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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot machines always hit on the last spin?23 July 2014
My rebuttal to a statement that slots always hit on the last spin in last week's column generated a number of responses. Excerpts from some of them follow in this week's column.
George Carlin had a routine called Ten Things That Piss Me Off. Number 5 is:
I said that when you stop looking for something and when a player stops playing a slot machine (last spin) were analogous because both the searcher and the player control completely when they stop their activities. The searcher could continue looking even after he's found what he's looking for, but he stops because he's achieved his goal. Likewise, the player solely determines which spin is his last. The machine doesn't shut down and say that the player has played enough. So, we'll have to agree to disagree on this point. I think the two situations are identical.
What if we mean something other than our last spin on a machine when we say "last spin". I have to admit I cheated a little and left out a sentence in the quote above. Let me replace the ellipsis with the sentence and continue with the rest of his letter.
Last credits and last spin are two completely different situations. Last credits (i.e., just enough credits left for one more spin) is an objective scenario not subject to the whims of the player. In fact, I think last credits is what the original writer meant:
If this happens all the time, please answer this question for me. Have you ever put more money in a machine after you've run out of credits? If machines hit when you're down to your last quarter, why would you ever have to put in more money? Moreover, why not just put in a quarter and play forever?
If machines hit all the time when we were down to our last credits, we'd never have to put more money in a machine. We'd never run out of credits on a machine and the only time we'd stop playing a machine is when we got tired of playing it. And then we could cash out and go play some other machine for an infinite period of time. We could play every quarter reel-spinning machine in the casino for as long as we want for a quarter. And it wouldn't even cost us that because we always hit when we're down to our last quarter.
Let me go back and address the player with the big win on the 50 Lions machine. I assume you played more than three machines in the three-hour period. Did you hit on all the other machines when you were almost out of credits?
Maybe not, because you said that hitting something when you're low on credits happens often. If it happens sometimes and doesn't happen other times, that sounds very much like random to me.
We can run an experiment to test the theory that machines always hit when you're on your last credits. Find a machine with a minimum bet over 50 cents. Unfortunately, it's becoming steadily easier to find penny machines with high minimum bets. Play at least 100 spins on the machine, preferably more. Keep track of the number of hits you get. The amount doesn't matter, a hit is a hit. When you're done, divide the number of hits by the total number of spins you played. That gives us an estimate of the machine's hit frequency. Cash out whatever you have left on the machine.
Now, get 100 one-dollar bills, preferably more. Put a bill in the machine. You now have just enough credits for a minimum bet spin. Play the spin and cash out. Put the ticket into one of two piles. One pile contains tickets on which your spin hit. The other pile contains tickets on which your spin did not hit. Put in the next dollar bill. Play a minimum bet spin and cash out. Put the ticket in the proper pile. Continue until you've played all the dollar bills.
Divide the number of tickets in the hit pile by the total number of spins played to get your hit frequency on "last credits" spins. The number should be very close to the first hit frequency we calculated.
If you can't find a machine with a minimum bet over 50 cents, follow these alternate steps. Put in the dollar. Keep playing until you have just enough credits left for a minimum bet spin. Play the spin and cash out. Sort the tickets as above. Again, the ratio of last spin hits over the total number of spins played should be very close to the first hit frequency we calculated.
If you don't want to try my experiment, just do this. Carry a small notepad with you and note the result of each of your "last credits" spins. You'll discover very quickly that they don't hit all the time and often is between 20 percent and 40 percent of the time, typical hit frequencies for multi-line slots.
There's nothing magical about the last spin you can afford to play. The machine doesn't care. It uses the same method to determine the result of that spin that it uses to determine the result of a spin when you're flush with credits.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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