Video Slots

Do Slot Machines Really Run Cold? - Learn The Truth

Do Slot Machines Really Run Cold? - Learn The Truth

We've all heard the myth, it goes something like this:

A video slot can go on a dry run but ride the wave and it's bound to make up for it by paying back in bucket loads - the internet.

This is roughly how the statement is made and many people believe it. The question we want to address in this post is whether or not the above statement is true or whether it's complete garbage.

I'm going to go ahead and give you the facts straight away - whether or not you want to believe them or not is completely up to you. The statement or anything similar to it an any way, shape or form is a myth and you should neither believe it nor factor it into your game play patters.

Debunking myths is not my preferred pass time, I hate to burst other people's bubbles and fantasies, but there is so much 'bunk' flying around on the internet that it's bound to cause inexperienced players harm since they will base their game play choices on non-sense. This is something that we should prevent.

So, here are the most common questions related to a slot machine being hot or cold, I'll answer straight away for those of you who just want the answers, then we'll delve into further detail and as detailed of an explanation as I can further on.

Q: Do slot machines pay more after a cold run?
A: Myth - No, they do not. Slots do not behave in this way.

Q: Is it true that I should play 'cold' slots because they are close to paying out?
A: Myth - It makes absolutely no difference, you're not more likely to win more if you play a 'cold' slot.

Q: My slot is 'hot' right now, it's paying out a lot; I should stick with it right?
A: Myth - If a lot is paying out now there is no guarantee that it will continue to do so, even on the next spin.

How Slot Machines Really Work

Before we can tackle this myth scientifically, at which point you should see the reasoning why the above statements are complete non-sense, we must first fully understand how an online slot machine functions.

A online video slot is made up of a number of separate components, in reality it much more complex than this but for argument's sake it will suffice.

These components can be thought of as the following:

  1. The Game UI - game theme, symbols, design, animations, sound effects a.k.a what you interact with.
  2. The Game Logic - the internal functions of the slot which dictate the following:
    • How many pay-lines the game has.
    • Which combination of symbols are associated with a win.
    • How much of a win multipliers should the game to apply to any specific win.
    • Whether or not a player has enough funds to place a bet.
    • The bonus round logic and what symbol combinations trigger can them.
  3. The RNG - random number generator.

So, the Game UI is what gets loaded when you open a game at any online casino, be it a flash game or an HTML5 or mobile game, this is the part which gets downloaded onto your PC or device. The Game Logic & the RNG are never sent to the player and live permanently locked on the game provider servers.

The reason why the setup is done and a slot is split in such a way is for security reasons; any application or piece of code which is shared with a client can potentially be hacked or tampered with. Game manufacturers obviously do not want players tapering with anything that could potentially effect the outcome of a bet so they keep anything logic related safely locked up on their servers.

The Game UI is just a theme, hacking it cannot have any direct effect on the slot machine's logic - at most you will crash the game or change the way it looks.

Taking A Single Bet As An Example:

Let's say for example we have a €20 balance and we hit the spin button to make a €4 bet. The Game UI starts the reels spinning and simultaneously sends an API request from your PC or device straight to the Game Logic located on manufacturer's servers over a secured connection.

It send the following request (in layman's terms):

A player X wishes to place a €4 Bet on Game Y

Once the Game Logic receives this request, the first thing it will do is check whether said Player X has at least €4 in their account to be able to place this bet (the account balance is incidentally also held on the game provider's servers, the Game UI simply displays it - it does not store it as this can be hacked).

Since we have €20 on account we're fine and the Game Logic deducts €4 from the player's balance. Now the Game Logic has a small job to do - it needs to generate the spin. The way it does this is very straight forward but might not be what most people think.

The Game Logic knows how many symbols the game displays across all its reels, for example a five (5) reel three (3) line slot has exactly fifteen (15) symbols displayed at any time on it.

Video slot example Five reel - Three lines

So the Game Logic needs to figure out what symbols are going to fit the fifteen (15) spaces on the slot machine. It does this by assigning a set of random numbers to each symbol and then generating fifteen (15) random numbers.

For Example:

  • The Ruby symbol can be associated with numbers one (1) through to fifteen (15) - inclusive
  • The Emerald symbol can be associated with numbers sixteen (16) through to thirty (30) - inclusive
  • The Treasure chest symbol can be associated with numbers thirty-one (31) through to thirty-five (35) - inclusive
  • So on and so forth...

