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Do Patterns on Slots Disprove Randomness?27 January 2005
Today's your lucky day. Instead of answering the other questions that have been waiting for months, I bumped your current message right to the top of the queue because it's a good one.
I have a question first, though. If you already know what my answer is going to be, why are you so anxious to get it? :-)
Seriously, random does not mean that there is never a pattern. If a coin toss never resulted in streaks of heads or tails or a series of heads and tails alternating, then we would question the fairness of the coin. Streaks and patterns are perfectly good results for a random event.
In fact, one of the tests for the randomness of an RNG is to look for streaks and patterns and to see whether they occur with the frequency one would expect.
Here's another thing to keep in mind. You said you saw the 10X symbol landing above the payline. What you really saw was the blank below the 10X symbol landing on the payline. And I bet you that that blank appears on the virtual reel many times. The slot programmers tend to make the blanks near jackpot symbols fairly likely to land on the payline to generate some near-the-payline near misses.
Also, there might be more than one place on the physical reel where a 10X symbol is over a blank. Thus, given the many different virtual stops that could result in showing a 10X symbol over an on-the-payline blank, you may have actually seen a different virtual stop chosen on each spin.
I did a quick search of some definitions of "random" and some of them do say something like without order or pattern. Those definitions aren't very good. We really need a more mathematically precise definition. A reasonably good one is: a random event is an event that is affected by no input or state and whose result cannot be anticipated. In other words, nothing in the environment influences the result; the current result has no influence on the next result; and there is no way to determine what the next result will be. A mathematical definition of randomness doesn't say anything like "without order or apparent reason."
The testing laboratories test the RNG in a slot machine very thoroughly. Just because a pattern appears occasionally on a slot machine, that doesn't raise any doubts about the randomness of the RNG.
Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at email@example.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take two or more months for your question to appear in my column.
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