Pokies myths are pervasive. Gamblers have been creating legends about games of chance and skill for as long as people have been gambling. The kind of thinking that leads to the creation of these is easy to explain.
Here’s an example of why it is easy to get caught up in illogical thinking when it comes to the statistics and math behind gambling: flipping a coin. This example is commonly used to point out why a lot of the magical thinking behind pokies strategy (and the myths that surround other games like blackjack, poker, bingo, roulette, video poker, and online casinos in general.) looks good at first glance but falls apart under pressure.
Say you and a friend are flipping a coin and the result has been “heads” nine times in a row. What are the odds that the same coin will produce the same result on the tenth flip? Without thinking about it too much, it’s easy to think that the odds of the coin landing on “heads” are lower because that result has occurred nine times in a row already. With a few moments’ thought, it’s clear that the odds of every flip of the coin are 50% for it to land on “heads” and 50% for it to land on “tails.” Each flip is a unique event. The coin itself has no memory of the results that have already occurred.
Obviously, poker machines are a bit more complex, involving odds much smaller than 50 / 50. But applying the same principle behind the coin flip to the results of a round of pokie play is enough to do away with the majority of myths about the way the games work.
Three of the most common pokies misconceptions are addressed below. Understanding why these are bogus will help gamblers enjoy themselves at the casinos. Since having fun is what casino gambling is really all about, learning why these myths are inaccurate can actually lead to a better time at the pokie banks.
It’s common to hear gamblers discuss a game using the terms “hot” and “cold”. What they mean is simple – a machine that hasn’t paid out a big jackpot in a long time is “hot,” or more likely to pay one out than a pokie that just won a player a ton of cash, which is thus “cold” and less likely to do so.
This one is both easy to dispel and common among gamblers. Thinking that a machine that runs on a piece of software has a memory of its most recent activity is the exact same as thinking that the coin in the above example remembers that it turned up “heads” nine times in a row. Jackpots depend on the activity of the game’s random number generator. Pokies don’t have any memory of how recently they spit out a big win.
The thinking behind this one is that the provider of a pokie can somehow change the machine’s design to produce the result the casino wants. In other words, if a game is paying out “too much,” the house will flip a switch to make sure that no one wins on it for a while.
The truth is that the casinos don’t have to alter machines to produce a certain result because the game’s designer does that ahead of time. When a poker machine designer releases a game, they’re required to produce what’s called a hold worksheet that demonstrated the game’s theoretical payout percentage. The game is then tested by a third party to verify the math behind that number.
Pokies are designed with a built-in advantage; in Australia, that percentage must be 87% or higher by law. That means any poker machine you play in an Australian casino can keep as much as 13% of the money paid into it, though most games are around the ninety per cent mark. Casinos don’t have to alter games in order to be profitable; they’re designed to be profitable before they’re ever set up and plugged in.
This myth is rampant because it is true to a tiny extent. Some table gamblers, the types you see only sitting at blackjack tables or placing even-money bets on roulette, sometimes look down on fans of pokies and the games they play. The phrase “one-armed bandit” used to refer to old mechanical slots implies this logic. Some people think that pokies are a rip-off and that people who play them are fools.
Some poker machines, especially the games that accept low denomination wagers, do give the casino a relatively big advantage against the gambler. An Australian pokie set to the minimum payout percentage of 87% is theoretically taking around $1 of every $6 the bettor puts into the machine over time. But other casino games have wager options that give the house an even bigger edge than that. And those even money bets on roulette aren’t actually even-money, by the way. The green zero slot on the wheel means a bet on black or red gives the player less than a 50% chance of winning. (See our article about pokies odds and probabilities for more information on that subject.)
The point is simple – every game on the casino floor gives the house an edge of some kind. Even professional gamblers, card-counters, and the best sports bettors in the world still have to play against a house advantage. If you’re playing a pokie with a 90% payout percentage and you’re having a good time, you’re getting your money’s worth of entertainment. If the ten per cent you’re handing the casino is worth it to you, who is to say that you’re laying a sucker bet?
The minute a gambler starts to try to work the system or apply the myths above to poker machine play they are outside the realm of entertainment and focusing on the wrong thing. Yes, one of the reasons people play pokies is to chase the big progressive jackpots and turn their bankroll into a larger stack of cash, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But playing pokies just to make money is a losing proposition. Consider the basic truths behind the misconceptions above and remember – as long as you’re enjoying yourself, your choice to spin the reels of a poker machine is totally justified.
We received the following feedback on this page from one of our readers:
I read your story on poker machine gambling myths. There is a very large error in your article. Poker machines in Australia are not required and do not pay back 87% to 90% of money put into them.
Poker machines pay 87% to 90% of money “played”. This means a poker machine can take 100% of all money put into it by paying small wins out over time which are not worth collecting until the player has lost all their money.
The person may put in 100 dollars, they could then theoretically win 10 and lose 11 dollars on each consecutive turn, after 100 or so turns they would have lost 1100 or so dollars but won 1000 dollars and the the poker machine operator can claim they returned 90% of money gambled.
They however took 100% of money put into the machine.
Thanks for your message. I think the miscommunication/misunderstanding comes from my misapplication of the term “payout percentage,” and it is of course very important for us to pass on accurate information to the reader.
By federal law, a pokie’s theoretical payout percentage must be set at no lower than 87%. That’s all well and good, but the word “theoretical” there is the key difference between my application of the phrase and the way you’ve explained it.
Your explanation is a more accurate and a more realistic way of looking at casino play; the way it is written in the article places too much emphasis on theory and not enough on how a game is actually played.
Obviously, it is correct that a machine takes 100% of whatever money a player puts into it. There is no requirement or law stating that a pokie must pay back a certain percentage of the bets put into it by each individual player.
The law in question governs a purely theoretical percentage that a game’s designer establishes based on that game’s rules. That theoretical payout percentage number refers to a game’s long-term performance given an infinite amount of time and bets. For example, a pokie that is designed to pay back 91% will only pay out 91% of its total intake over the life of the game.
Thanks again for writing.
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