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Cycles in Slot Machines

3 August 2003

By John Robison

Thank you for your emails. I have found them to be very helpful.

We just read a book by Marten Jensen, Beat the Slots.

In the book he tells us to limit the bets to six spins on a machine that is not paying off. Since we started this rule we are losing more at the casino. We find ourselves moving from machine to machine.

We are playing at Charlestown's Races & Slots in Charlestown, West Virginia. They are the only casino in town.

We are playing mostly true multipliers with 2 or 3 coins.

Does the number of players in a casino have anything to do with the payoff?

Do you feel the six spin rule is correct?

Is there a way to ask the casino what their payout is on slots?


Dear John,

The number of people playing in a casino has no effect on whether or not a machine pays off. It will seem like the machines hit more frequently when the casino is crowded, but that's just because there are more people playing.

There's no mathematical reason to leave a machine after six losing spins. The odds of hitting any winning combination are the same on every spin--even the spin after six losing spins. If you feel better emotionally leaving a machine after six losing spins, then do so. If you'd prefer to stick with the machine a little longer, then do so. Again, what has happened in the past has no bearing on the results of future spins.

West Virginia may release slot payback figures for its casinos. If so, you may be able to find them on the state's website or in Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines. The American Casino Guide site ( had this to say about West Virginia's slot paybacks:

"West Virginia law requires that VLT's return a minimum of 80% to a maximum of 95% over time. For the 2000 fiscal year from July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2000 the average return on VLT's was: 91.95% at Tri-State Park, 91.66% at Mountaineer Park, 91.45% at Wheeling Downs and 91.53% at Charles Town Races."

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I'll be heading to Reno in a couple of weeks and have been finding out as much info as I can on slots. Their best locations to "hit", which casino has had the most recent winners or "best hitting" slot action casino. I'll be staying at the Hilton in Reno but have found out very little information on their winners or action. I also understand that the Peppermill and Silver Legacy are good action slot casinos. Also, how do I determine what is the percentage payout on a machine, besides reading the machine? Your thoughts and infinite wisdom on this, John.


Dear Phil,

I've never been to Reno, but Star Brooks, our resident Reno expert, says that the crowds are thinner, the weather cooler, and the paybacks better in Reno as compared with Las Vegas. Check out her weekly article on the Casino City site and her website for Reno info.

There's no way to determine the long-term payback of a slot machine just by looking at it. You need to know how many times the symbols appear on the virtual reels. You can, however, tell the long-term payback of a video poker machine when played with perfect strategy by looking at the paytable.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,


I read your comment to Paul T about slot machines not having hot/cold cycles that you can feel when you are hitting the credit button. I really tend to agree with Paul that my husband and I also have had the same type encounters. If we put a $100 bill into lets say a 5x pay quarter machine (400 credits). If we sit side by side and hit the credits, our machines will slightly lock up (or hesitate) and we will both say, "Well, we are going into another cycle and usually either the machine (if it was hitting starts to now quit hitting or vice versa). I know hitting the jackpot has to do with the RNG but it still is in question whether there truly is or isn't hot/cold cycles between those hesitations. This is not just at one casino, we frequent many of them and it usually is with the same type outcome.


Dear Nancy,

The pauses that a slot machine sometimes makes occur while the machine is updating some accounting information. They have no effect on whether or not the machine is going to pay out in the future.

There are no cycles programmed into the machine. The computer program running the machine does not decide to go into hot or cold cycles. The program just chooses results at random. Streaks do occur, of course, just like streaks occur when flipping a coin. The streaks are just a consequence of randomness.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I have noticed that the slot machines pay more frequently and with higher payouts on days when the Indian casinos have a slot tournament or a big "drawing." I surmise that this is because they expect a big crowd and want to show that their casino is the winning-est.


Dear Kathryn,

The machines seem to pay more frequently when there is a big crowd because there are more people playing.

The only way for a casino to change the payback on a machine is to change one or more chips in the machine. This is not a trivial procedure. Payback chipsets are also fairly expensive--maybe as much as $1,000--so it would be very costly for a casino to have two sets of payback chipsets for their machines. The bottom line is that casinos do not change the paybacks on their machine for special events.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at

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