Posted by Mission146
Jan 23, 2020


If you had asked someone fifty years ago to imagine a slot machine, probably the last thing they would have come up with is something that costs $8.80/pull, (but is a penny machine) consists of 243 ways to win and has a highly volatile Free Games concept. For some slot players today, this imagining reflects one of their favorite games (though I dare say most do not max bet).

More likely, fifty years ago, someone would have imagined a single-line machine whereby someone pops in a nickel, dime or quarter, then three symbols either match on the payline, or they do not. Of course, they might also imagine a machine whereby two cherries pays out at five-for-one, even if the third cherry is missed.

Eventually, we ended up with machines where hitting a single cherry returned the bet, then some on which hitting a cherry anywhere on the payline returned the bet.

In the simplest possible terms, Variance refers to how far a particular result (or set of results) deviates from the expected result. For example, a 90% returning slot machine game with zero variance would be one in which the player makes a bet of $1.00 and loses $0.10 of that dollar every single spin. Obviously, such a slot machine wouldn’t last long on a casino floor because even the most lackadaisical player would get hip to the gimmick eventually.

At a certain point, it occurred to slot designers that lower variance games would keep certain types of slot players playing longer. This is easily evidenced by the fact that a Google search for, “Low variance slots,” or, “Low volatility slots,” will return a plethora of results, many of which include links to lists of such titles.

The same can be said for high variance slots. Of course, the highest variance slot concept would be one in which the return is XX%, but there is only one type of symbol on each reel and the only possible pay is to hit all three symbols on the single payline. The variance, of course, could either be more or less based upon how many such symbols there are and how much the pay is for hitting the three symbols.

I suppose that variance represents the first major change from the original slot machine. If Liberty Bell had been a satisfactory game for all slots players, then there would have been no need to come out with new types of slot machines.

Even the creator of Liberty Bell understood that it should not be an all-or-nothing affair, as there were different symbols that could land on the paylines (with two horseshoes and a miss being the lowest paying) that would result in different pays.

That’s not to say that an all-or-nothing high-variance affair wouldn’t be, “Good,” for the player. Assuming the player has a particular win goal in mind, then the player should want as many results as possible that would cause the player to hit the win goal immediately.


I decided to create a little video poker game that I call, “Royal or Nothing,” using the video poker calculator on the odds site here.

Here is the paytable:

Royal Flush: 115,000

All Other: 0

(Based on a five-coin bet)

While that might sound like it should be awful, it’s actually not. With a return to player of 99.6502%, assuming optimal strategy (hold as many cards to a royal as possible or discard all), the game has a better return to player than does 9/6 Jacks or Better.

Okay, so I popped this game (with rounded probabilities) into the Beating Bonuses simulator.

And found that, if the game pays 23,000-FOR-1 on the Royal, then a player with a bankroll of 22,999 bets cycling that entire bankroll through once will finish ahead nearly 64% of the time. That may seem untenable on its face, but it’s not. Remember that every player who fails to hit a royal loses the entire bankroll, whereas all other players have hands that do not result in royals. Our luckiest player CRUSHED this game, hitting seven royals and losing on the remaining hands...that might apply to more than one player (the simulator doesn’t say).

The same winning percentage would also be the case for any player who chooses to stop playing whenever he or she hits a royal. The reason why is because I set each bankroll at 22,999 bets. (enough so any royal puts the player ahead at least one unit)

Granted, I think that there are slot machines and video poker games out there where a player might achieve the win rate with a, “Stop when ahead,” philosophy, but certainly not the profit rate. The same simulator suggests, for example, that 99%+ players are ahead, at some point, playing 9/6 Jacks or Better using the same bankroll of 22,999 bets. Even though every player who was ahead decided to quit, as we would expect, the ones who lost money overall more than made up for them. (In this simulation, players played until they either hit the target +1 unit or lost the entire bankroll)

In many ways, Mega Royal Madness is an awesome video poker game!

Don’t laugh.

