to get him/her back to the point where the house has only claimed 7% or 8% of the money they've fed into these insatiable machines. Remember, the jackpots are also part of the total of 92% return that the average slot machine yields. So, when considered from that stand point, it is no wonder that slot players go home broke much more often than blackjack, craps, or baccarat players.
The program that is at the heart of the software that drives the modern day slot machine is called a "random number generator". As the name implies, its purpose is to produce random numbers. Associated with each of these random numbers is a set of instructions that tells the machine what to do when that number is selected. For instance, if number 3,025 is chosen, the programming instructions for that number may tell reel one to go to stop number 45, reel two to 31, and reel three to 64, register 10 credits, play a specific musical file, and flash lights 1-5 for 3 seconds and ring the bell.
As we have already discussed, each machine has an assigned pay back percentage. Or, it would probably be more accurate to say that each computer card containing a CPU chip (Central Processing Unit) inside the machine has its own built in programming that determines the pay out percentage and how that machine will go about producing it. Unlike the days of mechanical slots where they all worked basically the same way with only minor variations, today's computer driven slots may vary greatly in internal operation of the software from one brand to another and from one model to another. Every programmer thinks differently and there are many ways to solve a programming problem. But in order to try and give a little more insight into the way slot software (and specifically the Random Number Generator) works, I will simplify the explanation almost to the point of the ridiculous.
If a programmer wants to maintain a 5% house edge on a dollar machine, (and for simplicity of the analogy let's say all payouts are a dollar), and also for simplicity assume that a random number program of integers from 1 to 100 is being used. He might program a statement like this:
IF NUMBERS 1-95 ARE SELECTED, PAY $1.00.
IF NUMBERS 96-100 ARE SELECTED, PAY NOTHING.
In this analogy there are only 100 numbers from which the RNG can select. 5 of them belong to the house and 95 to the player. Of course in reality you would have various payout amounts assigned to different numbers. For example number 30 might pay $4, but numbers 25 through 29 might pay nothing when selected. But as long as the final total paid out equaled $95 when added all together, then you would have a 5% house advantage. Of course today's sophisticated slots may have a hundred thousand random numbers programmed to pay various amounts and progressive slots have millions.
Now, if you were programming a progressive slot and you wanted to make sure there was a cash buildup before the machine could possibly hit the big jackpot, then all you would do is have 2 sets of random numbers (or two sub routines). Set A could be used until the jackpot reserve reached a certain amount then it would switch over and use set B. Set A may not even have a random number assigned that would hit the jackpot. But when the machine had taken enough to build up a certain amount of cash in the progressive jackpot reserve, it would switch over to random number set B which would contain a number that would pay out the jackpot if hit. But all the while the numbers chosen would still be completely random. It is just that at certain points in the program the random numbers available from which the program can choose are limited, and, or different. This can be true of any slot machine and not just the progressives. That is why some slots go into long dry periods where there are hardly any hits.
With some machines, especially online software, there is a certain take that is programmed in or certain conditions that must be met before the machine will switch to set B and begin to pay out. Then again, payouts can be limited by various criteria. Once again, the methods of providing a final outcome that will assure the house of a profit but at the same time provide some hope and enjoyment to the player are as varied as the minds of those who write the programs.
As I'm sure you understand by now, some slots have a much lower house edge than others even though they are of the same denomination and model. Two slots sitting side by side that appear to be exactly the same outwardly can have pay out percentages that differ by 14%. One quarter slot could pay out at a rate of 99% while the machine beside it could be set to pay out at 85%. But combine their totals and you have an average of 92%. The average slot pay out for a casino is derived from the average of all slots in that casino combined.
Okay, so how do we find the "loose slots" with the highest pay out percentage? There is controversy about that even among those who claim to be knowledgeable about slots and casino placement of loose slots. Everyone agrees that in times past the looser slots could be found on the main isles and in high traffic areas of the casino. The trick was to make them visible from as many different points as possible. That way they would attract more attention with their frequent payouts and seduce players into the main slot areas to try their luck. Naturally the tighter machines were located in these areas and more often than not the hopeful player would ultimately be cleaned out.
