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Ask the Slot Expert: Why Do Slot Machines Hit Jackpots Less Frequently Today?

11 September 2013

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

I usually play only reel slots. I have been going to Las Vegas since 1979, when you could win several jackpots per trip. The demise began when the reel slots changed from mechanical to computerized. Since then I can count on a couple of hands the times that I have hit or came close to hitting a jackpot. I can remember winning $600 on one quarter without hitting the jackpot. Today the most you might win would be $200, which rarely happens.

Why is there so much disparity today?

I think you put your finger on it when you said that things changed after the slots were computerized.

Putting a computer program in charge of the slot machine enabled it to use virtual reel technology in determining outcomes. Virtual reels enabled the machines to offer jackpots of more than a thousand or so credits.

Those multi-thousand credit jackpots have to be paid for somehow. One way would be to make them difficult to hit, but the manufacturers and casino operators wanted them to hit more frequently. So they moved some of the money that could be won on the lower-paying combinations and moved it to the jackpot. This is the same thing done on video poker when they make two pair pay one coin in order to fund bonuses on four-of-a-kind.

I'd have to compare the PAR sheets of the machines you play (and played back in 1979) to know exactly where your jackpots have gone, but I think it's safe to say that the mid-level jackpots you remember hitting have been sacrificed in order to have larger top jackpots. And today's top jackpots hit less frequently because they're worth so much more.

And, speaking of jackpots -- Jackpots for all,


On some slot machines -- no matter the denomination -- it seems some pay better if you don't play max credits. I don't play penny and nickel machines. I am referring to higher denominations. On three-credit machines, it seems they at times pay better only playing two credits or less. I have been told the random generator resets final results each time another credit is bet. Is there any truth to this?

Next, sometimes while I am playing a slot machine it seems to hesitate every so often for a second or two after a spin. I hit the credit button and there is a hesitation before the credit shows. Have you ever noticed this? I notice it mainly on dollar machines, not so much on five and above. Am I just noticing something not worth paying attention to?

Let me start with your last question. Yes, the pause you sometimes see on a slot machine is something that is not worth paying attention to. Nothing nefarious is going on when a machine takes a pause. The software running the machine is actually taking care of some housekeeping, like running internal tests to ensure the machine is operating properly and writing log data to nonvolatile memory. The pause has no effect on the machine's long-term payback or hit frequency or your chances for hitting a winning combination on your next spin.

Going back to your first question, I think two key phrases you used are "it seems" and "at times". A three-credit machine will sometimes pay better when you play only two coins because it sometimes pays better than at other times. If you played full coin all the time, you'd have winning and losing streaks. You also have winning and losing streaks if you played two coins all the time or varied your bet. The result of each spin is determined at random, without regard for the number of coins bet.

The RNG does not reset results with each credit bet. Most machines determine the result of a spin when you commit to the game by pressing the spin button or pulling the handle.

Jackpots for all,


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