Expectations versus reality in slots

Slot machines are very profitable games for both online and land-based casinos. Although most players know that these slots have a huge house edge, they still continue to play them. Playing in a land-based casino has a social aspect that online casinos do not. You can chat with other players or play together with friends.

Researchers in the field of gaming science and psychology began publishing studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s that uncovered some of the secrets of the casino industry. Game developers built their games so that players would play them longer. This is not a surprise to anyone today, but back then people were still quite naive.

The Internet did not yet exist and the secrets of the gambling industry remained hidden for a long time. Those who were lucky found an honest book on gambling in bookstores. But most people probably got their knowledge of manipulative elements from magazines or the newspaper. Nowadays, we look much more skeptically at what we spend on a slot machine and what it yields.

Slot machine payout
Slot machines are designed to reinforce the expectation that you are going to win

Everyone expects to win

Subconsciously, everyone thinks they are going to win a big one once. No matter how many times you tell yourself that you are just playing for fun. Logical, since slots pay out money, after all. However, many prizes are just pure losses; others are simply less expensive losses. Slot machines are designed to reinforce the expectation that you will win.

Several studies, such as those by the “Journal of Gambling Studies,” have shown that games create and reinforce this expectation. That study evaluated how multi-line video slot games use “LDWs” (losses disguised as wins) to entice players to play longer.

Suppose you play a slot game with 50 lines and it charges €0.01 per payline. The game can pay out a prize of €0.30 on a base bet of €0.50. That’s actually a loss, but it looks like a win. The game can even say, “you win €0.30!”, where it should really just say “you lose €0.20”.

Every spin is almost a win

This is another somewhat outdated technique that was admitted by game developers during a series of Nevada Gaming Commission hearings. This involves using a technique called clustering to simulate near wins. In older slot machines, the reels (controlled by computer chips) lined up two of the three winning symbols. However, the third reel stopped just below the win line.

Some games were designed to pause on the winning symbol and then roll up or down to a lower reel. The same result, but with an intermediate step where one briefly sees the required symbol. This trick came to light during the hearing and is no longer used, in part because many gaming regulators have banned this practice.

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Playing longer increases the chance of winning

This is an often-heard and also controversial expectation. Those who are not worried about their play credit and are really playing for fun will want to play as long as possible. The stakes will therefore be kept low. In 2008, Kyle Siegrist of the University of Alabama in Huntsville published a groundbreaking article titled “How to Gamble If You Must.” His research used an imaginary game called “Red and Black.

Siegrist’s finding that the longer a cautious gambler (who plays with minimal bets) plays, the more likely the casino is to win. Siegrist judges that one achieves an intended goal more quickly by making higher bets and playing for shorter periods of time. This finding assumes that the house has an unlimited amount of money and the player does not. In other words, he who has the most money wins. It just takes the cautious player longer to lose it all.

Your chances of reaching the intended goal are better with bold bets because of the wild swings in random results. All you have to do is reach the goal and then quit right away.

In reality, slots are designed to pay less often than Siegrist’s “Red and Black” model. You still have a better chance of reaching a goal with lower bets, but the odds are not in your favor. Not only because the theoretical return to the player is less than 100%, but also because the casino simply has more money than you do.

Every slot machine will pay out once

You can explain to someone in detail how slot machines work, including, for example, how a Random Number Generator works. Everyone will understand you. And yet, something happens so that when we play a slot machine we forget that information. In fact, players develop unrealistic expectations while playing a slot machine.

In 1992, Michael Walker of the University of Sydney published a paper titled “Irrational thinking among slot machine enthusiasts” in the Journal of Gambling Studies. The study involved 27 university students who recorded their thoughts while playing slot machines. The study found that slot machine players were 38% more likely to think irrationally than video poker players.

Players were 80% more likely to make irrational statements about a strategy for playing slots. When players on slots say, “this game will pay out a profit once,” they are not thinking rationally. They recognize up front that results are random, but as time passes, their thinking becomes less rational. In reality, each spin has the same chance of winning than the previous one. That never changes.

Winning more with multipliers

If a slot machine is designed fairly, then the math should be the same on a slot machine with or without multipliers. Of course, there is no guarantee that each bonus round will produce the same result, but it does provide an equal opportunity. There are no legal requirements that slot machines with all kinds of features must offer more chances.

Some slots are designed to increase casino bonus payouts after playing multiple bonus rounds. However, the expectation of players is that each bonus round has equal odds. After all, that’s much fairer. Thus, more free spins or multipliers do not give higher odds of winning. The house edge ultimately remains the same.


Games like blackjack are more predictable and also much more rational. Still, even professional players play slots regularly. However, they follow certain rules and always play with a predetermined budget. If that runs out, they just go home.