Think about it: The return of Mega Royal Madness is higher than that of most video poker games that are out there today. It’s a game that you could play for pennies, and win over $1,000, in a way that is not a taxable jackpot. The strategy is ridiculously simple. Also, if you have a bankroll that is one unit short of the highest possible pay, you have a better than 60% chance of finishing ahead! Most of the players who do finish ahead will finish well ahead.

There’s only one small problem with Mega Royal Madness:

Nobody would ever play it.

The game would not be engaging at all. It would be almost nothing but constant losing.

Another problem with the game is the fact that the casinos probably wouldn’t want it. The casinos could very easily take a loss on the game over a long period of time if the players run particularly better than expected on royals. The differences in denominations would also present a problem...you simply couldn’t have a high denomination version of this game because the house could get absolutely killed by a single royal without sufficient high-denomination play to balance it out.

At best, it could theoretically be an extreme novelty game for pennies. Even with nickels, I don’t think the casino is going to be too keen on a $5,750 payout on a $0.25 bet. There may be a few games (such as video keno) where such a payout is theoretically possible, but that is balanced out by the fact that such a result is an extreme long shot.

If the game could exist, I imagine they would do something like a 20,000-FOR-1 payout and the return to player would be 86.6523%. It’s really the same concept as the lottery or many table game side bets, if you want a chance at a massive payout relative to the amount bet, then you’re going to pay for it by way of a massive house edge.


If most slot players were not more inclined to low variance and high frequency of win games, then penny slots would simply not exist in the current state of most of the new ones. What I mean by that is that there are slot machines that are termed, “Penny slots,” but you can’t actually only bet a single penny. Common bets on these types of games include $0.30, $0.40 and $0.50 as a minimum bet, and where there are progressives, these sorts of bets often don’t qualify a player for the progressive.

Of course, exceptions were also made in that regard, most notably with must-hits. The goal of those types of machines (as well as others) is to attract the players who think it is utter BS that they can’t theoretically win the progressives with a minimum bet. Bell Fever/Super 8 Line is probably an example of an, “Older,” game that also follows this concept.

In fact, we know this to be true because the verbiage on many of these machines is something akin to, “Progressives can be won at any bet level.” This statement often appears when the machine is not in use, as one of a series of flashing statements that come off and on the screen and occasionally, is also posted on the hard cabinet.


It is also from these sorts of machines that we arrive at a concept I will call, “Negative wins.” What a negative win consists of is that the player has a, “Winning,” spin, but actually loses money.

The concept of negative wins was once basically restricted to nickel and penny machines, but has since spread as high as dollar machines. Interestingly enough, with triple-play games, video poker was also one of the first types of machines to introduce this concept.

In any case, the idea for negative wins probably came about when a problem was presented to slot developers, or if not a problem, an idea. Before the concept was created, here were probably a few assumptions:

  1. Some players want machines with less variance.
  2. In order to have less variance, we have to make big wins less likely and substitute them with more small wins.
  3. We don’t want to increase the probability of 1-FOR-1 pays, because we have already done that to death, and people are probably sick of seeing it.
  4. We cannot completely eliminate big payouts, because if we do that, nobody will be hitting jackpots. Bells and whistles will not be going off. Word of mouth will not spread, “I hit $300 only betting $0.50!” because such a result will not be possible.

What to do...what to do?

Credit where it’s due, the originator of the concept of machines with massive numbers of lines really thought outside the box on that one.

Remember, all else being equal, variance is reduced when the distribution of possible results more closely reflects the return to player.

The paradigm, at one point, might have been that the minimum win should at least return the players’ money. Operating strictly within that paradigm results in running out of ideas when it comes to managing the variance of a game (for both casino and player purposes), while also allowing for the possibility of big pays.

Thinking outside of the paradigm, someone(s) eventually realized that you could reduce variance by going the other direction. Not every spin had to be a total loss, in fact, you could create a machine with an extremely high hit rate, but have most of the wins that do hit lose a little bit of money overall.

It was when the paradigm was broken that the concept of negative wins was born. I don’t know how many of the effects were intended, (perhaps all of them) but the concept accomplishes many things:

A.) It extends the (median) average playtime on the machine.