Let's assume that all symbols on the slot machine can be mapped to a total number range which is between 1 and 250, great the Game Logic now knows that it will need to have fifteen (15) random numbers each of which falling within 1-to-250 for each of the symbols it has.

Although each bet round shows 15 symbols; the game itself might have more (let's assume 20 in total).

This is where the third 'component' comes into play - the RNG a.k.a the random number generator.

The RNG's job is one and one only, and you guessed it, generate random numbers. It is a separate component from the Game Logic for a number of important reasons some of which will come into play when we debunk the myth we are talking about.

Some important reasons for having a separate RNG is:

  • The RNG is critical, cannot be touched even by the game developers and has to generate truly random digits.
  • The RNG must be audited by third parties to be mathematically sound and tamper proof.
  • A single RNG can be and is used to serve multiple games - keep this one in mind.
  • The RNG cannot know or have any memory of numbers it is generating, the numbers it already generated, or what they are used for - also keep this one in mind.

The Game Logic listens to the output of the RNG and collects fifteen (15) random numbers in 1-to-250 range. It's good to mention that the RNG is constantly generating random numbers, even when no request for them are made. It's like a constant stream of pure randomness, imagine the noise on a TV with no signal or the static you hear in between radio station channels.

There is no algorithm and no repeating sequences of numbers in the RNG

Even if a hacker could determine one number in the RNG, he or she would not be able to use it to predict any future numbers.

It is for this reason that RNGs are known as Truly Random Number Generators. There is nothing which can determine what the stream of numbers they generate is, no influence from the outside world and no self-influence either.

Game UI now has has the numbers it needs to work with.

We can very easily determine the following truths:

  • The odds of getting a Ruby and the Emerald are the same; 15 out of every 250; or 1-in-16.66 for each of the 15 symbol locations on the slot machine.
  • The odds of getting the Treasure Chest is less; 5 out of every 250; or 1-in-50 for each of the 15 symbol locations on the slot machine.
  • The odds of getting a Ruby or Emerald at any position on the reels is 3x (times) more than getting a Treasure Chest (16.66 x 3 = 50)

The mechanism behind the final point which was just mentioned is the same mechanism by which the game manufacturer is able to set the 'rarity' of each of the symbols on the machine; why some symbols appear much more often than others.

So by now the Game Logic has everything it needs from the RNG, it can proceed to map all the numbers it listened to into symbols; starting at the top left position on the reels and working its way to the bottom right position on the slot machine. Once everything is mapped it then starts to calculate what the outcome of the bet is; How many pay-lines were bet, How many pay-lines derived in a win, What the total wins for the round were, etc.

If there indeed are any wins associated with the round, the the Game Logic proceeds to increase the player's balance by this amount and then it sends the complete bet result which includes all the symbols and the final player balance all at once back over the secure connection to the player's device which is running the Game UI.

The Game UI collects the bet result and the reels stop spinning at the pre-calculated symbols locations - done.

We just went through for all intents and purposes what is complete bet cycle. All thinking that all of this happens in about 15-30 milliseconds, including the time it takes for the data to travel from your phone or computer to the game manufacturer's servers and back (many times located a third of the way around the world).

What We Learn From This Example?

Barring the fact that online slot machines function in a completely different and far more complex manner then their physical fruit machine counterparts, a few interesting implications emerge which cannot be ignored.

These are as follows:

  1. The final outcome of each of the slot's symbol has no influence on the outcome of any of its other symbols.
  2. One source exists which determines the complete result of a bet.
  3. The source which determines the outcome of one bet is the exact same source which determines the outcome of any another bet.
  4. Multiple games being played by multiple players use the same source to determine their spin results.
  5. Many online casinos have players playing games from the same manufacturer at the same time - the same single source of 'randomness' is used and unified across all of them (the RNG).

So we know for a fact that the source which determines what the outcome of a bet on a slot machine will ultimately result in is a pure and true random one. It has no memory of what numbers it generated in the past, it exists in a proverbial black box isolate from any external influence. It follows no patterns because it is unable to look or even perceive any pattern, even in it self. It also does not know which games are using the numbers it is generating and when they might be using them.

