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How Slots Work

Modern slot machines have more lights and gadgets than slots from previous eras, but from a player's perspective the operation of the game is still much the same. This appearance is intentional and very misleading; what you see isn't always what is happening. You see, the lever and the reels on a slot machine are simply props to enhance the player's experience. It also serves to make a person believe that they actually play a part in what is about to happen; that the speed at which the pull and release the lever influences how the reels end up. Here's a quick comparison between how slots work today and when they first came out.

Back then...

In order to understand how slots work today, it is important to know how they are built If you're a slots fan, you're sure to have heard of the Liberty Bell. Created by Charles August Fey in San Francisco, it was the most popular slot machine in its day. It had three reels, each of which had ten sections (or stops) with a symbol at each stop. The symbols included horseshoes, card suits, and bells. The Liberty Bell functioned much in the same way as the modern models appear to work. You inserted the coins, pulled the lever and the reels would begin to spin. If you got three identical symbols, you would win. The operation was strictly mechanical and the machines design yielded 1 in 1,000 odds of winning (given that the machine wasn't rigged).

Because it was such a new thing, many gamblers didn't understand the odds and it was easy for the slot machine to cheat them out of their money with a mere payout of 22 coins. That's how slots became known as one-armed bandits, because you would lose more than you'd win in the long run.

That's how it was in the old days; however, none of it applies to the workings of modern slot machines.


Today's slots are run by a computer chip known as a Random Number Generator (RNG), which randomly selects numbers in a particular range (usually zero to a few billion). Each number in the range corresponds to a unique combination of symbols on the slot's reels. The RNG works around the clock, calculating a new number every millisecond.

You may have your own idea about how slots work, but if you think that the outcome has anything to do with how you play the machine, you're in for a big surprise. The truth is that as soon as you insert the coin into the machine and press the button (or pull the lever), the outcome has already been decided. What happens is that the number that was on the RNG at that particular moment is delivered to the machines mechanism, which controls where the reels are to stop; the spinning of the wheels, although it may look like the contest has yet to be determined, is just for show.

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