Readers ask if quick reflexes are the key to winning
By John Grochowski
I keep a list of questions that I’m most often asked about slot machines. You could probably tick off some of them: “Are games programmed to go cold after a big win?” “Do you get less payback when you use your rewards card?” And the big one, “Can you tell me how to win?”
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Those have been standards ever since I started writing about casinos and casino games 20 years ago. But recently, another question has been shooting up the charts. I have it all the way up at No. 2 on the readers’ hit parade:
“I’ve noticed on a lot of video slot games that if I hit the button a second time while the reels are spinning, they stop right away. I was wondering if I could use this to my advantage. If I see the bonus triggers or the jackpot symbols at the top, should I quickly hit the button again and try to stop the reels?”
I had that thought myself the first time I accidentally double-hit a button and saw the reels click to an immediate halt. Could this be an answer to the chart-topping question, “how to win on the slots?”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. In nearly all slot games that allow you to stop the reels, there is no skill or timing involved on your part. The random number generator has already determined your outcome when you hit the button to spin the reels, and you’re going to get the same result regardless of whether you stop the reels early, or let them halt in their own time.
When you play a slot machine, the game isn’t actually being played out on the reels, whether it uses “real” reels or video reels. It’s being played internally, on the game’s random number generator. The reels are just a player-friendly interface, and are told where to stop by the RNG. If there’s a malfunction and the reel display doesn’t match the numbers generated, it’s the RNG that counts. Large jackpots can be denied—and have been denied—if a check shows the random numbers on the internal computer chip don’t match the winning symbols on the reels.
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But this is extremely rare. The engineering is good enough that almost all the time, the RNG and reel display are going to match up. This doesn’t change if you double-hit the bet button. If the RNG has spit out a random number that tells the first reel to stop on a single bar, then you’re going to get a single bar—regardless of whether you hit the button a second time for a “quick stop,” or just let them take their own sweet time.
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There are rare exceptions. When I’ve answered similar questions in the past, I’ve mentioned IGT’s Reel Edge games. In their original incarnation, Reel Edge games enabled players to touch and stop the reels one at a time. There was actual skill involved. Your timing in stopping the reels determined the outcome. The reels spun very, very fast, so it was going take a keen eye and sharp reflexes to get better than random results, but it was possible.
I gave it a try, and found my reflexes just weren’t fast enough to generate more than my normal share of winners. In the original three-reel Blood Life game, I identified a green 7 as the easiest symbol to pick out as it whizzed by. I touched each reel individually as I saw a green 7 reach the top of the slot window, and managed to stop 7s on all three reels. Alas, I failed to land them all on the same payline. Some younger folks with quicker reactions may have been able to do better.
I don’t know if any of the first generation of Reel Edge games remain on casino floors. They were never widespread, and I don’t get lists from casinos or manufacturers telling me what games are available in any given casino. The new generation of Reel Edge puts the skill-based portions of the games in the bonus events.
Blood Life’s updated video incarnation, Blood Life Legends, allows you to test your skill with a joystick to guide a bat through the ups, downs, twists and turns of a cave as you try to collect gems for bonuses. There is actual skill involved, but it’s not the reel-stopping experience readers have been asking about.
On most slot games, even in the bonus events you’re getting an illusion of skill rather than actual skill. And when it comes to stopping the reels, it’s the random number generator, not your reflexes, that determines the results.
What about my readers’ other top questions?
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To answer another—no, games are not programmed to go cold after big wins. Results remain as random as humans can program a computer to be. As long as the RNG keeps doing its thing, any big jackpot, any hot streak, and any cold streak eventually fade away into statistical insignificance, and the machine comes very close to its expected payback percentage.
No, you don’t get less payback when you use your rewards card. The player rewards system doesn’t interact with the RNG.
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And no, with rare exceptions, there is no way to beat the slots except by being in the right place at the right time. There have been opportunities for small profit on games with banked bonuses such as the old WMS game Piggy Bankin’, where the sharpies would start to play only when there were enough coins in the bank to give the player an edge.
Such games are not common. Just as with stopping the reels early, your results are up to chance and the RNG.