In the modern era, casinos are ubiquitous. Whether you’re in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New Jersey or any other destination with a heavy gambling presence, you’ll almost certainly find a casino somewhere nearby. The primary game offered by nearly all casinos is slots — also known as one-armed bandits due to their resemblance to a bandit in old westerns. These games are typically found in standalone machines that operate independently of other games and take coins or tokens rather than cash. While this makes them cheaper and easier to manage for casinos, they also give us a quick insight into how these establishments can control slot machines. Many people are understandably wary about slot machines and the possibility of being fleeced by unscrupulous operators. However, with so many casinos opening around the world it’s clear that they can be operated ethically and legally.
How Can Casinos Control Slot Machines?
Some people may think that casinos have a way of controlling slot machines so that they always win. While this could happen in extreme circumstances — for example, where a whole casino has been purchased by a criminal organization — it’s unlikely for several reasons. First, slot machines are computers, so you can’t tinker with the internals to increase the likelihood of winning like you might with a mechanical device. Secondly, the regulatory environment in which casinos operate means that they are unlikely to risk the reputational damage that would arise from being caught tampering with slot machines. Thirdly, even if a casino was caught tampering with slot machines, it would be very difficult for them to do so on a large scale. Slot machines are designed to be relatively simple and low maintenance. They typically have just a few buttons that can be pressed to reset them, clear out jammed coins and so forth.
Slot Machine Randomness
While it’s not technically possible to predict the outcome of a slot machine, many people mistakenly assume that they are operated in a manner that is guaranteed to produce a profit. In reality, it’s impossible to build a machine that will always come out ahead long term.
This is because all slot machines are designed to be random. This doesn’t mean that there is no skill involved in playing slots. You’ll need to make educated decisions about where to play, when to play and what to play. However, it’s impossible to predict the end result of any single spin. Even if you were to record the results of a given machine over the course of days, weeks, months or years and then apply a mathematical model to predict the future results, you would never be able to account for every possible scenario that could result in a win or loss.
Many people assume that slot machines are controlled by a computer system that can be hacked. In reality, many slot machines are controlled by an electromechanical card reader. This device reads a card inserted by the person playing the machine that includes information about their age and gambling habits. This allows casinos to track the habits of individual players so that they can offer them tailored promotions, advice and so forth. In some cases, casinos rely on card readers to stop players who have won too frequently from continuing to win too much. This is known as “end of cycle” (EOE) and is designed to prevent players from getting overly excited and spending too much money on slots. Typically, EOE can be activated if a player wins a jackpot three or four times in a row.
Pause Button and Exit Button
Most slot machines have a “pause” or “exit” button that can be pressed to temporarily stop the machine from spinning. A casino employee can use this button to stop the machine manually if they believe a player is getting too lucky. During busy spells, casinos may take steps to limit how much individual players can win. This allows them to maintain excitement and interest in slots without letting too much money be won. If a casino wishes to prevent a player from winning too much, they may simply use the pause and exit button to slow the machine down. It’s also possible to configure slot machines so that they can’t be stopped. This is sometimes done to prevent players slowing down machines by pressing the exit button.
Shims and Skill Games
Some casinos use shims to stop certain slot machines from paying out. A shim is a small piece of metal between the spinning reel and the backplate. It can be used to stop a machine from paying out when the reels land on the symbols required, even if the win would be significant. This allows casinos to prevent individual players from winning too much. This isn’t an issue for the majority of slot machines.
Many of these don’t pay out jackpots at all as they are designed to return a certain percentage of money wagered. This means that they are designed to give back less than the money put in. However, slots with high volatility can be challenging for casinos. When players win big jackpots, they become the focus of attention and spend large amounts of money on continued play. This can put pressure on a casino’s profitability, even if the machines are designed to give back more than they take in on average.
All of these methods can be used to control slot machines and make it more difficult for players to win. However, they can’t be used to guarantee that a particular player or machine will win or lose. No matter how many controls are in place, slots are ultimately random and luck is the decisive factor. While it’s important to be wary about how slot machines operate, there’s no need to be paranoid. These machines are heavily regulated and operators are unlikely to risk tampering with them in a way that might be discovered.