17 Jul

Old School Mechanical Slots with Modern Updates

Don’t let mechanical reel slots fool you, they’re all RNG based.

Throughout the years, generation after of generation of gamblers has always seen a respectable margin leaning towards the classic reel slots. There’s something about the antique style that many are continuously drawn to. Maybe it’s the depiction of delicious fruits or the lucky number 7 that keeps them coming back?

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Don't Let Mechanical Reel Slots Fool You, They're all RNG Based

For some, I’m certain it’s the erroneous assumption that the oldest looking games still operate on the original, rolling drum design. Don’t be fooled by appearances. None of today’s slot machines operate anywhere remotely close to the way they did a century ago.

Even Mechanical Reel Slots Are RNG Based

When Charles Fey built the first mechanical slot machine in the late 1800s, its design involved the rotation of multiple cylindrical drums. Each drum contained a specific number of symbols, and had equal odds of landing on any one of them. By this design, the probability of all winning spins was determined solely by the number of possible combinations.

Today’s slot machines do not operate in this way. In fact, they haven’t operated in this way for a very long time; not since random number generator (RNG) technology was first introduced in the 1980s. In doing so, genuine game-based probabilities – similar to the card drawing probabilities in a randomly shuffled deck of cards – became a variable thing, determined not by rules or pay tables, but by the manufacturers that create them.

Explicating the Difference

Let’s say you spin the reels of a mechanical slots game that has 3 reels, containing the same 12 symbols per reel. There is a 1 in 12 chance of any symbol landing on each reel, and (12x12x12) 1,728 possible combinations. If just one combination releases the jackpot, there’s a 1 in 1,728 chance of releasing it.

RNGs changed everything, because now the reels may still contain 12 symbols, but the odds of each symbol appearing can be altered by the algorithm in use. Maybe the low paying symbols are set to appear with a 1 in 6 chance, the high paying symbols 1 in 18, and the bonus symbols 1 in 24.

Even a machine that appears to have rolling drums within its cabinet isn’t really operating within the mechanical concepts of old. The gears are controlled by the RNG so that the symbols still have higher or lower odds of appearing.

Thus, the mechanical reel version of such a game would have a much better payout rate than the RNG-based edition. You may hit winning combinations just as often – maybe even more often – but the pay rate for those wins can be set so low that, more often than not, you’re actually paying more to spin the reels than you are winning for lining up those menial combos.

It’s Not Unfair, It’s Just the Casino Way

Learning how RNG-based slot machines have been redesigned to give casinos more control doesn’t necessarily mean the games are unfair. It’s the casino way to indulge in a house edge – their advantage for providing an entertaining service to the adult-age public.

The real difference is that mechanical reel slots weren’t able to pay large prizes. If the odds are 1 in 1,728 to hit the jackpot, the jackpot cannot possibly exceed 1,727 coins. And the odds+value of hitting all other prizes must be subtracted from that payout in order to maintain a house edge. As such, you can expect a jackpot of no more than 150-300 coins on this style machine.

An RNG-based slot is able to decrease the payout rate enough that it can provide larger overall prizes for lining up the best winning combinations. The odds of hitting those spectacular wins may be abysmal – 1 in millions for the industry’s largest progressives – but the chance to strike those life-altering payouts is one of the most attractive features these games have to offer.

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