-If we assume that a group of 100 people all sit down at a $5.00/spin machine, then there is a significant difference created between the penny machines and the $5.00 single-line machines.

For one thing, the single-line machines are going to have a much lower hit rate, by necessity. In almost all cases, the minimum return of a winning spin is going to be the same as the amount bet. Most winning spins are going to return more than that, often MUCH more than that. For example, on this quarters game our own Wizard analyzed:

The ultimate result was a hit rate of under 10%. The lowest possible pay was 2-FOR-1 on the bet with that particular machine, and we also are able to note that only 5.98% of the machine’s overall return came from that particular result. The probability of that particular result was essentially 3%.

Okay, so you have a hit rate of under 10% and 7/10 of all hits are going to win more than the minimum return on the machine in question. In this case, the minimum return is double the bet. However, let’s go ahead and imagine this as a game wherein a person simply bets $5/spin and starts with a bankroll of $100 put into the machine. We’re going to call the probability of a losing spin 90% and get:

.9^20 = 0.12157665459

That’s right, 12.16% of all players are going to sit down, put a $100 into the machine and never see a single winning spin. It comes out to just under 1 in 8 players will experience the thrill of losing every spin over the course of...maybe a minute and a half...and have $100 be gone.

The play distribution (assuming all players play until the $100 is gone, regardless of how long that takes) is going to range from extremely high to extremely low, with very few players appearing between these far ends (the rightmost far end itself being small) and that is all a function of a machine with high variance.

Recently, I had PAR sheets shared with me for a particular game. I’m not going to say the name of the game, who shared the sheets (unless he asks me to credit him) or why the PAR Sheets are otherwise useful to me, but just know my example numbers are really close to the real deal.

The interesting components of this game are twofold:

  1. The game has a hit rate of about 27.5%.
  2. According to the Pay Distribution Chart, the average paying result is less than the total bet amount 80%+ of the time.

What does that mean for the player?

It means that the overall hit rate of 27.5% is represented by a probability of result (.275 *.81) = 22.275% of all spins being, “Winning spins,” that are actually negative wins.

If we add in the 72.5% of spins that are not winners at all, then the ultimate result is 94.775% of all spins losing some amount of money.

Can you imagine that? The high volatility single-line game in the Wizard of Odds link actually has a greater win rate than does this machine, despite the fact that the, “Hit rate,” is only about 1/3rd and the lowest pay returns 2-FOR-1.

It gets better.

On the game in the Wizard of Odds link, we can see from the probabilities that about 0.084203 or 8.4203% of all results are winning results that pay less than 20x the bet. That means about 1.34% of results pay 20x the bet, or more, on a FOR-ONE basis.

On the PAR Sheet pennies game, effectively, the only result with any meaningful probability of resulting in a win of 20-FOR-1, or better, are the free games. The free games at a frequency of less than 0.75% AND not all of the free games will result in such a win. It’s tough to give an exact percentage that will, (the PAR sheet doesn’t) but I’m guessing it’s about half of them.

The result is a low variance game, but a low variance game in which it is all but hopeless to win a meaningful amount relative to the player’s bet, and also, relative to what the player likely puts into the machine. The result is a game in which the player has frequent, “Wins,” believes there is a chance of winning big (the free games occur with some frequency, after all) and which the potential to win big (the highest payout over simulations is more than 1200-FOR-1) actually exists.

There are a few factors that will also give the players of this machine more hope:

A.) If we index the bet to $5.00, (no bet on this machine is exactly $5.00) then the probability of a player not winning any spin is not even close to 1 in 8, in fact, fewer than 1 in 500 players will lose the full amount bet on twenty consecutive spins.

B.) While it is true that about one in three players will experience twenty consecutive spins that lose some amount of money, the negative wins will add up to be more than the amount needed for one total bet. In fact, such a result (twenty spins that lose something) can happen with the player actually losing a total of five bets worth, or so.

---Because of this, the player does not feel as though he or she is losing money very quickly. That is because, on a per spin basis, the player actually isn’t during this result set.