It does not know how many players are using the games, where the players are, what games they are playing - in fact for all intents and purposes the RNG does not even know that the games exists. It just generates a steady stream of isolated random numbers.

Knowing this, how can a slot machine be 'expected' to do anything? - There exists no link between the past present and future, every single event is independent.

It makes no sense to suggest that it's close to paying out because it holds no memory of what it did nor what it's currently doing. In addition, when a game is played the game does not create a new instance of itself for the player or reset itself. It cannot do this, remember the RNG which is determining everything is constantly running whether players are playing a game or not.

The only thing which can potentially change the outcome of a spin is at what exact point in time is the spin made - since this determines the section of random numbers for the RNG which are used for the round in question.

The wave we tend to see as players where a slot machine goes on a 'cold' streak for a while then starts to make up for it by paying out more than before for a short while is fictitious - it exists only in the mind of the player.

If It's Really Random, Why Can I See Patterns?!

This question is very interesting in itself. The answer to it is simple yet not really obvious or easy to believe.

We've all experienced the infamous 'wave' pattern of a slot machine. If what we said about slot machines is fundamentally true and the 'wave' is impossible then how can we explain seeing and experiencing it?

Well first of all we should acknowledge a simple truth, the human brain is wired to seek and find patterns, we connect the dots; A is connected to B, then B is connected to C and so on.

Sometimes A is really connected to B andbut not always, we're built to find patterns in the meaningless noise of the world around us.

When looking for these patterns there are two types of errors we can make:

  • Type I Error: A false positive, believing a pattern is real when it is not (finding a non-existent pattern)
  • Type II Error: A false negative, not believing a pattern is real when it is (not recognising an existing pattern)

Let's make a small thought experiment, imagine you are a pre-historic human walking on the plains of Africa 3-million years ago and you hear a rustling sound coming from some bushes close by you. 

Is it a dangerous predator or, is it just the wind?

Your next decision could be the most important one of your life! Well if you think the rustle is a dangerous predator and it's just the wind then you've made a Type I error; you saw a pattern which does not exist.

Worst case scenario, you walk away from the area and are more vigilant on you way back to your cave.

On the other hand, if you think the noise is just the wind and it turns out to be a dangerous predator then you've made a Type II error; you did not recognise the pattern which was there.

In the latter case, you're lunch. You've just been eaten by the predator, wiped clean off the gene pool and died a horrible death.

Our mind evolved to search for patterns, it's called Patternicity by the way, whenever the cost of making a Type I error is less than the cost of making a Type II error.

Assessing the difference between these types of errors is not trivial, especially since the cost of getting it wrong for our ancestors would be paid by life or death so the mind learned to adopt a standard default position on the matter:

Assume all patterns are real by default; Assume all rustles in the bushed are predators and not the wind.

This is our nature, the modern mind cannot turn this 'feature' on or off at will. We will assume a pattern is there even if it is not because we wired by evolution to make this choice since it was historically 'safer' this way, a sort of better safe then sorry approach.

Mathematics does not lie, it's sees the world in an empirical manner. It does not have an option or a bias, it does not care one way or another. As humans we're great at seeing patterns, this goes hand in hand with our intelligence and allows us to make sense of the world, however we are wired to look for them everywhere and when you look and look for something then you will find it; whether it really exists or not.

So Slots Have Absolutely No Patterns?

Not in the sense we would understand as a pattern. There are patterns in a slot machine in a sense that bonus rounds are less common than normal wins, this we easily detect and it is true.

Rare symbols are so called because we notice that as a pattern they come up much less often than other symbols, we also notice which symbols are common as they come up on almost every round - these are simple yet very true and very real patterns which are also backed by the maths.

The wave pattern, where the game takes your money then will proceed to pay out at a higher then average rate to compensate and move closer to it's intended RTP is a false positive, a Type I error.

Many people will say "Don't close the game at this point or another player will take your money", implying that another player will ride the slot machine high for which you suffered the low to create - this is a pattern which we make up.

We know it is because we understand the actual way a slot machine works, knowing this we know that such behaviour on the part of a slot machine is not possible.

Hopefully we can consider this myth a debunked once and for all, if this knowledge helps you as a player make more informed choices and shapes your playing pattern into a more profitable and robust one - then it has served its purpose.

As always, Best of luck!


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