When frequenting online slots, it’s easy to call crooked reels and rigged games when things aren’t going your way.
You might argue your side and if you’re in a heated discussion with friends, you might even persuade one or two that the games have some form of a fix.
After all, who would actually be able to tell? With everything online, we might all be playing a fool’s game with nobody ever actually winning the big jackpots.
Lose for long enough and you’ll start questioning the legitimacy of the past winners, online leaderboards and news stories that all inform of life-changing sums despite being sat without a pair of pennies to rub together.
It wouldn’t be a surprise, everything else in the world can be rigged so why not online slots too?
You’re not alone in your thinking and many people often wonder: Are online Slots Rigged? The answer, however, is no.
Providing that slots you’re playing are licensed by a recognized body, there’s no way an online slot can be rigged.
They may have a house edge, but try and find me a slot, online or elsewhere, that doesn’t. Providing they’re licensed, they’re recognized as a fair game, but to understand the criteria of what makes a fair online slot, we need to delve into the details of how an online slot actually works.
It all started with the mechanical slot
The very first slots, dating back to the late 19th century, were mechanical and although lacking in features, were charming in their simplicity.
Pull the handle of the one-armed-bandit and you’ll be able to hear the gears turning, spinning the reels and chancing your luck at a jackpot.
With a physical machine, it’s much more difficult to rig, yes there’s the chance that there’s never going to be a winning payline, but it’s unlikely to rank as popular with the players so there’s very few around.
In a typical mechanical slot, players insert a coin and pull the lever which triggers the spinning of the reels.
This action allowed the reels to operate like tumblers inside a combination lock, activating a payout when the correct combination hits and the tumblers align.
A series of metal pins, known as the payout trigger, would work in tandem with the reel plate and determine the payout value – the better the combination, the longer that the trigger will be released, the more coins a player will win.
If you’re mechanically minded, you’ll see how it works and why they’re particularly difficult to rig without the use of electronics.
Parts will have to be custom made, fettled with and altered to make sure the reels aren’t making combinations and more often than not, it’s more complicated to make a fixed machine that it would be an honest one.
It’s a simpler time, sure, but there’s not exactly the same level of action that we see in the modern-day slot.
The evolution of electronic and online slots
It didn’t take long for the typical mechanical slot to evolve to the electronic equivalent and before long, the electronic slots developed into the online slot we all know and love.
The mechanical internals of the slot was swapped for a digital one and instead of gears running the reels from a pull of the lever, motors were used to spin the combinations of symbols, leaving the lever for purely nostalgic reasons.
Compare this to online and you’re now just clicking your mouse or tapping your screen over a button labeled ‘spin’ and trusting it to be fair.
There may have some serious steps forward, but to understand exactly how the online slots work, it’s important to know the logic behind them to make a valid judgment as to how fair the online slot actually is.
How the online slot works
Online slots are different to both electronic and mechanical in that they don’t exist at all in the physical space, but instead in the digital world as a series of algorithms.
The slot may be designed in an attempt to mimic the reels of the past, but don’t be fooled by flashy graphics and exciting features – the games are simply lines of code that you’re playing through the screen.
So what are the algorithms in place and what do they mean for our winnings?
Return to player (RTP) rates
The first number that we’re taking into account is the RTP rate and is featured across all three different forms of slot machines.
The return to player (RTP) rate is the percentage that a player should expect to win back of the sum that they’ve entered into the machine. Usually, you’ll find the RTP set around the 95% mark to lure players into believing that they’re not actually losing all that much money by keeping their win rates high.
In mechanical slots, this value is typically unknown due to the nature of the ‘random’ internals, but with electronic and online slots, the number is predetermined and written into the software when the game is created.
The minimum theoretical payout percentage is defined by law or regulation but varies depending on the jurisdiction.
In the state of Nevada, this percentage stands at 75%, in Mississippi, it’s at 80% and New Jersey sticks at 83%.
Any less than this and the slot machine is breaking the rules and will be subject to legal action if discovered.
Historically, many casinos, both brick-and-mortar and online, have been unwilling to publish the data surrounding their machines RTP values, making it impossible for players to know the theoretical return on the games they’re playing. However, particularly recently, these figures have been reaching the public domain via the release of information from casinos and the independent studies of gambling authorities.