C.) The clearly defined rules enable a player to win a progressive at any bet level.

D.) The free games are designed to give the impression that massive winnings are possible at any time. In this particular game, not only can free spins retrigger, but there is a range of multiples for each spin applied to the free games. Interestingly, the PAR sheet does not make clear the probability for each multiple compared to the others, but it’s very safe to assume that the probability of hitting the highest one is incredibly low.

-During the simulations, the highest possible payout was likely triggered by a top jackpot being hit after the progressive had been fed somewhat. The odds against that particular jackpot are more than a million to one against.

-Other high-end pays, what few that there are, are likely triggered by hitting one of the low probability big multiplier results whilst simultaneously catching an awesome line pays spin.

E.) The Free Games feature is somewhat frequent, and even a win of 5x-10x the bet amount can seem like it lasts for several spins because of the partial wins of other spins.

-In other words, the hits are, as many slot players say, “Good enough to keep me playing for a bit.”


Naturally, the players are absolutely right. Where the much better machine on the Wizard of Odds page will result in 1 in 8 players taking an early exist (indexed to $5 bets) after twenty spins, this almost never happens on the other game. In fact, the player is only very roughly 50% likely to have two spins in a row be complete (100%) losers.

With all of that said, this is one of the most egregious games I have ever seen in terms of taking a player to the woodshed and giving him or her virtually no chance to walk away ahead. Even on those occasions where a player finds himself/herself ahead more than $0.00, it almost certainl;y won’t be enough to, “Walk away,” which is the idea.

Of course, the free games seem easy enough to hit. A player might say to himself, “It was pretty easy to get ahead $40, shame I gave it all back, but I’m just going to play until I am ahead $40+ from now on and then switch to a different machine.” (As if it matters!)

In the parlance of your, “Ploppy,” slot player, this is, “Knowing when to walk away,” which is another myth that the casino industry is glad to have perpetuated.

I decided to generalize a particular set of returns for this game that were based on the known hit rates as well as the known ranges of other hits. I ran a simulation based on this and compared it to my Mega Royal Madness video poker game, and I found one big difference starting with 22,999 betting units:

Nobody Wins.

That’s not strictly true. A handful of players managed to hit the top jackpot and walk away ahead, but almost nobody did so compared to my Mega Royal Madness game where, you’ll recall, over half of all players finished at least one unit ahead after that number of bets.

So...what’s the big difference? Why would players play one and not the other? Why would they play a worse returning slot game and not my extremely awesome video poker game?

The slot game makes you THINK you can win.

On the slot game, the player, “Wins,” all the time. Even the players I see griping endlessly about, “I’m sick of getting these $0.80 pays on this $4.00 bet,” just sit there and continue to play. They must not be that sick of it. When you’re winning a great deal of the time, it makes a player feel like he can, “Hit the big one,” anytime.

Again, with my Mega Royal Madness video poker game, it’s totally different. The player is going to sit down and will rarely do anything but lose. The player will be griping, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t gotten a royal by now,” LONG before the player is ever expected to have done so.


I’ve just recently had the opportunity to watch this documentary in which our own Wizard (Michael Shackleford) appears:


And, let me say that this documentary is extremely illuminating on the subject of slot machines. I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but if you’ve enjoyed this article so far, it’s almost imperative that you watch this documentary.

I’ll just give a couple of notes that I consider relevant to the article:

Marcus Fortunado of Tictabs Gaming at 18:12---”I could remove the graphics, remove the sound and allow a player to play an Excel Spreadsheet and the outcome will be the same.”

In my view, that is singularly the most revealing and best slot machine related quote of all-time. Maybe the best gambling quote I’ve ever heard. When you strip everything away and leave only the most basic components, any slot machine can be reduced to an Excel Spreadsheet just randomly picking numbers. Probably video keno comes closest to this in function, not just in concept. You just tell Excel, “Pick 20 of these 80 numbers.”

The goal is to make the Excel Spreadsheet more engaging, or perhaps more addictive, for some. This is accomplished by testing out these reward mechanisms that will all be suited to the wants of different types of players.

