How Do Online Slots Machines work?
When you look at a slot machine, you generally see a game that host several reels, usually ranging from 3 to 5, although online slots have seen them vary even more than this. On each reel is a series of numbers or symbols and to win, the player needs to spin the reels and hope they land in a sequence that will return a payout.
Most slot games look or feel different from each other. This might be to do with the theme, music, payouts, features or functions of how the game works. The reality is that this is all for show and actually, all slot machines work in the same way.
Before we dive in a little deeper, it’s worth noting that slot machines are extremely complex mathematical machines. It’s common for people to talk about when a slot might be due to drop or how likely a certain feature might occur based on previous results, but this is virtually impossible to tell and you’d need millions of spins' worth of data to even try to start predicting.
There are two key elements that every slot machine has. This is an RTP (Return to Player) and an RNG (Random Number Generator). Let’s kick things off with the RNG. The RNG is designed to make the slot machine as random as possible. This makes hacking and predicting outcomes almost impossible. However, the games aren’t actually random. Instead, they are known as pseudo-random.
Pseudo-random is where a physical event has to take place to get the outcome for that game. A good example of how this works would be a roulette wheel. When the ball travels around the wheel it does so at speed. The wheel spins in a counter-direction to the ball and it would be impossible to know the reaction it would have once it makes contact with the wheel and then lands in its final resting spot.
But it is actually possible to work it out, technically speaking. To do this you would need to know the exact force that the ball has been released at, along with countless other data such as weight of the ball, size of the number slots, the resistance of the wheel etc. Basically, things you’re never going to know or be able to work out without an incredible amount of research.
This makes a roulette wheel as random as it can be. However, it’s not fully “random”. Slots work in much the same way. They are incredibly complex, but they are not uncertain. The RNG goes a huge way to give these games an erratic sequence of numbers, but they aren’t truly random.
How the Random Number Generator Works (RNG)
The goal for the RNG is to create a sequence of numbers that then converts into how the reels on your screen will appear. There are billions of possibilities that are created from a unique algorithm applied to each game. In fact, these algorithms can be changed to create different games types, adjusting features like volatility to make the slot play differently.
The algorithm starts with a seed number. This can be taken from anything but can be as random as the time of day, as an example. Three equations then take place. A multiplication, an addition and a division. The seed number has then been taken, calculated and then spat out to create the first random number. This continues for each reel to create a range. The seed for the next reel is then taken from this range and so on for each reel.
Let’s say, for example, we took the time-of-day quarter past two in the afternoon. The seed number is 1415. Say we randomly multiply this by 5, add 10 and divide by 20. This gives us a number of 354.25. This number would then have some reference to a symbol which then appears on your screen.
- The Best Slots for Mobile Devices - Top Mobile Slots
- How to Manage Money Playing Slots – Complete Bankroll Guide
As the time-of-day changes for the seed number, along with random number appearing at each point for the equations, it becomes almost impossible to track, unless of course, you’re a computer. We mentioned that the numbers aren’t totally random, and this is true. But it would take billions of spins to get to a point where the sequence would start to repeat itself.
To put this into some context, if you assumed a sequence would take 4 billion spins until it started to repeat itself, this would mean that, on a 90% RTP slot, someone betting 25c per spin would spend $33 million waiting for the cycle to then start again.
The next spanner in the works is that of the RTP (Return to Player). Each slot comes with an RTP which is represented as a percentage. This has been designed so the casino is guaranteed to make money on that specific game, something important to note if you like playing at real-money slots.
For example, a game that has a 95% RTP means that for every $1 staked, 95c of that money would be returned to the player and 5c would go to the casino. RTP rates differ from game to game but usually hover around the 95% mark for the most part. Anything less than 90% in the modern-day casino is considered very low and likely should be avoided.
It’s worth noting that when you stake $1 on a 95% RTP you aren’t going to lose 5c with each spin. This would make the game pointless. The RTP is designed so that it lets the punter win sometimes, but over a massive range of spins, the casino will make a profit. This is called variance, which is sometimes referred to as volatility for slots.
Basically, slots are just computerized algorithms which are slightly in favor of the casino. They allow players to win sometimes and make the casino a slight favorite overall, which makes them exciting to play as a result.