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How Slot Machines Work

Slots Machines Overview – How Slot Machines Work

Charles Fey invented the first slot machine in the late 1800s. But dont blame him. ­Bugsy Siegel started the craze when he furnished his Flamingo Hilton hotel with slots back in the late 1940s as entertainment for the wives and girlfriends of his high-rolling friends. The rest is history. America cant seem to build slot palaces fast enough!

Slot machines have a universal appeal because, unlike other casino games, you can play them at your own pace and they dont require any skill. In this article, well wade through enough interesting facts about slot machine odds and percentages to make your head spin. Then, well try to help you find a machine thats right for you, and get into a playing strategy in the next article.

How Slot Machines Work

Slot machines, commonly referred to as one-armed bandits, are unmistakably games of chance. They evolved from simple mechanical devices with three spinning reels, to the microprocessor (computer)-controlled devices with three to five spinning reels that we see today. The reels are the spinning wheels inside a slot-machine window on which the symbols are printed.

The old-style reel has 20 symbols on it, but with todays technology a reel can have hundreds—its actually very hard to tell! Your goal, whether playing an old machine or a new one, is to spin the reels so that the symbols on all reels line up on the payline in a winning combination, like the one shown in the following figure. If they do, you win according to the payout table posted on the front of the machine. The payout table tells you what each winning symbol combination pays for the number of coins played. If the symbols dont line up in a winning combination, you try again!

Odds fire, Theres a Catch

It doesnt matter at all what type of symbols a machine has, such as wild cherries, bars, double bars, double diamonds, 7s, and so on. What does matter is how many reels a machine has and how many symbols are on each reel. The more reels and sym­bols, the harder it is to hit the jackpot or even a winning combination.

For example, if you need to line up three gold 7s on one payline to win the jackpot, its likely that each reel only has one gold 7 on it. On a three-reel ma­chine with a total of 20 symbols on each reel, your chances of lining up all three gold 7s are

Number of gold 7s per reel: 1 1 1
Possible symbol combinations on all three reels: 20 x 20 x 20 = 8,000
Odds of hitting three gold 7s on three reels: 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20 = 1 in 8,000


Gamb-lingoThe payline is the line on a slot-machine window where the symbols from each reel must line up. Slot machines can have as many as eight (or more!) paylines, although most only have one. The more paylines, the more coins you need to play.

Diminishing Returns:

If there happen to be 120 symbols (instead of 20) on each reel, but still only one gold 7, your odds or chances of hitting the jackpot are reduced to:

1/120 x 1/120 x 1/120, or 1 in 1,728,000!

It gets even worse when you play a five-reel machine with just 20 symbols each:

1/20 X 1/20 X 1/20 X 1/20 X 1/20 = 1 in 3,200,000.

(Thats less than one chance in three million!)

The number of reels and the number of symbols on each reel greatly affect your chances of winning. Its certainly not a case of the more the merrier in slots!


The jackpot is the moment youve been waiting for. Its the biggest win you can get on a slot machine: the combination of symbols that pays you back for all your time and effort.


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