There’s something of a myth that ‘recreational‘ players don’t need to understand the math of gambling. While they might not need predictive algorithms like a sports bettor or horse handicapper it’s essential to understand at least the basic underpinnings of gambling math before you start to play any game. This is even true for what is arguably the most simplistic of all casino games, the slot machine. By understanding the basic concepts of how slot machines work you’ll win more—or more appropriately, lose less.

Understanding_RNG_Microgaming_Tasty_StreetAnother misconception—much of gambling theory and strategy assumes that ‘recreational‘ players are content with losing. That’s just not the case—it doesn’t matter if you’re a world-class poker player or a senior citizen playing nickel slots. It’s just a lot more fun to win money at the casino than it is to lose money. For that reason, no matter your skill level it’s important to understand at least the fundamentals of the games you’re playing. If you want to become a high-level gambler—regardless of the game—the dynamic is irrefutable. The more you understand about the math of your chosen game, the more successful you’ll be.


For a slot machine, the random number generator (RNG) is everything. In the early days, slot machines used mechanical concepts for randomization which obviously has limitations. In the past several decades, the entire random number generation process has been digitized. It’s now all done on a computer chip and a similar process drives not only slot machines but video poker machines, keno machines, etc.

Here’s how it works—as the name suggests, the RNG has only one function in life and that’s obviously to ‘generate random numbers’. It does this constantly, generating a new set of randomized numbers in a fraction of a second and repeating the process. It does this no matter if the machine is being played or not.

This is a subtle, but important distinction, that helps a player understand exactly how a slot machine (or video poker machine) works. The misconception is that a player pulls the handle, the machine ‘generates some random numbers’ and that determine whether a player wins or loses. In reality, what happens is that the RNG supplies the machine with whatever set of random numbers it has generated—since as we just learned it does this nonstop 24/7.

What this means is that the randomization process is completely separated from the game itself. The RNG supplies the game with a random number and the game expresses the number in a specific format be it keno numbers, poker cards or slot machine symbols. It also means that the game is completely random. The casino has the math working in their favor and they don’t need to ‘rig the game‘ to clean up. Assuming you’re playing in a well-regulated gaming jurisdiction or at a reputable online casino you can be fairly certain that everything is on the ‘up and up‘. No casino is going to risk their customer base or licensing to take an incremental edge by cheating when they’re already getting the best of it.

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Understanding_RNG_RTG_Enchanted_Garden_IIWhat it also means for the slot player is that the game isn’t reacting to how much you’ve won (or lost) before. It’s not aware that you’re down to your last few credits or if you just bought in again. The machine—and the random number generator that drives it—doesn’t know or care about any of this. Like the name on the box says, it’s all ‘random‘. If you want to learn more about randomization and how it applies to your chances of success at a game you might want to check out some of the video poker strategy articles on this site. Video poker is easier to work within this regard since there are a finite number of playing cards in a deck meaning that it’s easier to determine odds and payback percentages.

Another important thing that you should already understand now that you know how the RNG process works in a slot machine—many of the time-honored superstitions are complete nonsense. It doesn’t matter if you use hot (or cold) coins, if you play a game that has recently hit a jackpot (or one that hasn’t hit a jackpot in a long time), or if you carry your lucky rabbit’s foot in your right hand and pull the handle with the left. It just doesn’t matter. And once you understand what doesn’t matter you can start learning about how to deal with the things that do matter and that’s when you become a better player.