But eventually, as happens with most conspiracies, the word got around and players became more reluctant to play the tighter machines that populated the main slot areas. And just when people were standing in line to play the slots on the main isles and high visibility areas; what does the sly casino management do but move the tight slots to those locations and scatter the loose ones elsewhere. Sneaky.
Casino management is well versed in the use of psychology. It is not beneath them to place a couple of loose slots near the coin cage or cashier's window in hopes that the sound of coins falling into the tray might entice you to go back and play even more at a higher denomination, perhaps even after you had decided to quit. And a few loose machines strategically placed near the buffet line might be enough to cause an avid slot player to eat fast so he/she can get back to feeding the one armed bandits instead of feeding themselves. Perhaps the loose machines are scattered through out the slot areas now, but wouldn't it still make sense to have them on highly visible isles and cross walks in the main slot area itself?
But there is one thing that every expert seems to agree upon. You will not find two loose slots side by side. It just won't happen.
That doesn't mean that you can't be hitting on two side by side slots at the same time however. The main reason for this is a phenomenon called the "dump". As I've explained before, many machines are programmed to hold back any decent pay outs until a certain take or build up has been achieved. When that set amount or percentage has been reached or exceeded because of the natural functioning of the machine's random number generator, then the program will go into a compensating mode (or sub routine) in which the machine temporarily loosens up and will dump the excess build up. This usually occurs in a series of decent hits but could happen with one pretty good hit of several hundred coins. Just because a machine is in this cycle and giving frequent hits does not mean that it is an overall loose machine, however.
It will usually take more than one session to identify a truly loose machine. But keep your eyes and ears open at all times and watch and learn. It might not even be a bad idea to take notes. You could also visit the casino at off times like Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons when more locals are playing. Observe which machines are being played most at that time when the casinos are relatively empty. I guarantee you the local slot heads make it their business to seek out the loosest machines. You might even make it your business to seek out and befriend locals who play a lot. You will probably find many friendly talkative people who will be quick to tell of their triumphs on various slots.
Also, it is sometimes possible to get helpful information from slot attendants. They are in the slot areas 8 hours a day and you would think they couldn't help but notice if a certain machine was paying out more frequently than normal. Most regular slot attendants have no direct knowledge of where the loose machines are located. If they did, they couldn't tell you because it would cost them their job. But a friend of mine who is an avid slot player says he has gotten an occasional good tip from a slot attendant. But remember, one good tip deserves another. Help those who help you.
Once you have located some loose slots, how do you go about playing them in order to maximize your chances of winning? It is not my purpose here to put forth any specific slot systems. But most methods are either based upon starting at a low denomination and trying to progress to a higher one, or starting at the highest denomination your bankroll will allow and then coming down to lower ones if you have to. A third method is to play a progression where you increase or decrease the amount you play on each pull depending upon whether or not you got a hit on the previous play, and if so, the amount of the hit.
When using the "Ascending Denomination" type strategy, the idea is to begin your play at a lower level and try to progress to a higher level and then lock up profit while playing at the higher level. This is a conservative strategy that really plays for the occasional big win. You will have lots of losses but you hope to have that occasional big winning session in which you will overcome all your losses and take home a nice profit in addition. This strategy is probably used more by players who are strapped for cash and only have a minimum bankroll with which to play. I have a friend whose only income is a small social security check and she begins each session with a $20 bankroll. Yet, she won $1600 more last year than she lost.
An example of the Ascending Denomination strategy would be to take a $30 bankroll and begin playing the quarter machines. If you should get lucky and increase your bankroll to $45 (by 50%) then move up and play the dollar machines but using only one coin per play. Pocket half of everything you win at this level. If you should get lucky and increase your bankroll by another 35% to 40%, play maximum coins and continue to pocket and lock up half of every hit and don't touch it for the remainder of the session. Either stay at the higher denomination until you have lost all your bankroll or have scored a good win. Optionally, you could go back down to quarter machines, should your bankroll get really low, and try to build up again.
