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Stop Reels Button, Hit Frequency and Payback

9 October 2003

By John Robison


I'm a new subscriber to your newsletter and so this question may have been covered. How accurate or realistic are the slot games that you can get for your home computer or video game system compared to the machines found in casinos.


Dear Craig,

The PC-based slot games provide a very realistic recreation of real slot and video poker machines.

About the only things missing are the free drinks!

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,


I know that alot of the new slot machines have the button to stop the reels. Does stopping the reels increase your win or just mess of the computer system? What are your chances in letting the spin stop on it's on or stopping it? Which is the best way to play the machine?


Dear Connie,

Pressing the Stop Spin button has no effect whatsoever on the results of the spin. The only thing pressing the button does is cut out the "show" of the spinning reels. The results of a spin are the same regardless of whether or not you press the button.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hey John,

I know the saying is the higher the denomination the more frequent the hits. Is this true on, let's say, a $5 Wheel of Fortune or $5 bonus spin type of machine? Or is it better to play a $5 straight multiplier for a chance on a big hit? I do know you have to play all 3 coins for that bonus spin but once again do they have more frequent hits than that of a $1 machine of the same type?


Dear Nancy,

Don't confuse hit frequency with payback. Hit frequency says how likely it is to get a hit of any size on any spin. Payback gives the amount of money a machine will return to its players.

Higher-denomination machines generally do have higher paybacks. Because more money is run through higher-denomination machines than through lower-denomination machines, the casinos can afford to take a smaller percentage of that larger pie and still make the desired amount of money from the machines.

Higher-denomination machines may or may not have higher hit frequencies. Hit frequency is independent of payback. In fact, the type of paytable (e.g., multiplying wild symbol, multi-line) has more to do with hit frequency than the denomination.

Wheel of Fortune is a wide-area-progressive machine and, as such, has one of the lowest paybacks of all $5 machines.

You'll get the highest hit frequencies from multi-line machines because they can pay back less than a push on a spin, but you may not want to bet $25 and get back $5. Playing one coin in a straight multiplier will probably give you the highest hit frequency for a one-coin bet.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

It seems like everytime I find a "fun" machine, the casino I go to takes it away. I loved Ring 'em Up and they had a bunch of them at the Argosy in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. There was a whole corner of a floor filled with them. They were very popular because they were 5-cent machines and you could usually play for a long time and occassionally win. Then they disappeared. Then I got hooked on Winning Bid, where the bonus game is an auction...great gone. Jackpot Party is my favorite now, but they have become very cold....I assume they are weaning us away from them so they can go away. What reasoning do they use for this? Ring 'em Up and Jackpot Party were/are always hard to find a seat at. I would LOVE to be able to play any of them on a CD. Are any of them out there? Thanks!

It's not usual for a casino to have many machines of a certain game when they first get it and then to have far fewer--and perhaps none--of them once the honeymoon period has passed and demand for the game has decreased. If the game was successful, the casino should still have a few machines of that game somewhere on the casino floor. Ask a slot attendant to find out.

It's unlikely that the casino changed the payback programs in the Jackpot Party machines to make them cold to wean players away from them. Changing paybacks is a time-consuming, paperwork-intensive process in almost every jurisdiction. More likely, you've just had a run of bad luck on the machines.

As far as I know, none of the WMS Gaming machines you mentioned are available for home play. There are a number of IGT and Bally games available, however. You can order the CDs from

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Dear John,

Can the computer chip catch on to the way you are playing and adjust itself to where you won't hit the way you play very often? Or are the chips programmed to suck you into playing the same way to make you believe you are giong to hit the way you keep playing? I have noticed this.


Dear Larry,

The computer program running the slot machine uses a number from the Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine which symbols will land on the payline. The RNG can either be a separate chip in the machine or just a special part of the computer program.

In any case, the RNG continuously generates numbers without regard for what is happening on the machine. The machine does not adjust itself to the way you are playing and the machine is not programmed to suck you in.

The result of each spin is chosen at completely random using a number from the RNG.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

What are "loose" and "tight" slot machines?


Dear Jeff,

A "loose" slot machine pays back more than others of the same denomination in a casino. A "tight" machine pays back less.

Slot directors today order roughly the same payback percentage for all their machines of a particular denomination, so these terms don't have much applicability to today's slot floor.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

My favorite game is a 3-line dollar denomination of Double Diamond.

I've noticed on machines in most of the Chicago-area casinos that on the third reel, all of the symbols are not there (i.e., there's a noticeably empty space) When you line up symbols on the first two reels and start to get excited, you find out there is no symbol at all (forget whether it matches or not) on the third reel.

Just wondering. Thanks for your help. Love to read your answers to people's questions as well as your books.


Dear Carla,

Thanks for the kind words about my columns and book.

On most reel-spinning slot machines, you're more likely to land a blank on the last reel than a symbol.

As you pointed out, it's very exciting to get two symbols on the first two reels. Then there is real suspense as to what is going to land on the third reel. When the blank appears on one of the first two reels, the spin is decided much sooner and the third reel is irrelevant.

So, most virtual reels are set up to give you more symbols than blanks on the first two reels, and more blanks than symbols on the last reel.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

You mentioned "mean waiting time" and gave an example of how to calculate it. I don't understand what it is, and how it pertains to slots. Would you please clear this up for me?

Good luck to you also,

Dear Stu,

Mean waiting time tells us the average number of trials it takes for an event to occur. It is merely the reciprocal of the probability of the event occurring.

Quoting from Extra Stuff: Gambling Ramblings by Peter Griffin:

Thus the average number of tosses of the dice to produce eleven will be 18 and the average number of spins of the roulette wheel to observe 00 will be 38...the average number of tosses of a coin to produce a head will be two and the average number of rolls of a die to get a four will be six.

On a slot machine, the mean waiting time tells us the average number of pulls it takes to hit a particular combination. I used mean waiting time to answer a question about why someone said that certain progressive slot machines tended to hit at a particular amount. I guessed that that amount was the value of the progressive after the average number of pulls between jackpot hits had been played on the machines.

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