THE GAMBLER’S FALLACY FOR SLOT MACHINE PLAYERS

Gambling is a discipline that is completely circumscribed by math and mathematical concepts. In my experience, the better you understand the math that underpins gambling in general and certain games, in particular, the more money you’ll make and the less you’ll lose in the long run. Understanding mathematical concepts–particularly probability, logic and statistics–can give you the power to immediately dismiss a new ‘system‘ as useless or to find ‘beatable‘ games at your favorite casino. You’ll immediately know which bets are worth investing your time and money on and which ones aren’t.

In fact, the easiest way for any gambler to improve at whatever game he plays–be it the slot machines, video poker, sports betting or even ‘real world’ activities like sales and investing in the stock market–is to devote some time to learn the math behind it. Reading a few books can give you enough of a mathematical foundation to achieve great benefit or, even better, take a course at the local college in a relevant area such as probability theory. For some reason, however, many gamblers–even experienced gamblers–act like they’re ‘allergic to math’ and insist that they don’t need to understand these concepts.

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SUPERSTITION AT THE SLOT MACHINE

Many players just can’t–or won’t–grasp the concept that you have no strategic input when you play the slot machines. There are things you can do to protect your bankroll, like not betting more than you can afford to lose, but that doesn’t have any influence on the game itself. The only involvement you have is pulling the handle (or, more likely, pushing a button) and that could even be eliminated. You’re a passive observer watching the random number generator (RNG) at work. It doesn’t matter how you pull the handle or hit the button–you can do it hard or soft, or with your elbow for that matter. The RNG just doesn’t care.

It could be the lack of any strategic input that has produced so many slot machine superstitions. At one point, there were superstitions about using hot coins vs. cold coins but now few, if any, machines use coins. There were also advocates of not accumulating credits on a slot machine and instead of letting the coins accumulate in the tray (and at one point many machines offered this choice) but that’s another ‘old wives’tale‘ that is no longer viable in the digital era. People will still argue that you shouldn’t use slot club cards (100% incorrect) or that you should play on certain days of the week or certain times of the day.

None of this matters to the random number generator. It does its job 24/7/365 and doesn’t care about any of the extraneous factors listed above. It also doesn’t care about how much money you’ve lost or won, or how much or how little time has elapsed between jackpots (more about that in a moment). The casino has no influence over it–they have the mathematical edge in the long term so why would they bother? More significantly, in any legitimate gambling jurisdiction trying to manipulate the randomness of a machine would likely cost them a gaming license if they got caught. The risk vs. reward just isn’t there.

UNDERSTANDING THE GAMBLER’S FALLACY

Even slot machine players that refuse to learn any math need to understand at least one concept: The Gambler’s Fallacy. Simply put, it’s the mistaken belief that random events in the past exert an influence on future random events. For example, the assumption that if you flip a coin nine times and get heads nine times that the tenth flip is more likely to come ‘tails’ is classic ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’. Ditto a roulette wheel that has hit ‘even’ numbers 8 times in a row being ‘due’ for an odd number. A player that busts three times in a row at blackjack might keep playing thinking he’s ‘due’ for a good hand.

The Gambler’s Fallacy is clearly evident among slot machine players. Just go to a casino and observe–you’re likely to count dozens of instances of the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’ in 15 or 20 minutes. When a player moves from one machine to another because the first machine is ‘cold‘ or the second machine is ‘hot‘ that’s a product of the Gambler’s Fallacy. The reality is that the RNG doesn’t care how much an individual player has won in the short term or, for that matter, what happened on previous spins. When a player ‘lurks’ around machines watching a player lose money and then jumping in when they leave because the machine is now ‘due’ is another example. Perhaps the most common example involves jackpots–players might crowd around a slot machine that hasn’t hit a jackpot in what is an inordinate amount of time thinking that it’s ‘overdue’ for a big payout and thus it is somehow more likely. Similarly, players almost reflexively move to a different machine after they hit a jackpot on one thinking (incorrectly) that there’s no way it’ll give another in the short term.

In most cases, the byproducts of not understanding the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’ are harmless. Moving to a new machine, for example, doesn’t do any good but it doesn’t do any harm either. Sometimes moving to a different machine can be logically justified–away from an offensive smelling casino patron, closer to the sportsbook or into a non-smoking area. But these justifications have nothing to do with the outcome of a specific casino game. While most manifestations of this mathematical ignorance are harmless, on a ‘macro‘ level not understanding the math of gambling can be very dangerous financially, mentally and emotionally.