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Do slot machines remove outcomes after they're chosen?9 May 2009
Thanks for the kind words about my columns.
To answer your first question, all outcomes are possible on each and every spin. Outcomes are not removed from the pool as they are chosen.
Slot machines are like roulette wheels. On a roulette wheel, the ball can land in any number's pocket on any spin because the pockets aren't removed from the wheel once the ball lands in them. This is known mathematically as random sampling with replacement, although the name is a bit confusing in the cases of the roulette wheel and slot machines because we're not really putting what was selected back in the pool. More accurately, we're just not removing what was chosen.
Contrast this situation with blackjack. As cards are dealt, they're put in the discard tray, not back in the shoe from which the dealer is dealing. Those cards won't be available again until the dealer shuffles up. This procedure is known as Random Sampling without Replacement.
You might hear slot directors or salesmen talking about cycles. They might say that one machine hits the jackpot six times per cycle while another hits its jackpot eight times. In their lingo, a cycle is just the pool of outcomes possible on a machine. It doesn't mean that the slot program actually goes sequentially through a defined cycle of outcomes.
One more thing about outcomes: Not only is every outcome possible on every spin, every outcome has the same probability of landing on the payline on every spin.
As for your second question, the only way players could clobber a machine by changing between betting the minimum and the maximum is if they knew before making their bets whether the spin would be a winner or a loser. Without that knowledge, players are just as likely to have a losing spin at the maximum bet as they are at the minimum bet. It would take a great deal of luck to time the bet changes just right to really clobber a machine.
Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
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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Best of John Robison