For instance, certainly there is a player out there who would love nothing more than to play Mega Royal Madness all day long.

Remember again that a ZERO variance game would just be one in which the casino takes a percentage of the player’s money on every single spin. That percentage would never change. We’ve already discussed why no player would play this for very long, but when we look at the facts from the slot machine I wrote about above...we see that there are a few that are really damn close.

Graphics, Sounds, Themes...all the answers to one question: How can I sussy this up enough so that the players will just give us money?


Imagine a video poker game that operates like this:

*The player is dealt two or three to a royal and makes that hold. The remaining deck will either be comprised of 3/47 or 2/47 cards that could be used to complete the royal. However, if the first card out on the draw is not one of the royal cards, then twenty non-royal cards will be removed from the deck thereby leaving 3/26 or 2/26 royal cards available. The distribution of the cards that are removed from the deck will be such that the overall probabilities (of other hands) are affected as little as possible.

Most video poker players would recognize such a set of conditions as being illegal in many jurisdictions and always ridiculous. The illusion it would create (to players who are not mathematically inclined, which most slot players certainly are not) is that players are missing royals all the time...but getting really close to hitting them. Let’s focus on our three-to-a-royal hold since we are only using two conditionals:

Royal Flush: (2/47 * 1/46) = 0.00092506938

One Royal Card: (2/47 * 45/46) + (45/47 * 2/46) = 0.08325624421

Zero Royal Cards: (45/47 * 44/46) = 0.9158186864

Okay, so we make this hold, but the majority of the time, we don’t see any royal cards. Roughly 8.325% of the time (roughly 1:12) we will see one royal card, but not the other.

Let’s do the same thing, except this time we are going to do it with our conditional card removal:

Royal Flush: (2/47 * 1/46) = 0.00092506938

One Royal Card (First Card): (2/47 * 45/46) = 0.0416281221

One Royal Card (Second Card): (45/47 * 2/26) = 0.0736497545

Zero Royal Cards: (45/47 * 24/26) = 0.88379705401

Even a skilled video poker player would have to play this game for quite some time before even beginning to suspect the gimmick. In my estimation, the first thing that would be noticed is the fact that almost double the amount of misses are going to be the first card the player sees whilst the second card the player sees is one of the royal cards nearly twice as often.

Again, this naturally seems like a ridiculous concept, but this is also EXACTLY what slot machines do in a number of ways.

The most obvious of these ways is, “Bonus spin,” type features (such as Wheel of Fortune) with undisclosed probabilities. For players unfamiliar with certain types of these games, it would appear that all of the results are equally likely. People are familiar with pie graphs, there is a little line that indicates the stopping point and each section has an equal slice of the pie.

For very good reasons, this screams, “EQUALLY LIKELY TO OCCUR!!!”

Not only is it not equally likely to occur, not only does it not have to be equally likely to occur, the slot manufacturers generally do not have to disclose the probability of occurrence.

In fact, the slots anchoring the highest paying spot are sometimes the lowest-paying (and most likely) spots to create this near-miss jackpot concept. Even knowledgeable players (who know not all results are equally likely) can’t help but get a huge sense of anticipation when that top jackpot amount looks like it might hit.

Of course, some players figured out this gimmick...and honestly...having this anticipation build up just to be let down with the lowest possible pay gets old after a while.

What to do...what to do?

Someone said, “I know, we can anchor all of the higher paying spots with reasonably good pays and have a few of the reasonably good pays be among the more likely spots to occur. We can make up the difference in return this dynamic causes elsewhere. We’ll put the worst returning results in the middle of the ranged results, that way, even when one of those does happen, it looks like the player was at least close to something decent.”

Nothing like being allowed to remove cards from the deck at your whim, or perhaps more appropriately, adding cards to the deck without disclosing how many, or which ones, have been added.

The same concept can be employed and added to the well-known, “Near-Miss,” concept with dependent and conditional reels.

This Near-Miss concept, as stated, is already employed. On some games, certain reels will always have more Free Games spots than do other reels. On many slot machine games, this is true of other symbols, as well, this game Wizard wrote about:

Being an excellent example.

