Feb 11, 2020

Intel Inside - Dissection of a Slot Machine

In a past series on slot machines, we focused on the principle of random number generators and how reels work. Today, we’ll follow up with an article on internal control and the internal mechanism of the slot machine.

Inspecting the Inspectors

We will build on the already proven general conclusion that not just online slot machines are computer-controlled. Today, even the physical ones are literally computers - they contain no random mechanical wheel that would spin with certain odds. The computer, or more precisely the motherboard, which provides a "fair" system of payouts, is called "GCB" (Gaming Control Board) in short. This crucial technical element, which is a part of every slot machine (and, naturally, every online slot machine) is, of course, subject to rigorous audit by state inspection.

Due to insufficient documentation of incomes of individual casinos, analytical methods are usually used to determine the estimated casino income. This in practice means comparing the theoretical yield of the slot machine with its actual yield. The resulting deviation is then attributed to technical imperfections of the slot machine or the payout ratio setting and is subsequently investigated.

It is interesting to look at how as such a slot machine inspection is performed and which aspects are inspected. First, the correct operation of the coin dispenser (in the case of physical machines) is checked. This functionality is checked about once a week. Comparison of the above-mentioned deviation between the expected and the actual returns of the machine is checked around once a month. Monthly reports of casino managers are also reviewed. Any discrepancies found should be dealt with in the shortest possible time - that is, as the time of the authorities allows. Just as a side note.  Moreover, these inspections are run by the casinos themselves! If they do not match the results of an official GCB test, the casino may lose its license. 

Inside Operation

The random number generator is the brains of the whole thing.  After the process of checking the authenticity and value of the coin and pressing a button to start the game - the generator produces a number to which a symbol is assigned (see article - How does the Random Number Generator work?) on the reel. Based on that, the brakes of the slot machine will stop the reel on that symbol.

For example, a 32-bit generator picks randomly from numbers between 0 and 4 294 967 396. Subsequently, this number is consulted with a memory device on a computer called EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory), which then prints the result for reels 1, 2 and 3. Only when this logical operation is completed, the individual reels begin to spin! So there is no real justification for “pushing the reel” with your eyes in the context of slot machines.

The S1 reel starts spinning, usually for one second, to make a forced turn of at least one rotation - until the virtual stop assigned to a particular symbol occurs, all thanks to a so-called "stepper motor" that drives the reels and knows how to reliably stop it in the desired position. In the meantime, of course, the second reel also starts spinning and stops on the required symbol after the given number of revolutions (which also takes about one second). The same goes for reel three. The exact stop is done by means of an electrical signal emitted by each physical symbol. The computer evaluates whether the signal matches the required one and then mechanically stops the reel motor.

How to Beat a Slot Machine

That would be hard (if you want to know more, check our article on topic How to at slots). In the very unlikely event that one of the reels does not stop at the desired symbol, an alarm will be triggered and the game will stop, which could happen due to the stepper motor "slipping" or due to an erroneous response to the signal of the individual symbols. If no error is reported and the symbols form a winning combination, the system is forced to pay out the winnings. Now that we described the slot machine's operation, it will be easier to understand how the individual components of the slot machine fit in.

Surely you’re now asking, what can I do with that knowledge? There is a certain, purely theoretical, possibility of using this knowledge to win the jackpot. The first thing we would need is a detailed record of payouts for that slot machine. We should, theoretically, be able to use it to determine the total and current ratio of the money retained by the machine as well as the winning numbers for one complete cycle. The length of the cycle depends on the activity on the machine and its duration.

For example, a slot machine that has 32 virtual stops and is played on six times per minute for 24 hours a day, has a single cycle of 32x32x32 / 6x60x24 = approximately 3,79 days. To complete the full cycle of a slot machine with e.g. 128 virtual stops, in particular in case of online slot machines, it takes whole 243 days, not to mention the most popular type of online slot machine which completes its cycle with 256 virtual stops and 16 777 216 combinations which takes about 5,32 years. This way, we would be able to choose a slot machine which is "before payout". Unfortunately, the information needed for this kind of calculation is only available to casino owners and operators.

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