Facing a Reel Dilemma on Slot Machines: Should You Stop The Reels Early?
By John Grochowski
Slot machines are the easiest games to play in casinos, but sometimes players are faced with reel dilemmas.
If you’re an eagle-eyed player who can spot winning combinations in a microsecond, will putting a quick stop to your reel spin improve your chance of winning?
And what about games with no reels at all, such as the skill-based games from GameCo? Should we really call them slot machines?
It seems the reels themselves sometimes prompt questions from players, and emails about both topics popped up recently.
Let’s take the second question first.
To older players who make up a sizable portion of the slot-playing public, some of the new skill-based slots seem more like something you’d have on your PlayStation than casino games.
One example is GameCo’s Danger Arena, a first-person shooter in which you’re asked to gun down robots as you navigate the aisles and obstacles in a warehouse. Your payback depends on the number of robots you shoot.
Most skill-based slots at this point leave the skill elements to bonus events, as in Konami’s Frogger or IGT’s Tulley’s Treasure hunt.
But GameCo and other companies breaking into the slot industry are eliminating reel play altogether and making the skill portion the main game.
Is that a slot machine? It is as long as players embrace the games and terminology. After all, the meaning of “slot machine” has evolved over nearly 140 years.
In the original sense, virtually no games are really slot machines anymore. They don’t have coin heads, so there is no slot to drop in coins to activate machines. A few older machines with coin heads remain in play at some locations, but mostly, we buy in with paper currency or tickets.
The term “slot machine” has been around since the 1880s. It originally referred to any coin-operated device. If you dropped coins into a machine and got a chocolate bar, you were buying your candy from a slot machine.
That changed in the 1900s, and slot machine came to mean specifically coin-operated gambling devices. The term has persisted through the elimination of coin slots, and it’s almost certain to persist through the changes on modern gambling devices.
And now, let’s go back and answer the first question.
As for the stopping the reels as soon as you see a winner on the screen, that not only does not help you win, it actually can hasten your losses.
A reader checked in early in the fall to say she’d just noticed that on many video slot machines, if you hit the spin button again while the reels are in motion, they will stop. The first time she tried it, she got a bonus event, and that encouraged her to try it again.
After that, her results were mixed, just as with any other method of play, but it left her wondering if a player who practiced, practiced and practiced could be come adept enough to stop the reels when winning combinations appeared.
Others have had similar thoughts, and a number of years ago I wrote about a player who accidentally double-hit the spin button and saw the reels stop quickly.
Unfortunately for players, stopping the reels early doesn't change your results on 99.99999 percent of slot machines. That’s just shy of 100 percent because International Game Technology used something similar in the early skill-based game Blood Life. It was a three-reel game and the skill was in stopping the reels. Each would spin until you touched the glass in front of the reels, and skilled player could get better outcomes.
That’s not the case on games in casinos today. Stopping the reels early does not change results, but what it can do is lead to faster play with more spins hour. That can be a real budget-breaker.
When you play video slots, the random number generator has already determined your outcome by the time the reels are spinning, and you’re going to get the same result regardless of whether you stop the reels early or let them halt in their own time.
Randomly generated numbers are mapped to potential results, and that map tells the reels where to stop. If the RNG has spit out a random number that tells the first reel to stop on a single bar, then you’re going to get a single bar — regardless of whether you hit the button a second time for a quick stop or just let them take their own sweet time.
By bringing the reels to a quick stop, you're immediately in position to bet again. The amount of time it normally takes the reels to spin is cut out of the equation. If you keep stopping the reels, you spin many more times per hour.
What does that do to your bankroll?
Let's say you bet 40 cents per spin at 500 spins per hour on a penny slot that has a average 90 percent return to players. You can play more than 500 spins per hour without quick stops, but 500 is a nice, steady pace that lets you watch your wins and stop to sip your drink.
At that pace, your average hourly risk is $200 with an average loss of $20.
What if you increase that pace to 1,000 spins per hour? Then total wagers increase to $400 and average loss to $40.
And what if you quick stop spin after spin, focusing intently on slot play and increasing your pace to 2,000 spins per hour? Your wrist would get tired, you might get a little headachy with some eyestrain, but your bet total would rise to $800 with an average loss of $80.
In the wagering world, speed favors whoever has the mathematical edge. In blackjack, faster games are better for advantage players including card counters, but worse for less-skilled players.
On the slots, you can't change the house edge. Quick-stopping the reels doesn't help you, but it does help the house.
So really, there’s no reel dilemma. Unless you’re just in a hurry to win or lose and then move on, let the reels stop in their own sweet time.