Some reels are LOADED with particular symbols whereas the other reels have far fewer of those symbols. The result is that a player will have frequent spins (and stacks of symbols) that frequently result in the appearance that a player could very easily have gotten that symbol across the board (read: on every reel) to a huge paying result.

Unfortunately, it’s very rarely true. Not only are there more symbols of a certain kind on some reels than others, but more than that, many of the symbols on the reels where there are fewer of those symbols don’t even really appear as stacks as frequently. They are more likely to be just sitting there by themselves.

In other words, it lends the appearance that a given result can happen with some frequency that is considerably less likely than it appears to be. In the cases of a few (other slot titles) games, I highly suspect, the across-the-board thing can’t happen at all absent wild symbols.

Anyway, all of these things are perfectly legal and acceptable...on machines that already eat 10+% of a player’s money every spin.

Another thing that would be legal is completely conditional reels.

What would that mean?

Independent reels mean that the random number generator chooses a number that identifies a spot on each reel individually. However, it doesn’t seem like it would be illegal (slot manufacturers can get away with basically anything) to create a separate reel strip that is used for a particular reel that only conditionally is used.

Here’s an example of what I think could happen:

Let’s imagine that you have a slot game by which free games are won if the Free Games symbol appears on Reels 1, 3 & 5. There is a fixed probability of occurrence with this result, as there always is, which is simply based on the frequency of the symbols vs. the total number of spots on the reel strip.

How the conditional reels would work is that they are spun separately (but no one is any slower than the other from the perception of the player). If the result of Reels 1 & 3 would have free games appear somewhere, then we will use a reel 5 distribution that we will call, “Normal.”

However, we could do a number of other things. We could say that, if the Reel 1 result is Free Games, but the Reel 3 result is not, then we will use a conditional fifth Reel that has more Free Games symbols on it to create the perception of more near-misses. It will create a belief in the player that more Free Games symbols exist than are actually available to that player.

Again, maybe that would be going so far as to be illegal. I’ll likely ask DRich to have a look at this article, if he wouldn’t mind.

I don’t see why not. They already have wheel spins and who knows what else whereby all results appear to be equally likely, even though they are not, so why stop there?

Variable State Machines

The first thing I want to do is differentiate what I would term, “Variable State Machines,” from, “Variable Return Machines,” even though Variable State Machines are both. When it comes to must-hit machines, or any other progressive machines, I would just term those, “Variable Return Machines.” In other words, nothing about the gameplay itself changes, only the value does.

With Variable State Machines, (of which Ultimate X is the most well-known example) there are fundamental conditions that actually change the gameplay and also the expected return.

There are more of these machines than there once were, which is good for vulturing. Some of them involve multipliers, some of them involve reels (or sections of symbols becoming wild in a known way) and others involve free games or high-paying results being more likely than they normally would be.

The goal of these machines is for the value situations to be somewhat apparent, but more than that, for the perception of value to sometimes exist where the game state is still fundamentally negative.

The reason that they would want to create such machines (the exploitability is quite intentional) is because running out of credits in a machine is a natural stopping point for some players. However, by having a perceived value situation still exist when the player runs out of credits might encourage that player to put more money in the machine. The player may do this intending to only play until the perceived value situation ceases to be the case, but that’s not always what happens.

The most interesting aspect of some of these value situations is that they occasionally create a situation in which the player literally CAN’T LOSE. For example, on many of these games, if any two of the first three reels are wild, that’s going to be a guaranteed win every time.

I won’t say the title, but one play involves reels becoming entirely wild for the very next spin. On this particular game, there are a number of symbols that, if they appear in a full stack on a particular reel, then that reel will become wild for the following spin.

On this particular game I have in mind, the best play I ever found ($$$) was on the max bet where reels 1, 2, 4 and 5 were going to be wild on the next spin. There is a symbol on the game (for which the wilds substitute) that pays on any two (or more) adjacent reels where it appears. This was guaranteed to happen twice (Reels 1&2 as well as Reels 4&5) so the minimum possible return on investment was 1000%.

