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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are slot machines that pause illegal?

16 August 2017

Question: I have a question about certain slot machines I have been playing which freeze randomly after a play has been made. I am wondering if this is illegal because the game does not allow you to press play for random amounts of time, which in turn blocks specific sections of the RNG from being played.

Example: I hit max bet. The reels spin and then come to a stop. I should be allowed to press max bet again, right? This machine will freeze the max bet button for 3-4 seconds sometimes, not all the time, before allowing me to play. Other times, the machine works fine and I can press max play as soon as the reels stop.

Answer: There is nothing sinister going on when a slot machine pauses.

Slot machines periodically have to do a little housekeeping and this is what is happening when a machine pauses. The tasks performed depend on the manufacturer, the age of the machine, the type of machine and the casino. These tasks may include copying the slot meters (number of plays, coin in, coin out, etc.) to long-term memory and sending that same data to the slot accounting server. A machine may also run a quick self-test to ensure it is operating properly and hasn't been tampered with.

The RNG may or may not continue to cycle while the machine is doing its housekeeping. Even if it does, the section of results that were inaccessible during the pause will be different each time the machine pauses. And once the machine is playable again, your chances of hitting a winning combination are exactly the same as before the pause. The pause has no effect on the probabilities.

Maybe you're thinking that the outcomes generated by the RNG during the pause will not be possible again until the RNG comes back to that section of its cycle. The scenario that the RNG generated the jackpot combination during the pause and now the machine can't hit the jackpot again until the RNG gets back to that section of its cycle is false. The range of the numbers produced by the RNG is in the billions. The game program has to scale the raw number from the RNG down into the range it needs. As a result, there are many raw numbers from the RNG that correspond to the jackpot symbol.

So, the pause doesn't mean you missed out on some potential winners. The pause also doesn't mean that the machine is switching from a pay cycle to a take cycle — or vice versa, but no one ever writes me to complain about a machine that started paying. The machine is also not trying to interrupt your winning rhythm and get you into a losing rhythm.

Finally, if there were a problem with the pause, no jurisdiction would have approved the machines that pause. The machines are completely legal because the only effect the pause has on players is giving them a chance to take a sip of their drinks.


Question: When a slot machine gives you a bonus of multiple spins, is the payout already determined or is each spin a new chance?

Answer: Once again I'll have to start with a disclaimer. My answer applies to Class III slot machines with internal RNGs like those you find in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Tunica. The answer may not apply to Class II machines in Native American casinos or Video Lottery Terminals in racinos.

On a Class III machine, each individual spin you play in a bonus will be resolved with a fresh set of numbers generated by the RNG. The result is not pre-determined.

Some bonus free spins use the same reels as the base game. Sometimes the free spins use one or more special sets of bonus reels. If bonus reels are used, there is usually a message saying something like Bonus reels in play on the screen. The help screens will also say that the bonus uses its own set of reels.


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
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