How Online Slots Work

A topic that is of vital interest to regular casino-goers and gaming connoisseurs alike is the function of a slot machine. On one level, this machine seems as simple as it comes; you pull the arm or click a button, the reels spin, and you find out if you’ve won or lost. Even a casual player knows that there is more to it than that, but exactly how it works is a mystery to many.


The lines get even muddier when you introduce the idea of online slots. After all, there isn’t even the thin sense of security that comes with a physical presence –it’s all digital. This setup requires that much more faith from the consumer, and leaves many wondering: How are online slots made?


The Random Number Generator

Believe it or not, yes, most online slots are truly random–really. As close to truly random as mathematically possible given current technological limitations. This goes for their physical counterparts, as well – despite whatever seemingly suspicious behavior you’ve ever observed from a slot machine, the chances are very strong that the slots were operating off of a random sequence.


This random sequence is at the heart of any slot machine, and it’s fundamentally constructed off of a random number generator, or RNG for short. To get a feeling for the basic RNG, you can see’s RNG. This random number generator provides the basic values off of which the slot outcomes are formed. Due to the fairly complex inner workings of a slot machine, it’s not quite as simple as pulling numbers from the RNG, but that is at least the basis upon which the gaming software relies


For some less informed gamers the presence of the RNG is a contended fact. After all, it contradicts our beliefs about winning/losing streaks, about good/bad slots, and the general ‘intuitive’ nature of gambling. While it is true that sometimes-uncanny streaks can occur, multiple jackpots in a row, or thousands of losses in a row, these still happen within the confines of random number generation. It’s psychologically uncomfortable to accept, but most definitely true: all regulated slots are random.


Fraudulent casinos may have rigged slots or table games, but these are far in the minority. Learn to keep an eye out for rogue casinos to make sure you’re always playing on randomized slots.


Going Deeper: Equations From the RNG

An examination of the function of slot machines could get endlessly technical, and could even enter a conversation about the meaning of the term, ‘random.’ Instead of examining the issue tirelessly, this will be a quick look at what the computer does once it extracts those numbers from the RNG.


In the past, mechanics that built slot machines had to devise ingenious ways to cause their mechanical components to replicate a random outcome. It wasn’t as simple as having a computer calculate based off of an assortment of random numbers. Of course, nowadays, everything is computer based, especially the online slots in question! So how the machines function now is an equation formed off of the numbers of the RNG.


Put in the most basic terms, the outcome of your online slot is determined by a simple, arithmetic division. It goes like this: collections of numbers are pulled from the random number generator. After that, the machine divides by a given number. Usually, this number is a multiple of 32. Then, the remainder of that equation – the amount left over after dividing – is the value that represents your outcome. It’s pretty simple math once you get past the first part.


The visual learners reading this might want to check out this brief diagram from HowStuffWorks that explains how a computerized slot machine does its equation.


Truly Random?

It can be hard to fully trust the idea of a random machine when all of the mechanics are far, far away, sometimes thousands of miles from where you are. So why exactly should you have faith that the machines are random?


In this case, it’s a simple matter of deference. Defer to the regulatory bodies which exist to keep both online and tangible casinos in check: a casino which is found to be running rigged, or non-random games, will be stripped of its license and barred from doing business in the gaming industry. While it’s tempting to view a machine that draws up repeated losses as unfair, remember that a casino likely won’t risk its reputation just to bilk you out of a few dollars.


Slot machines already have a very strong house advantage just due to the mathematics of their functionality, so there really isn’t any incentive for the casino to try to rob you. They’ll make enough money from you playing the games legitimately to cover their losses and then some.


Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

This isn’t to say that there are never unfair slots, because there are. It’s more accurate to say that any casino worth your time and money won’t have unfair slots. Rogue casinos are out there, but that doesn’t mean the real casinos aren’t legitimate! There’s a reason so many sites have a ‘verified random’ notice for their games of chance.


Knowing how these online slots are made is important to you, as a player, to embrace the random nature of the games you partake in. Make sure your primary motivation is recreational, and beware the Monte Carlo fallacy, because even a fair game is stacked against you. But play mindfully, and you may find yourself having fun while you profit.


A fear of “black box” technology beyond our understanding does lead an average gamer to be distrusting of the algorithm behind the designer of a slot machine game. After all, they’re made by the same businesses that don’t put up clocks and windows in their casinos to trick people into staying longer than they intended. Yet, despite this, the regulated nature of games-of-chance makes it so that you can trust in randomness to be random. Fair, online slot games can, and do exist.