Sure enough, that’s what I ended up with because I hit a full stack of Free Games (which don’t pay) on the third reel, so 1000% is what I got as the third reel was literally the worst possible result, and in fact, the only possible result that would lead to only (!?) a 1000% RoI on that spin.

In that particular case, I believe one of two things happened:

1.) The previous player was simply completely out of money.


2.) The player had four stacks of all the same symbol (which they were, actually) but completely missed that symbol on the third reel, got irritated and quit without realizing the value of the following spin. This would be surprising because the wild reels are basically the entire gimmick of this particular game.

There is a more well-known game upon which the tenth spin causes a number of collected symbols to become wild. There is another game where a set number of spins will cause certain symbol spots to become wild, but it’s only sometimes known how many spins that will take to happen. The latter is a relatively new machine, (to me) so I don’t want to explain it in too much detail in case some people aren’t hip to it yet. For my part, I’ve seen other known vultures completely ignore the game.

Anyway, these machines largely exist (with different variations of the concept coming out) with the goal of not just getting the player playing, but also keeping the player playing. Remember that these players are not likely to clear out the value situation and then stop playing, or they never would have been playing the game to begin with.


Anyway, I just call all of these things, “Gimmicks,” when it comes to regular players. Variable state machines are a gimmick. Progressives are gimmicks. Near-Misses are gimmicks. Wheel spin mechanisms are gimmicks.

Anyone who has observed these sorts of things extensively can essentially watch a machine for a hundred or so spins and immediately identify what that Excel Spreadsheet’s gimmick is. Here’s an example:


Okay, so I played a must-hit version of this game once, and the gimmick is really simple. We have to understand a few things:

  1. A player hits free games and receives 12 free games.
  2. Free Games do not retrigger.
  3. There are four, “Bullseye,” spots on each of reels 2-5, but Reel 5 starts off with three of those bullseye spots already filled.
  4. The player can randomly get a bullseye symbol on the spins, which will cause a new bullseye spot to fill.
  5. When all four bullseye spots are filled on a particular reel, starting from Reel 5 and working left, that reel turns wild.
  6. 13 Bullseye spots would need to be found in order to fill all reels.
  7. Once a reel is wild, no further Bullseye spots can be found on that reel.
  8. Because #7, it becomes progressively more difficult to fill the bullseye spots above the reels, and the player will also have fewer spins to do it.
  9. Reel 5 will almost always fill and turn wild, but Reel 5 rarely matters. Even when it does, most five of a kinds (lower symbols) don’t pay particularly well. At about 52 seconds into the video, you can see the start of a 5OaK spin on a symbol where the result only returns the original bet amount.

I didn’t track the frequency of Free Games when I played this machine, because it didn’t matter to me and had no effect on the value (must-hit), but I put it somewhere between 1 in 70 and 1 in 100 shooting in the dark...maybe even more frequent than that. They could be as often as 1 in 50.

The entire gimmick on this game is that the Free Games hit frequently and the prospect of filling 3-4 reels with Bullseye symbols appears to be a lot more likely than it actually is. I think it’s safe to say that all four reels getting filled will almost never happen because the player would first have to acquire nine bullseye spots and then would have whatever amount of spins to collect four more using only two reels. Again, I didn’t track it, but I put the average at about 0.2 Bullseye spots per reel, on average.

Even if the player successfully filled them all, it’s not even a guarantee of a massive win. For instance, a player could have one spin with all filled and a result of a now useless Bullseye symbol and two junk symbols. That happened in my play a few times (on one of the first two reels) when I had three reels (3-5) wild. In fact, one of them I got with one spin left and had a Bullseye symbol on both of the first two reels.

Anyway, almost all of the machines are like that in some way. So much so that a machine not having some kind of gimmick would almost be a gimmick unto itself!


Other than variable state machines, (which are at least good for me) slot machines are in a very sorry state right now; especially penny slots.