RTP and variance
The return to player isn’t the only figure that’s of interest to players of the casino, the variance is perhaps of equal importance when picking a slot to play.
In theory, the higher the RTP rate, the less chance of losing significant sums over a long period of time you should expect.
Of course, this should only be used as a guide and it should be noted that those with lower RTP rates commonly offer increased opportunities for bigger one-off wins.
This effect is due to the impact of variance, a term describing the type of payout that should be expected from a slot machine.
A slot that boasts a high variance will pay out less frequently but will pay out large sums when a player finally wins.
The opposite is true for slots claiming a low variance with players find payouts more often but in smaller denominations.
Regardless of variance, RTP should be the main figure of interest and regardless of what type of wins you’re hunting down, the larger RTP values should always be the main focus and make up the bulk of play.
Random number generators (RNGs)
If we’re going to discuss how the online slot functions to make sure there’s a fair chance of winning and losing, we’re going to need to talk about random number generators (RNGs).
An RNG is exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a piece of code written into the game’s architecture that allows for random numbers to be generated, meaning that each player has the same chance to win as the next.
RNG’s display a set of numbers to the system each time the reels are spun when playing an online slot. These numbers generated are then translated into the results that we see on the screen, leading to different combinations of paylines.
The RNGs will coincide with the RTP of the slot and although the numbers generated will be truly random, they will be developed in such a way that still permits the desired RTG. Clever right?
What’s maybe most important to note is the memory of the system that dishes out the jackpots and although it may feel like a slot is ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ during different times of playing, they’re actually completely oblivious to past events.
The system itself has no memory, therefore, it cannot dictate when to permit wins and/or losses depending on how much players have previously won/lost. That means it’s equally likely to hit a jackpot immediately following another big win – the odds are the same.
Ultimately, your fate is in the hands of the algorithm and there’s not a lot you can do to change its mind.
The licensing of fair games
The way a slot works might make sense when it comes to the theory, but when you consider that the developers of the games are in charge of the payouts, a little bit of skepticism might start nagging away once again.
You’d be absolutely right to question the word of the game developer, after all, who’s going to sell more slots – the one that pays back more or less to the player?
It’s a point that emphasized even further when it comes to the online casino market with plenty of suppliers creating their own games for maximum control and maximum profit – so why would we trust these slots?
Thankfully, you don’t just have to take the word of the game developers that you’re in safe hands, instead, you can rely on the independent regulatory authorities and their licensing powers to ensure that all games are fair to play and match their stated RTPs.
But it’s not just the games providers that need the licensing to prove that they’re providing a fair product – all platforms used must have a trustworthy casino license by a recognized body to ensure that they’re up to scratch.
The license takes into account all things safety from the standards of security to the customer service that online casinos provide.
Authorities are incredibly thorough so it’s not just a case of a quick flick through and a license granted, but a solid look into different forms of criteria to make a judgment on both the games and the casino.
The credentials of the casino will be checked across a range of indicators, the financial clout and business competence evaluated and the policies in place to allow for a reputable organization to form.
It’s then and only then that the casino will be granted a license, but expect regular check-ups and interest whenever there’s game development from these entities.
How to make sure you’re playing fair
If you’re sat there wondering whether or not you should be concerning yourself with the credentials of the casino – the conclusion is simple – you should always check the casinos licensing and reputation.
By only playing at licensed casinos you’ll be sure that you’re only gaming where it’s fair and where your personal data is safe and secure.
You don’t want to be playing subpar games with subpar odds with insecure data, so this is an absolute must when checking out new places to play.
In cases in which companies do not post official data regarding the RTP, it is good practice to investigate third-party testing companies that have the chosen slots within their portfolio.
Third-party sites are often out to help the consumer and they’re usually particularly trustworthy, especially when visiting well-respected sources.
The best bet is to target games that come alongside published payouts so you can ensure you’re getting the fairest deals.
Rival and BetSoft casinos are great examples of fair places to play and with payouts published online, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting involved with when you’re heading to the slots.
Ultimately, it’s a case of keeping your wits about you. Providing that you’re playing at a reputable, well-known and reliable site, the chances are that you’ll be in safe hands when spinning the reels.
The grey area comes with newly launched casinos that lack the licenses that we’d expect to be associated with the games.
If you’ve spotted a dodgy one, it’s best to steer well clear – there’s plenty of other places to play – no matter how good the sign up offer is!