Modern pokies all have a feature assigned to them by their manufacturers or the auditors that test them; a theoretical payback percentage. This is one feature that all modern poker machines have in common, whether they are online or in a traditional casino setting – the longer a bettor plays, the closer his or her earnings will likely be to the theoretical number. Understanding your winning chances when you play these games requires an understanding of the terms ‘payback percentage’ and ‘hit frequency’, both of which relate to a player’s odds of earning cash from the slots.
The technology of pokies may have changed over the years, but the game has remained the same. A player inserts a coin and pulls the handle to rotate a series of reels. Each reel has a series of pictures or symbols printed on them. The number of images that line up on the pay line or pay lines determines the amount a bettor wins. The classic mechanical pokies used springs and tension to stop the reels at random. These old electro-mechanical poker machines weren’t any more predictable than today’s modern poker machines. Most old mechanical machines had three reels that held 20 symbols each. In stark contrast are modern games and their virtual designs – even modern poker machines with just three reels and a single pay line are far more complicated statistically to mechanical games with literal reels and symbols.
An example – an antique machine with 20 stops on each reel offers a total of 8,000 different combinations. How do you come to that number? Multiply the number of symbols on each reel; 20 x 20 x 20 = 8,000. The entirety of these 8,000 possible combinations is known as a cycle.
In theory, if you pulled the lever 8,000 times, you would see each combination of reels once. To figure out the odds of hitting a particular combination of three reel symbols, simply multiply your chances of landing one symbol by itself (1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20). This means your odds of pulling up any combination on a classic slot machine are 1/8,000 or 7,999 to 1.
Modern pokies are more complicated – it is far more difficult to predict the odds using math, since a lot of the numbers are theoretical and based on an infinite number of spins, time, and wagers.
Modern pokies use a random number generator or “RNG.” The RNG generates a random value from billions of possible numerical combinations. These values determine where the reel “stops.”
Modern games and their RNGS generate these digits at a rate of around 300-500 every second. When you press the “spin” button on one of today’s games, it grabs a random series of values from the constant stream of them it produces. The first value determines the position of the first reel, the second value for the second reel, and on and on.
A machine’s payback percentage is what per cent the machine is programmed to pay back to bettors over the machine’s life; unfortunately, the infinite amount of time the math requires to be 100% accurate and the actual life of a poker machine are nowhere near the same. The payback percentage is programmed into the machines by the manufacturers, and yes, some games can be adjusted depending on how a casino wants its games set up.
Most machines run with a payback percentage somewhere between 75 and 99 per cent. Say you see an advertisement for a casino boasting a 95 per cent payback. What this is really saying is that “You put in $100 and we’ll give you back $95.” Obviously this isn’t a literal determination of a player’s actual winnings.
The randomness of a coin flip is a good way to think about your potential for winning on pokies. A coin flip gives a player calling either “heads” or “tails” a 50/50 chance of winning. Without a built-in advantage, a poker machine would be much like a flipped coin – you wager $1 on heads, pay $1 if you lose, and earn $1 if you win. Theoretically speaking over any amount of time in this even-money wager, you and the house would be even.
Now consider that we set our coin flip up like a poker machine. Instead of paying you $1 for guessing the correct side of the coin to pop up, the casino offers you $0.95. Since the house still takes $1 every time you lose, the coin-flip game is now operating at a 95% payback percentage. A poker machine’s profits come from paying back less than a gambler puts in it, much like our coin flip example.
Frequency is the theoretical percentage of spins that will payout something to the player. The frequency is based on how many times each symbol appears as well as how often winning combinations occur. Machines with high hit frequencies pay out small wins more frequently and machines with lower hit frequencies pay out less often, but with more money.
The hit frequency basically tells you how many times you’ll have to lose in order to win – on average. A return of a couple of coins is a hit, but it’s not much of a win. Most pokies have hit frequencies between 9 and 25 per cent. This means that players will get hits, on average, 9-25 times out of each 100 spins. These hits could be anything from a marginal return to a huge payout.
It’s important to note that there is usually no direct correlation between payout percentage and hit frequency. Machines with high payback may still have a low hit frequency or vice versa. A machine with a high payback and low hit frequency means that it doesn’t hit as often, but it pays out more. A machine with a low payback and high hit frequency pays out small wins, more often. So whether you enjoy waiting longer for the bigger payout or getting little returns and less waiting time, you’ll now be able to find a slot machine that is the perfect combination of entertainment and profit.
There is no way to accurately predict exactly how much you’ll win or lose on a poker machine, and that is part of the fun of gambling in a casino. The 50/50 coin-flip game we described earlier wouldn’t be much fun, because after an hour of flipping the coin you and the casino would still have pretty much the same amount of cash as before you started.
Enjoying a pokie is about more than winning a few bucks. Start by finding a game with a cool theme – do you like Sex and the City? Are you a Monopoly nut? Do you enjoy comic books or fantasy novels? Most casinos and betting websites have games for all tastes. Rather than concern yourself with winning tons of cash, try to have more fun and make sure you don’t wager more than you can afford to lose.
See also: How to Win at Pokies