It used to be that games with a higher house edge were compensating for something, that something being the prospect/frequency of pretty big wins. It’s true with the lottery, it’s true for table games’ (most) side bets and it was generally true with slot machines. The only game which once had a balance of a low house edge and potential for a tremendous win was video poker and maybe a select few low(ish) house edge video keno games.

However, many slot machines these days (but not all) seem to be content to disregard this concept entirely. A significant number of slot machines on the floor seek to balance a few different things:

  1. Addictive properties to keep people playing.
  2.  Virtually zero prospect of a big win.
  3. Trying to have wins be just big enough (or appear to be possible) to keep people playing as long as possible whilst being short of enough to, “Walk away.”
  4. Achieve a state of, “High edge, low variance.”
  5. Increase median play time, so it feels like the player is not losing as quickly.

No machine will survive that literally loses exactly 12%-15% of a bet every time, but the manufacturers are getting closer and closer to that while finding ways to get people to play them.

With all of that said, and even knowing these things, I have to admit that 2-3 of these Excel Spreadsheets are legitimately kind of fun, though I avoid them unless there’s a good reason to play. Can someone please tell WMS to make a must-hit version of DIAMOND HUNT, on that note? That Excel Spreadsheet rules.


smoothgrh Jan 23, 2020

Thanks for the article!

It reminds me of a couple things. When I first learned how slot machines work, and discussed it with a friend, we joked that slots should just show "YOU LOST" whenever someone pushed the Spin button. Sounds like your Royal or Nothing video poker game.

For slots, there WAS a "Jackpot or Nothing" game, as discussed in this thread that I mentioned: https://wizardofvegas.com/forum/gambling/slots/29643-100-or-nothing-500-or-nothing-slots/

I always wanted to play it, but knew I had to commit at least $100 to "get lucky." So I never played it.

Mission146 Jan 24, 2020


You're welcome, and thank you for reading!

I forgot about that jackpot or nothing game, but I bet my video poker game has a better return!

Yeah, if anyone actually cared, I don't think they could get away with, "You win 100 credits," on a 300 credit bet that is actually a 200 credit loss. The only reason they can is that bets resolved on a, "For one," basis are assumed lost, so technically, it is a win.

100xOdds Feb 05, 2020

What would the variance be on your 99.65% Royal or Nothing game?

100xOdds Feb 05, 2020

I created a thread a couple of months ago about slots now-a-days having more variance.
And a pic of the slot with the most variance I have seen so far.
ie: Bonus rounds, higher base bets = chance at higher progressives AND betting at higher multipliers gets bonus payouts for 5 of a kind

so many betting options to choose from for the player.


Mission146 Feb 05, 2020

Royal or Nothing Variance is 22,918.5! Nice smooth playing game, that one.

I don't know if that machine has more variance than most other slot machines. Multi-line game is going to reduce variance, payouts that are more than zero, but less than 1x the bet will reduce variance. It seems like one of those bleed them dry machines that I have in mind.

It's true you can get paid huge on stuff, but that's the only way you're going to win in terms of doubling what you put in. You'll almost never do it with a long series of medium-sized wins like you can on many other games.

p13man Jun 21, 2020

The negative wins are an essential part of the 'conditioning' that these machine do. The Ka-Ching documentary does a great job of explaining operant conditioning. The slots designers are using research done 70 years ago to condition players to keep playing. In the doco you'll see that the scientists changed the frequency with which the pigeon (a.k.a. the player) was rewarded, resulting in complusive behaviour. The slots need to have negative wins in order to increase the frequency of rewards to the point where they can control the player's behavior through conditioning.

If you're struggling with the concept of conditioning - re-read the above replacing 'conditioning' with 'brainwashing'

Mission146 Jun 22, 2020


Thanks for the comment!

I kind of felt like the article was long enough and covered enough without getting too deeply into the underlying concept of Classical Conditioning, but the video linked into the article touches on the concept a little bit, as you mentioned, comparing the players to rats signaling for more food in a laboratory environment. Hence #1 being addictive properties to keep people playing.

I might write a future article that narrows in on the concept as it applies to just gambling, in general, rather than just slot machines.

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