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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Calculating the odds of hitting a major slot win

4 February 2015

If it's possible to calculate the odds of winning the lottery, I guess the same can be done for winning a major jackpot at a slot. In other words, if we can gather data on the number of slot players in a given year in a city or casino and determine the number of major winners, then we can correlate that to a number, like 1 in 12,000,000.

Then again, past performance is not an indicator of future results.

There's a big difference between the two situations. In the lottery, every number in a number draw game is equally likely to be drawn. That makes it possible for us to figure the odds of hitting the big prize in, say, New Jersey's Cash 5, which I hope to hit one day, at 1:962,598 by calculating the combination of 43 items taken 5 at a time.

At the slots, the chances of hitting a major win differ by machine. A $25 machine may have many winning combinations that pay a major win, while a penny slot may have only one combination, the jackpot, that qualifies as major. Some players, in addition, may not bet enough to have any winning combination pay a major amount.

It may be fair to say that 1 out of 1,200 players (12,000,000 is far too large) hit a major jackpot last year, but I wouldn't say that any particular player's chances of hitting a major win are 1 out of 1,200, because there are so many other variables.


In regards to the guy who wrote the longest letter in your history (November 19, 2014) about your not being an expert, I can only say, I think we're dealing with a disgruntled player. I'm no expert, but I can make some claims: I've been playing for 43 years, in 108 casinos across the country, studied this and that, etc. I hope there is NO ONE who will ever take a serious gander as to buying a book that tells you how to "beat the slots."

You've mentioned before, that the dollar slots should have better odds than the penny slots, that the higher denominations have better odds, etc. In my experience, I watched a fella play the $500 machine for a few minutes and come away dead broke. I watched a woman play the $25 dollar machine and got absolute zero after 40 spins. I made a 15-cent bet (for some reason) on a penny slot and won $500. I've hit a $1,025 win on the first spin on a dollar machine and also got nothing on 82 consecutive pulls. I remember playing a Crystal Sevens machine, even though it had driven me crazy for a year. I moved next to it and a customer sat down and I thought, "Sucker!" He won over $20,000 after 6 pulls.

In other words, we're playing slot machines, sports fans. Deal with it. No guarantees, no strategies (except for money management), nothing but expectations. Do not get your hopes up, just like anything else in life, and you won't be disappointed.

Nobody likes disappointments; everyone likes a nice surprise! That's what we're dealing with here.

I've bought many books claiming to reveal the secret to winning at the slots and none of them revealed anything — though in many cases, they were fun to read. As I've said many times, the results on a slot machine are as random as a computer algorithm can be, and there's no way to predict future results.

Now, I don't think I've ever said that the odds are better on higher denomination machines. I think I've been very careful to say that long-term payback tends to increase with denomination. If you played a few hundred thousand or so spins on a penny machine and on a dollar machine, and kept track of the total amount you bet and the total amount the machine paid you no matter how small, the payback percentage on the dollar machine should be larger than that on the penny machine.

In the short run, though, anything can happen. The $500 machine could drain the high roller's bankroll and you could hit a life-changing jackpot on your first $3 bet on a Megabucks machine.

I thought Ben Franklin said this, but the only close usage I was able to find was in an article in Flying magazine: If you always expect the best, you will almost always be disappointed. If you always expect the worst, you'll almost always be pleasantly surprised.


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