How Do Mechanical Slots Work?

How Do Mechanical Slots Work?

There are many different games that have become integral parts of casino culture. But if you could point out the one thing that a casino cannot do without, it is slot games. Big casinos tend to sequester slot gaming into its own different wing, but in truth slot games represent the spirit of a casino the most. However, these slot machines are a mysterious contraption to the casual casino visitor. Many myths revolve around it – most of them false. Ultimately, many of these myths and misconceptions arise from the fact that casinos do not reveal the inner workings of a slot machine. So in this article we will address this important but seldom answered, question: what on earth goes on inside a mechanical slot machine?

A Brief History of The Slot Machine

Slot machines have been around for way longer than one would guess. The fundamental idea behind it is as ancient as gambling itself. If you were to pin down just modern slot machines, though, even then you would find it to be pre-war technology. Most of its early evolution happened within 1890 and 1900. The first ever prototype of slots was actually a spin on the poker deck. It was a congregation of five drums, making up a random poker hand. Of course, the sheer number of different hands poker can have convoluted this prototype. It was impossible to automate a payout system, so the house just offered arbitrary prizes like cartons of cigarettes or free chips to use in other casino games. 

The first real ‘modern’ slot machine was the ‘Liberty Bell’ of 1895. A genius improvement by Charles Fey over the SIttman and Pitt model, the name of ‘Liberty Bell’ comes from one of its five symbols: bells, horseshoes, diamonds, spades, and hearts. 

Are Slots ‘Fair’?

In a word, no. The oldest of slot machines were all about three reels with notches on them spinning independently. Even in this simple model, you can easily find bias towards the casino. If you go and crack one of the old 1899 ‘Liberty Bell’ models open, you will find ample evidence of that. There are way more low-score symbols than there are cherries and pots of gold and liberty bells within the oldest mechanical slot reels. The idea, to begin with, was to get the casino more money. Slot games have never been fair, and they continue to have huge house edges – usually more than 5%.

Do Modern Mechanical Slots Work In The Same Way?

In the old days, you would insert the coin and pull the lever on a mechanical slot. A single horizontal metal shaft held the reels together – letting them all spin independently of each other. Naturally, small pegs were also present within this connection to stop the reels with a snap after a random period of spinning. The payout calculations are similarly a mechanical affair in these: reel plates and metal pins work together to determine the payout amount of a certain combo. To keep the pre-war tech nostalgia real, many slot machines actually try to emulate the look and feel of these. In fact, it has become a custom for slot machines to have a lever. These levers are merely cosmetic in the modern slot machine. Even those that casinos call ‘mechanical’ use an RNG microprocessor to randomize the rolls. 

Physical vs Online Slots

The processor inside a slot machine of today is essentially the same as an online slot game’s proprietary RNG algorithm. One would therefore think that modern slot machines are actually closer to pure random results. However, the algorithms mostly have a pseudorandom distribution. In a purely random slot machine, anything could happen. But modern slots actually promise a certain RTP percentage. Lets say a slot has 95% RTP. That means it globally gives back 95% of what customers wager in it. A slot machine can only achieve that through manipulating the chances to keep parity with that number. 

So, is that better for you than pure randomness? Arguably, it is actually the opposite. A 95% RTP means that a casino keeps 5% money in its pockets no matter what. This is, of course, in the long term. One should always note that the RTP is a global statistical average. This will not guarantee you get back 95% of all your wagers in one afternoon of spinning slots. Consequently, the claims that a slot machine goes ‘cold’ when it hits the jackpot, or ‘hot’ when it has not hit the jackpot in a while, are also a misinterpretation of the pseudo RNG.

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