The slot machine used to be just a sideline novelty for casual gamers to come and play a few rounds on and then hit the “real” games. They don’t have any skill involved and they’re cheap, which is nice for many gamers. Casino owners ended up finding out that, contrary to their assumptions, people loved the games and would drop tons of money looking for that winning combination. Nowadays, you see slots taking up the bulk of a casino and allowing the casino to take in somewhere between 60% and 70% of its profits from these games. One of the most exciting things about slots machines is the anticipation after you press the button, pull the lever, or click the mouse Watching the colors, shapes, and lights flicker and twirl can make even the most veteran slot jockey shuffle in their seat with glee. From the time the first reel stops until the moment the last one stops, every player waits with baited breath. The sheer randomness of it all is absolutely invigorating. And, the fact of the matter is, it is just that: random. Well, it’s not exactly random, since it does follow a system, but it certainly looks like it to any observer. Basically, when you start the process of the wheels spinning or icons flashing, you’re stopping a random number generator. This means that if you stand up and someone else sits at the machine and wins the jackpot on their first spin, you probably weren’t going to hit the jackpot, as the random number generator is constantly in motion regardless of whether anyone is actually hitting the button or not. Even though the machine might be cycling through its numbers in order, the way it determines the actual characters that show up is through a complex algorithm. In essence, an algorithm is a set of rules that a computer uses to create and solve complex mathematical problems. For instance, say that you press the button when the machine cycles to number 3,455,732 (since the machine has billions of numbers it will cycle through), the number is then used by several different mathematical processes (usually the amount of processes it goes through is determined by the number of reels), to determine the outcome. Now, on a completely fair machine it would be trying to create a number that corresponds to a specific character on the reel. If that were so, then a machine with three reels and five characters (or blanks) and one jackpot combination would likely pay out one out of every 125 times (or .008%). In reality, these are pretty good odds. I’d certainly spend $125 (or even $1,000) if I knew that it was highly likely that, at some point during that I’d hit the jackpot and make millions. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. What the machine is actually looking for is the amount of movement that the reels are going to do with every spin. The amount of movement is determined individually for each reel. This means that for the same machine there is a one in several, several billion chance that it will give the instructions for the right amount of movement to hit that sweet, sweet jackpot. You must be thinking that there are certain times during which the casino makes the slots looser or tighter. Maybe they make the slots looser on comparatively slow days (even though there are no truly “slow” days in a casino). This isn’t true either. The microprocessor is permanently programmed before the casino even gets it and it is made to the casino’s specifications. If they want to change the odds, they have to buy a new chip and register it, which requires a lot of money and a lot of paperwork. Now you might be thinking of something like counting cards in blackjack where, even though there is an element of randomness to the whole thing, there is an element of determinism in the system too. While counting cards is somewhat easy with practice and the outcomes are somewhat random, it’s a much slower and less intricate process. Even with a deck shuffle you can have a vague idea of where the card will end up, even with three or four shuffles. That kind of clubs that you know went on the top of the deck isn’t going to suddenly appear at the very bottom in three shuffles. With a slot machine, you have to know several things at once. First, you need to know how many numbers the machine is programmed to cycle through. Next you need to know how often the numbers change. Third, you’ll need to know what algorithm it’s using to determine the motion. Finally, you need to know the number it was on when you sat down. Even with that, you have to have the skill to process that math quickly and the reflexes to hit the button at the right millisecond. Unfortunately, it is, for all intents and purposes, random and there’s no way to get around that. Have fun with it. Put your money in, press the button, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.