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Ready to Pay?

Can you tell when a slot machine is “ready to pay” a jackpot? For the most part, no.

By Frank Legato


In doing a routine Google search for “slot machine,” I came across an article posted on the site of a Texas broadcast station titled “How to Tell if a Slot Machine is Ready to Pay.”

This article actually offers some valid tips concerning slot machines. The trouble is that practically none of them returns the promise of the the headline—i.e., telling you how to know when a slot machine is about to pay a jackpot.

The reason for that is simple: In 99.99 percent of situations, there is no way to tell when a slot machine is about to pay off.

More later about that other 0.01 percent. The simple fact is that a normal slot machine is never “due to hit.” Each result must, by law, meet a standard of randomness.

When a slot machine’s program is created, a number is assigned to each possible result. Then, more numbers are assigned to those same results. Potentially high-paying results are assigned few or even just one number. Low-paying and non-paying results, like blanks, are assigned many more numbers. When the finished machine is powered up, a random number generator program (RNG) begins at a “seed number” and then continuously cycles through all the numbers in the program, even if the game itself is idle.

Each time a player hits the “spin” button or pulls the handle, the machine’s computer freezes the sequence of numbers generated by the RNG at that instant, instantly translating it into a result on the reels. What that means to the player is that each result is independent of any other result.

Between spins, the RNG is cycling through thousands of numbers per second. It is impossible for you, as the player, to predict the numbers on which the RNG will land at the instant you press the button or pull the handle—the latter of which, in the case of the modern slot machine, only presses an internal button to pick the result. This is why no one can tell what the next result will be.

(It is also why, if you play for a while and get up, and the next player sits down and hits a jackpot, you need not be upset. The cycling goes so fast, it’s essentially impossible you would have hit that button at the exact same instant the winner did.)

Turning back to the “Ready to Pay” tips in the article, they are mostly common-sense tips to give you a better chance of winning: If the payback percentage, known as return-to-player or RTP, is listed in the game’s menu (you’re more likely to find this easily in the case of online slot games), pick the game with the highest RTP. Look for the games that are most popular, because there’s a reason they are popular: people win playing them. Play the max bet. Read magazines like this one or expert books to find what the most high-paying machines are (hint: they’re not penny games) and which are the least volatile in their payout programs.

There’s only one tip in the article that comes close to identifying how to find a game on which a jackpot may be imminent, although even that one misses the mark: It advises you to find a game that “hasn’t paid in ages.”

It misses the mark because it cannot apply to most slot machines. Remember? Each result is independent. It cannot even reliably apply to a progressive jackpot that has risen to a level higher than any level at which the prize has previously been won. There was a progressive slot at MGM Grand in Las Vegas that went 20 years without the jackpot being hit.

So, as indicated earlier, on 99.99 percent of games, the near-future results are not predictable. The other 0.01 percent to which I referred—and it may not even be that high—can be attributed to the comparatively recent phenomenon of so-called “Must-Hit-By” progressive jackpots. There are a few progressive slots out there that advertise a jackpot that “must hit by” $500, $5,000, $10,000 or whatever.

This feature is always clearly marked on the game. So, if you see one that says the progressive must hit by $5,000 and the progressive level (fed by each coin wagered) is at $4,990, sit down. Quickly. And start pushing that button. Because this is the only type of game one can realistically say is “ready to pay.”

But good luck finding a seat. The bank is going to be packed with people chasing that jackpot. And even if you do find a seat, there’s still no guarantee that you will win the jackpot.

Good luck.

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