As one might guess, the "Descending Denomination" strategy is just the opposite of that just described. When playing a descending strategy, you begin at the highest denomination your bankroll will allow and play in hopes of getting a good hit and increasing your bankroll immediately. If you increase your bankroll above that with which you started, you lock up half of everything you win and use the other half to continue to build your bankroll. As your bankroll builds you increase the size of your bets while continuing to lock up profits. You might even graduate to a higher denomination machine (like going from a dollar machine to a $5 machine) if you get far enough ahead. But if your bankroll drops to half its original size you would drop down and play a lower denomination machine in hopes of getting a hit that would enable you to resume playing the higher denomination machine. So, if you start out on a dollar machine and lose, you would drop down and play a quarter machine. But if you should win big, you could even move up to a $5 machine.
This Descending Denomination strategy will generally produce more frequent session wins, but it takes more bankroll in order to play it and wins won't usually be as large proportionately. Neither approach is likely to win long term but at least you will have a disciplined method of attack when using them and that is a key to success at slots.
The third most common systematic approach is to use some type of progression to chase losses. The newer video slots with their multiple bets and multiple line capabilities are excellent for this type of approach. The older traditional slots can be used also, but you may have to play 2 machines at once to accomplish your wagering goal.
The simplest progression approach is to play one coin for 3 pulls, then two coins for 3 pulls followed by three coins for 3 pulls. If at any point you win enough coins to cover all your losses to that point, you drop back to one coin and start over. If at any point you get a hit that partially covers your losses, you will drop back that far in the progression. For instance, if you are betting 2 coins for the third time and you get a hit that pays 4 coins, you would drop back 2 steps in the progression and that would mean you would still be playing 2 coins but at the first level instead of the third level. If you go through all 9 bets without a win, you would change machines.
Naturally, this type of progression can be executed more easily on the newer video slots which give you the capability of playing one coin on 1 line, then one coin on 2 lines etc. Then start over by playing two coins on 1 line, two on 2 lines, two on 3 lines etc. Or you could just bet 5 cents, 10 cents, 15 cents, etc. and spread your bets over the lines as you see fit. Increase your wager by one unit when you lose and decrease one unit when you win. If you get all the way to the highest bet and still haven't won enough to get you back to your starting level, you could graduate to a higher denomination machine and keep pressing. Needless to say this is very dangerous and a good way to lose your bankroll but some people actually play this way.
A more sensible way to use a progression strategy is to play at a low level and only increase your bets after a win. For instance, if you begin playing a dollar machine by depositing only one dollar per pull, should you get a hit you would increase to $2 or maybe even all the way to $3 for a designated number of pulls. If you got no more hits, you would regress back to single coin bets until you got another hit, then you would increase your bets again. The idea is to try and hit a jackpot large enough to increase your starting bankroll by 50% or more. When this happens you have won your session and you should leave. Naturally you should set a reasonable loss limit for each machine you play.
When playing any strategy, it is important to leave a machine that simply isn't paying. Always set a reasonable limit for the number of plays you will make on any one machine without achieving positive results. This will depend upon your total bankroll and the strategy you are playing as well as what you are comfortable with. But most players choose a limit between 5 and 20 spins.
Many slot players are never satisfied with anything less than a big win. This type player will almost always suffer higher long term losses than a player who is just trying to have a decent and reasonable win for that session. The conservative player who is just looking to win more than he looses and who is willing to quit while he/she is ahead, even if it is only a small amount, will generally do better over the long term than the greedy player who is always pursuing the big win. If you play conservatively you will usually live to play another day so to speak, and you may even catch one of those big wins along the way.
One final word of advice to those players who want to keep their losses under control, stay away from those progressive slots that are linked to each other and other casinos. They do offer payouts in the millions, but your chances of winning that jackpot is probably less than winning your state lottery. In fact, winning any sizable jackpot on this type machine is less likely because these machines are almost invariably much tighter than their counterparts. They have to be in order to build up that jackpot. Actually, this is generally true even of the stand alone progressive machines. They are usually set with a higher house edge and as a result are generally tighter than regular slots.
Slots are by far the most popular attraction in today's casinos and they provide more revenue than any other casino game offered.