Slots- A tragic love-hate story

One man. $100000 dollars. A slot machine. This July, find out what fate has in store for him in a cinema near you. Or... read on to find out what's likely to happen.

Have you ever been to a casino and see these fancy machines lined up, ever rolling with the sound of coins? These slot machines are by far one of the most common and popular games in a casino. Reeling in numerous players in a day, I remember hearing on the radio once that slot machines make the most profit for casino owners. Why is this the case? And what is the concept behind slot machines?

First of all, let's stick to the basic 3 reel slot machine. Each reel contains a certain number of images it can display when the reel stops spinning. Typically, one reel would have around 30 images, some repeated to increase the chances of landing on them. This would mean that if you wanted to hit the jackpot, you would need to land on that specific image (out of 29 others) on all 3 reels.

Clearly, from this explanation, it is without a doubt impossibly difficult to achieve that. On the other hand, the odds of winning something are not astronomically low, or else casinos would lose customers within the first day of opening. The payout is, however, not high enough to earn back a profit.

With this in mind, what are the chances of making a profit when playing slots?

  • Let's say that it costs $10 to play a game on the slot machines.

  • Each reel has 10 images (much better odds than 30 images): a 7, 5 different fruits (cherry, orange, banana, grapes, lemon) and 4 bars, each with equal chances to land on.

If you get:

  1. 3 (7)'s, you win $50

  2. 3 cherries, you win $25

  3. 3 grapes, you win $20

  4. 2 (7)'s, you win $20

  5. 3 of banana, orange or lemon, you win $15

  6. 3 bars, you win $10

  7. 2 of any same fruits, you win $5

Now that we have set the rules of the game, let's do some simple calculations to see the chances of winning. Assuming that the pictures on each reel have equal probability of stopping on:

  1. There only contains 1 (7) in each reel of 10 pictures, hence the chances of landing on it is 1 / 10. So, the chances of getting all 3 sevens would be 1 / 10 multiplied by itself 3 times.

  2. Similarly, the odds of getting 3 of the same type of fruit is equal to that of getting 3 sevens.

  3. Getting 2 sevens, however, is a different story. This is because there are 3 ways to get 2 sevens, namely: ( _ 7 7 ), ( 7 _ 7 ) , ( 7 7 _ ). Hence, the probability of getting 2 sevens is as shown in the table.

  4. As for getting 3 bars, the concept is the same as getting 3 sevens, except for the probability of getting a bar. So, instead of 1 / 10 multiplied by itself 3 times, it's 4 / 10 multiplied by itself 3 times.

  5. The odds of getting 2 of any same fruits is equal to the odds of getting 2 sevens.

From this, we can see that the probability of winning something, is 0.248, which is slightly lower than 1 in 4 times. You may think this is decent, but, if you're looking to make a profit, the chances of that happening is only 0.098 (slightly lower than 1 in 10).

Then again, you could say that there should be more ways to win instead of just 7 of them. But, don't forget, the calculations above were based on the assumption that each image on the reels have equal probability. Nowadays, machines have the capability to generate different probabilities for each image. This would mean that the chances of landing on a 7 or a fruit could be less than 1 / 10. Wouldn't this make it more likely to lose?

This is why slots has sometimes been deemed to be one of the worst games to play when in a casino. In fact, most games in a casino are designed to be in favour of the house (casino owner). Hence, one should always exercise caution when gambling or it could fuel an unhealthy addiction and ruin your life.

Remember: gambling is only a form of entertainment, it isn't worth spending your life savings just to win a game. After all, the odds will always be stacked against you.


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