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Ask the Slot Expert: Why Do I Lose on Slots One Day and Win the Next?

30 July 2014

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

I have a question about what has become my favorite slot game, IGT's Ghosts Wild, which I have been playing at the Cleveland Horseshoe. The bonus is eight free spins.

My question is this: Is the outcome of the bonus spins set when I hit the button for the original spin (which won the bonus), or when I hit the button to start the bonus spins?

Actually, neither. The result of each spin in the bonus is determined at the start of each spin, just like a regular spin.

I know about the RNG, but why is it that you play slots one day and never get ahead but come back the next day and win on every machine you play?

If you know about the RNG, then you know that the result of each spin is determined at random without any outside influence whatsoever. Random events have streaks. You'll sometimes flip a number of heads or tails in a row when you flip a fair coin. A fair roulette wheel will sometimes yield streaks of one number, or odd/even or red/black.

Similarly, a slot machine can have streaks of results that are favorable to the player or streaks that are favorable to the casino. Streaks can even extend to banks of machines and even whole areas of the casino.

A friend of mine, on his first visit to Las Vegas, played a bank of Blazing 7s machines at Excalibur. The machines were hitting right and left and everyone was winning. He went back a day later hoping to hit it big again and the machines were not paying then. Nobody was winning.

I've had many similar experiences. I haven't been in Circus Circus for years, so I'm not sure if they still have this attraction. Fifteen or so years ago they had a rotating platform with high long-term payback machines on the slot floor. My first time on the turntable I won enough money to pay for my trip. I thought I had found my ATM in Las Vegas. When I played the machines again a few weeks later, they quickly ate all of the money I had allocated to them.

The bottom line: It's all random.

A question about penny slots:

Is it better to make a max bet (say $5) once every 30 seconds with a (slight) chance of hitting the top jackpot OR is betting $1 (less than max) every six seconds okay mathematically? Most people aren't patient enough to wait 30 seconds between spins, but does it make sense to do it?

Assuming there's no bonus (like a progressive) that you are eligible for only by playing full coin, the long-term payback is the same under both scenarios. In both scenarios, you're also giving $20 in action each minute. Your expected loss in the long run is the same -- if you can really wait 30 seconds between spins when betting $5 per spin.

The one thing that is different between the two options is the volatility of the ride. When you bet $1 per spin more often, you're spreading the risk over more spins, so your ride will be smoother. You won't win as much per spin as when you bet $5 per spin, but you also won't lose as much.

In both scenarios, you end up in the same place. You can choose whether you want to take the relatively flat route or take the one that goes up the mountains and down into the valleys.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.


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John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots