How Do Gaming Machines Work?

Are the reels real?

Have you ever wondered what's inside a gaming machine? The first surprise for some people is that there are no reels spinning around the modern Australian gaming machine. The reels you see are just projected on the screen. The winning or losing combination really has nothing to do with what is on the screen. It is simply a fancy way of showing you whether or not you won a prize.

What makes the machine work?

Well, apart from putting in your money, the most important component of a gaming machine is the Random Number Generator. This is part of the internal computer of the machine. And there is no prize for guessing what the Random Number Generator does. Yep, it generates random numbers! This is important because it is the random numbers that are translated into the random outcomes of the machine when you press the play button. Each time you press the button, the outcome is completely random. It doesn't matter what the previous outcomes of the gaming machine were, each button push is completely independent.

So how come I get a feeling that a machine is about to pay?

That's because something else is not completely random. And that's your brain. The brain has a good memory and it can identify patterns and trends. Emotions, such as the desire to win, can affect the brain's outcome. So the brain can sometimes give us the idea that a machine is more or less likely to pay a prize without there being any evidence to support that idea.

But I've seen it happen! Right after I got off the machine someone jumped on and won a big prize!

OK. But it doesn't mean that the machine was somehow bursting with your money. It was just one of those random things that happen. The important thing is that you were really upset when it happened, so you remembered that occasion very clearly. What you don't remember so clearly are the many occasions when you thought you were going to win and didn't, or someone else got on the machine and they didn't win either. So we remember the big wins more than the many losses.

I thought machines were programmed to pay back a certain percentage.

Yes they are, but over the life of the machine. You need to play a few million games for the machines to get close to the percentage they are supposed to pay. Along the way, the machines will fluctuate. Sometimes they pay more, sometimes they pay less. So most times you play a gaming machine you will finish up with a lot less than the average theoretical return. Once in a while, you will win big which will make you feel really good. The rest of the time you can expect to lose.

Then is a machine more likely to pay a big prize if it hasn't paid for a while?

No, every game is the same. The machine is just as likely to pay when it hasn't paid after 5 hours of play than if it paid 5 minutes ago.

Do gaming machine makers employ teams of psychologists to make them addictive?

No they don't. It is the random nature of the games that make them attractive, and a small percentage of players find that too attractive and become addicted. The rest of us just enjoy the excitement of wondering if the next button push will win a prize. The makers of gaming machines certainly try to make them attractive. They want you to put your money in their machine rather than their competitor's. So they look at the features of the machines on the market and try to identify those features that get people to choose to play one particular machine instead of another. And those features are unfortunately addictive for a small percentage of people.

Do I have a better chance of winning if I play all the lines on a multi-line machine or play the maximum bet?

No, it doesn't matter how many lines you play or how big the bet, your chance of winning is always the same on that particular machine. If you play more lines, you'll win more often, but it is also costing you more. If you bet more, your prizes will be proportionately larger, and so will your losses.

I feel some machines pay more often than others. Should I trust my feelings?

Perhaps you should. Some machines do have a higher return to player. The general rule of thumb is the higher the denomination of the machine, the higher the return to player. For example, a $1 machine will often have a better return to player than a 1 cent machine - this is generally to encourage people to wager a higher amount. Unless you live in the ACT, where venues are required to display the theoretical return to player on each machine, you won't be able to easily find out the theoretical return to player. So your feeling that a particular machine pays more may be worth taking into account. The higher return to player, the longer you can theoretically play the machine before your money runs out.

What else is inside a gaming machine?

The gaming machine is housed in a cabinet. Insert your money in the note acceptor or coin slot and press the buttons to play. You can play a single line or multiple lines on most machines. Look at the video screen. Above it is the top box and below is the belly panel. If you are lucky your winnings will be deposited in the coin tray, or you might need to call for an attendant or take your ticket to the cashier.

If you could look inside the gaming machine you would see a cashbox where the paper money is stored and a note validator to check the money is genuine. Coins are stored in a hopper. There are computer parts including a motherboard, meters and cables. Speakers play the machine sounds and an alarm goes off if someone tries to break into the machine.

As there is just a lot of computer and technical stuff inside, you can't influence the result by stroking or hitting them, talking to them nicely or threatening them. Even lucky charms don't work.

How can I win when I play a gaming machine?

The best way to be a winner is to be realistic. Don't trust in luck. Feelings can deceive us. Expect to lose money and only gamble what you can afford. Set a limit and stick to it. Don't try to win back what you've lost. Chasing losses is for losers. Every now and then you'll come out ahead. Enjoy the feeling!

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