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Video slot machines

The video slot machine is a more recent innovation, with no moving parts at all – instead a graphical representation of one appears on screen. Since the player is essentially playing a computer/video game, the manufacturers are able to offer more interactive elements, such as advanced bonus games and advanced video graphics.

In addition, because there are no mechanical constraints on the design of video slot machines, most display five reels rather than three. This greatly expands the number of possibilities: a machine can have 50 or more symbols on a reel, giving odds as high as 300 million to 1 against – enough for even the largest jackpot. As there are so many combinations given by five reels, the manufacturers do not need to weight the payout symbols (although some may still do so). Instead, higher paying symbols will typically appear only once or twice on each reel, while more common symbols, earning a more frequent payout, will appear many times.

Video slot machines typically encourage the player to play multiple “lines”, so rather than simply taking the middle of the three symbols displayed on each reel, a line could go from top left to bottom right, or any of the other patterns specified by the manufacturer. As each symbol is equally likely, there is no difficulty for the manufacturer in allowing the player to take any or all of the possible lines on offer – the long-term return to player will be the same. The difference for the player is that the more lines he plays the more likely he is to get paid on a given spin – though of course he is betting more in the first place.

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To avoid the feeling that the player’s money is simply ebbing away (whereas a payout of 100 credits on a single line machine would be 100 bets, and the player would feel they had made a substantial win, on a 20 line machine, it would only be 5 bets and would not seem significant), manufacturers commonly offer bonus games, which can return many times their bet. The player is encouraged to keep playing to reach the bonus: even if he is losing, the bonus game could allow him to win back his losses.

Random number generators

All modern machines are designed using pseudo random number generators (“PRNGs”), which are constantly generating a sequence of simulated random numbers, at a rate of hundreds or perhaps thousands per second. As soon as the “Play” button is pressed, the most recent random number is used to determine the result. This means that the result varies depending on exactly when the game is played. A fraction of a second earlier or later, and the result would be different.

It is important that the machine contains a high-quality RNG implementation, because all PRNGs must eventually repeat their number sequence, and if the period is short, or the PRNG is otherwise flawed, an advanced player may be able to ‘predict’ the next result. Having access to the PRNG code and seed values, Ronald Dale Harris, a former slot machine programmer, discovered equations for specific gambling games like Keno that allowed him to predict what the next set of selected numbers would be based on the previous games played.

Most machines are designed to defeat this by generating numbers even when the machine is not being played, so the player cannot tell where in the sequence they are, even if they know how the machine was programmed.

Payout percentage

Slot machines are typically programmed to pay out as winnings 82% to 98% of the money that is wagered by players. This is known as the “theoretical payout percentage” or RTP, “return to player”. The minimum theoretical payout percentage varies among jurisdictions and is typically established by law or regulation. For example, the minimum payout in Nevada is 75%, in New Jersey, 83%, and in Mississippi 80%. The winning patterns on slot machines – the amounts they pay and the frequencies of those payouts – are carefully selected to yield a certain fraction of the money played to the “house” (the operator of the slot machine), while returning the rest to the players during play. Suppose that a certain slot machine costs $1 per spin and has a return to player (RTP) of 95%. It can be calculated that over a sufficiently long period, such as 1,000,000 spins, that the machine will return an average of $950,000 to its players, who have inserted $1,000,000 during that time. In this (simplified) example, the slot machine is said to pay out 95%. The operator keeps the remaining $50,000. Within some EGM development organizations this concept is referred to simply as “par.” “Par” also manifests itself to gamblers as promotional techniques: “Our ‘Loose Slots’ have a 93% payback! Play now!” It is worth noting that the “Loose Slots” actually may describe a very few anonymous machines in a particular bank of EGMs.

A slot machine’s theoretical payout percentage is set at the factory when the software is written. Changing the payout percentage after a slot machine has been placed on the gaming floor requires a physical swap of the software or firmware, which is usually stored on an EPROM but may be loaded onto non-volatile random access memory (NVRAM) or even stored on CD-ROM or DVD, depending on the capabilities of the machine and the applicable regulations. Based on current technology, this is a time-consuming process and as such is done infrequently. In certain jurisdictions, such as New Jersey, the EPROM has a tamper-evident seal and can only be changed in the presence of Gaming Control Board officials. Other jurisdictions, including Nevada, randomly audit slot machines to ensure that they contain only approved software.

Historically, many casinos, both online and offline, have been unwilling to publish individual game RTP figures, making it impossible for the player to know whether they are playing a “loose” or a “tight” game. Since the turn of the century some information regarding these figures has started to come into the public domain either through various casinos releasing them – primarily this applies to online casino – or through studies by independent gambling authorities.

The return to player is not the only statistic that is of interest. The probabilities of every payout on the pay table is also critical. For example, consider a hypothetical slot machine with a dozen different values on the pay table. However, the probabilities of getting all the payouts are zero except the largest one. If the payout is 4,000 times the input amount, and it happens every 4,000 times on average, the return to player is exactly 100%, but the game would be dull to play. Also, most people would not win anything, and having entries on the paytable that have a return of zero would be deceptive. As these individual probabilities are closely guarded secrets, it is possible that the advertised machines with high return to player simply increase the probabilities of these jackpots. The casino could legally place machines of a similar style payout and advertise that some machines have 100% return to player. The added advantage is that these large jackpots increase the excitement of the other players.

