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HOME > Gaming > Ask the Slot Expert: Slot Machines Tease When You're Almost Out of Credits

Ask the Slot Expert: Slot Machines Tease When You're Almost Out of Credits

11 December 2013

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

My question is in regards to a phenomenon that I see a lot. Recently, I was in AC and played in four casinos where I noticed the following:

While playing penny Cashman machines (various different types - Jail Bird, African Dusk, etc.), when I get near the end of whatever dollar amount I put in the machine a few things happen:

  1. it starts hitting - even if it never gave a single coin before - in usually very small amounts - 10, 20, 30 cents (when betting 50 cents or $1.25).
  2. when I get down to under 50 cents and say have a small amount left in the machine - like 4 cents - invariably it will let me win 4, 7, 9 cents several times and then, of course, it dies.

It's extremely noticeable on a machine that never paid a single coin - which is happening more and more frequently lately.

I cannot believe any of this is random when I can predict it with next to 100% accuracy that when you are down to the wire, all of a sudden the machine will give you very small token amounts before cleaning you out.

Can you shed any light on what's happening?


Dear Harry,

I think I know what's happening, but I don't think you're going to like my explanations.

When we're running out of money on the credit meter, we become hypersensitive to whatever happens on the machine, more so than if we had hundreds of credits left. If the machine is cold, we'll run out of credits and have to decide whether to feed the machine to stay in the game or switch machines. If the machine starts hitting, we've won a reprieve and can delay our "fight or flight" decision until later. The events you described happen when our credit meters are flush too, but we don't attach any significance to them then.

Now, let's look at some of your statements. You said that some machines "never paid a single coin." Really? Not one single coin? That's not very likely -- actually, nearly impossible -- given that the hit frequency for Mr. Cashman is about 50%. Although you could have some short streaks of losing spins, on the whole you'll win at least one coin on about half your spins.

Given that hit frequency, it's not surprising that you hit some small amounts. That's how the video slots can have such high hit frequencies -- they can pay back less than a push.

It's also not surprising that you hit some small amounts a few times when your meter was low. You have about a 50/50 chance of hitting something on a spin.

Finally, it's not surprising that you eventually lost your bankroll. After all, the machines are designed to pay back a few percentage points less than the money they take in. If you played long enough, the house edge will eventually eat your bankroll.

In short, there's nothing special about being nearly out of credits. You would be able to make the same observations if you paid close attention to what happens when you neared 100 credits or 1000 credits. The machine doesn't care, moreover, that you are nearly out of credits. The RNG isn't affected by the number of credits left. Only you care that you are almost out of credits.

Can casinos control slot payouts? I think they can, even when the slot machines have RNGs.

No, the casino has no control whatsoever over when a slot machine hits.

The slot regulations in most states say that the slot machine has to display the result determined by the Random Number Generator (RNG) in the machine. So, if the casino wanted to force a particular outcome, it would have to force the RNG to generate that result. But the regulations also say that the RNG must be free of any outside influence. So the casino can't affect the RNG in any way.

The casino can't control the RNG and it can't control a slot machine's payouts.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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