Your typical casino slot machine is a technological marvel. While the game of blackjack has changed little over the past four centuries or so, today’s slots—with their touch screens and computer graphics and random number generators—are a cool convergence of that old-as-time gambling impulse and Silicon Valley science.
Larry Hodgson knows all about the science side of playing the slots. As former VP of product development at Incredible Technologies, Hodgson oversaw the creation of over 30 video slot and poker games, from Crazy Money to Magic Touch Poker. Golden Tee Golf, the most successful pay-to-play video amusement game in history? Yeah, that’s one of his.
Now president and CEO of High Point Entertainment, Hodgson admits that, despite all the scientific research and development that goes into making the games, players often have some decidedly unscientific thoughts about how they work and what they can and can’t do. Here, Hodgson looks at a few commonly held beliefs about playing the slots, and separates scientific fact from casino fiction:
Conventional slot machines are more trustworthy than video slots. It’s the reels!
“No. Some people feel they can trust the mechanical devices more than the video devices, but the reality of the matter is that there’s really no difference in terms of which one is going to treat you more fairly. They’re all the same in that regard.”
If you can afford it, you should play the dollar slots, not the nickel ones.
“Yes. There’s a situation where the casinos will sometimes attach a more favorable pay table if you’re willing to pay more money. So it’s kind of like a scale discount, where if you buy more Campbell’s soup, you get a can free. It’s a little perk, where if you’re willing to spend more money, they’re willing to give you a little bit more back.”
There’s that scene in “Casino” where Robert de Niro berates his slots manager for hiding their best machines in the back. Is that true? Do casinos really put their loosest slots up front?
“You know, every casino slot manager has their own strategies for compelling people to enjoy their casino floor. So I’m not going to say it never happens, and I’m not going to say that it’s categorically a rule. But at the end of the day, that casino floor has to generate so much money, so if there is a difference, it’s going to be very minimal. And one could look at it just the opposite: the ones up front are the ones most likely to get played the most, and therefore those are the ones most likely to have the worst payouts.”
Always play max coins or max credits.
“Well, sometimes if you pay max credits, it will enable certain monetary payouts that otherwise wouldn’t be enabled, like the progressive. The progressive is an ever growing prize that you see up on the top displays. So in some instances, if you’re not playing max, you’re not eligible to win that. The player really has to pay attention to what’s available to them if they bet more.”
Playing high volatility games (ones with bigger payouts, but less frequent ones) betters your odds of winning.
“No. Volatility refers to the range that a game will pay out, from its lowest prizes to its largest prizes, and how frequently it pays those prizes out. A high volatility game will have some really large prizes, but to pay out large prizes, that means that it needs to save up a lot of money to do so. So it’s going to pay out less frequently. You’re going to suffer through a lot of losses, but if you’re the lucky one that’s on the machine when the large prizes start paying out, then you reap those benefits. It’s just a matter of preference, and of knowing what type of player you are.”
If all these machines are just, well, machines, how come you see all these people in the casinos touching or rubbing their screens for good luck?
“I think some people think that there are ways to affect the outcome. There’s a lot of superstition around them. But you know what? While that may not affect the outcome, it’s back to what makes you feel good, and what makes you feel like you’re giving yourself the best chances to win. It’s all part of the fun. I don’t want to discourage people from having fun, because that’s what they’re there to do.”
So if you really can’t control your odds of winning at slots through strategies or screen rubbing, what should you do to maximize your winnings (or at least minimize your losses)?
“If you play a lot, you definitely want to take advantage of the player cards. A lot of times what will happen, particularly at certain casinos, they may actually dial down the payouts of the games, but they will give you a lot of credit on your player card. And that player card can be turned in for credits to play more games, or can be used to buy products in the casinos, or buffets, or what have you. So you definitely want to take advantage of those incentives, because otherwise you’re leaving money on the table. That’s part of your winnings.”