The table of probabilities for a specific machine is called the Probability and Accounting Report or PAR sheet, also PARS commonly understood as Paytable and Reel Strips. Mathematician Michael Shackleford revealed the PARS for one commercial slot machine, an original International Gaming Technology Red White and Blue machine. This game, in its original form, is obsolete, so these specific probabilities do not apply. He only published the odds after a fan of his sent him some information provided on a slot machine that was posted on a machine in the Netherlands. The psychology of the machine design is quickly revealed. There are 13 possible payouts ranging from 1:1 to 2,400:1. The 1:1 payout comes every 8 plays. The 5:1 payout comes every 33 plays, whereas the 2:1 payout comes every 600 plays. Most players assume the likelihood increases proportionate to the payout. The one midsize payout that is designed to give the player a thrill is the 80:1 payout. It is programmed to occur an average of once every 219 plays. The 80:1 payout is high enough to create excitement, but not high enough that it makes it likely that the player will take his winnings and abandon the game. More than likely the player began the game with at least 80 times his bet (for instance there are 80 quarters in $20). In contrast the 150:1 payout occurs only on average of once every 6,241 plays. The highest payout of 2,400:1 occurs only on average of once every 643=262,144 plays since the machine has 64 virtual stops. The player who continues to feed the machine is likely to have several midsize payouts, but unlikely to have a large payout. He quits after he is bored or has exhausted his bankroll.

Despite the fact that they are confidential, occasionally a PAR sheet is posted on a website. They have limited value to the player, because usually a machine will have 8 to 12 different possible programs with varying payouts. In addition, slight variations of each machine (e.g., with double jackpots or five times play) are always being developed. The casino operator can choose which EPROM chip to install in any particular machine to select the payout desired. The result is that there is not really such a thing as a high payback type of machine, since every machine potentially has multiple settings. From October 2001 to February 2002, columnist Michael Shackleford obtained PAR sheets for five different nickel machines; four IGT games Austin Powers, Fortune Cookie, Leopard Spots and Wheel of Fortune and one game manufactured by WMS; Reel ’em In. Without revealing the proprietary information, he developed a program that would allow him to determine with usually less than a dozen plays on each machine which EPROM chip was installed. Then he did a survey of over 400 machines in 70 different casinos in Las Vegas. He averaged the data, and assigned an average payback percentage to the machines in each casino. The resultant list was widely publicized for marketing purposes (especially by the Palms casino which had the top ranking).

One reason that the slot machine is so profitable to a casino is that the player must play the high house edge and high payout wagers along with the low house edge and low payout wagers. In a more traditional wagering game like craps, the player knows that certain wagers have almost a 50/50 chance of winning or losing, but they only pay a limited multiple of the original bet (usually no higher than three times). Other bets have a higher house edge, but the player is rewarded with a bigger win (up to thirty times in craps). The player can choose what kind of wager he wants to make. A slot machine does not afford such an opportunity. Theoretically, the operator could make these probabilities available, or allow the player to choose which one so that the player is free to make a choice. However, no operator has ever enacted this strategy. Different machines have different maximum payouts, but without knowing the odds of getting the jackpot, there is no rational way to differentiate.

In many markets where central monitoring and control systems are used to link machines for auditing and security purposes, usually in wide area networks of multiple venues and thousands of machines, player return must usually be changed from a central computer rather than at each machine. A range of percentages is set in the game software and selected remotely.

In 2006, the Nevada Gaming Commission began working with Las Vegas casinos on technology that would allow the casino’s management to change the game, the odds, and the payouts remotely. The change cannot be done instantaneously, but only after the selected machine has been idle for at least four minutes. After the change is made, the machine must be locked to new players for four minutes and display an on-screen message informing potential players that a change is being made.

Linked machines

Often machines are linked together in a way that allows a group of machines to offer a particularly large prize, or “jackpot”. Each slot machine in the group contributes a small amount to this progressive jackpot, awarded to a player who gets, for example, a royal flush on a video poker machine or a specific combination of symbols on a regular or nine-line slot machine. The amount paid for the progressive jackpot is usually far higher than any single slot machine could pay on its own.

In some cases multiple machines are linked across multiple casinos. In these cases, the machines may be owned by the manufacturer, who is responsible for paying the jackpot. The casinos lease the machines rather than owning them outright.

Casinos in New Jersey, Nevada, and South Dakota now offer multi-state progressive jackpots, which now offer bigger jackpot pools.[wiki]

Fraud

Mechanical slot machines and their coin acceptors were sometimes susceptible to cheating devices and other scams. One historical example involved spinning a coin with a short length of plastic wire. The weight and size of the coin would be accepted by the machine and credits would be granted. However, the spin created by the plastic wire would cause the coin to exit through the reject chute into the payout tray. This particular scam has become obsolete due to improvements in newer slot machines. Another obsolete method of defeating slot machines was to use a light source to confuse the optical sensor used to count coins during payout.

Modern slot machines are controlled by EPROM computer chips and, in large casinos, coin acceptors have become obsolete in favor of bill acceptors. These machines and their bill acceptors are designed with advanced anti-cheating and anti-counterfeiting measures and are difficult to defraud. Early computerized slot machines were sometimes defrauded through the use of cheating devices, such as the “slider” or “monkey paw”. Computerized slot machines are fully deterministic and thus outcomes can be sometimes successfully predicted.

Jackpot errors

Malfunctioning electronic slot machines are capable of indicating jackpot winnings far in excess of those advertised. Two such cases occurred in casinos in Colorado in 2010, where software errors led to indicated jackpots of $11 million and $42 million. Analysis of machine records by the state Gaming Commission revealed faults, with the true jackpot being substantially smaller. State gaming laws do not require a casino to honour payouts.

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