Why Some Slot Machines Pay More Than Others

You’ve heard about “loose” and “tight” slot machine games. Everyone has seen crowds standing around a slot machine while it’s paying prize after prize. Sometimes, the prizes are really big, too.

And yet, if you sit down at those machines and start playing, you lose your money. The common gambler’s myth says that a machine is “sucked dry” by a successful series of wins.

That’s not true. The way slot machine games are designed, they cycle through random numbers regardless of whether they are being played. When a player presses “Spin” the game’s outcome is determined in an almost completely random manner.

So why does it seem like the grass is always greener on the other side?

Here are a few explanations I learned from casino employees and game designers. Of course, you’ll never know for sure what’s going on, but you can take comfort in knowing you’re not crazy. And know that the machines definitely don’t have it in for you.

1 – The Other Machine Could Be Worse Than Yours

Even the tightest of online slot machine games eventually pay some prizes. The worst or tightest machines still have to allow for a random event of paying a full jackpot.

Older slot machines had physical switches that controlled the payout percentage. Technicians could open them up and push a few buttons on a dashboard and reset the payout percentage. Modern slot machines use pre-programmed chips for their games.

A technician can either replace the chips or reprogram them, but either method requires the tech to take the machine offline for at least a few hours. Changing a chip or reprogramming it means the machine must run a number of tests before it can be put back into service.

So, when you see someone else playing a machine that is paying more than yours, you could be witnessing one of those rare random loose sprees that affect a normally low-paying machine.

2 – Older Machines With Multiple Paylines Confuse Players

I don’t see slot games like this very often anymore, but there was a time in the early 2000s when a lot of slot games had paylines you could actually deactivate. These were the classic “penny slot games” and players believed they could save money just by deactivating paylines.

If a game charged five cents per payline, and it had 50 paylines, a minimum bet was $2.50. A maximum bet might be $7.50. For someone who just wanted to bet 25 cents a game, this seemed like a lot of money.

Many players thought it was a good idea to reduce the number of active paylines, so they made smaller wagers. But what they didn’t realize was that deactivating those paylines worsened their chances of winning real money playing slots.

The machines’ theoretical return to player estimates were based on the assumption that all paylines would be active. If you deactivated a payline and a winning combination appeared on that line, you got nothing.

For this reason, many people became frustrated with these games. They didn’t realize they were shooting themselves in the foot by deactivating paylines. They incorrectly believed that deactivating paylines was the same as making smaller wagers.

It wasn’t.

3 – You Could Be Playing a Loose Machine in a Tight Zone

Because random number generators must work in both directions (good for player and bad for player), there are times when even the loosest of games won’t pay you a cent.

You could just be the unlucky player who sits down at a hot machine during one of its cold phases. If you don’t have a large enough bankroll to play through the low-paying spins, the machine takes your money.

This is the exact opposite of the scenario where someone else sits on a tight machine and wins spin after spin, bonus after bonus. While it’s statistically unlikely, these long stretches of good and bad luck must happen because that’s just how random number generation works.

The slot games may use the random numbers to compute how much virtual reels spin (Class III games), or they may use them to determine final outcomes (Class II games). Either way, there will be some runs where players do well and other runs where players do poorly.

A loose machine has more good runs than a tight machine.

4 – You Really Did Pick a Tight Slot Machine

Sometimes, the casino programs two machines running the same game to use different payout percentages. They may request different settings from the manufacturer.

The general assumption is that the larger the minimum wager on a slot machine game, the more likely its theoretical return to player will be higher than the RTP of its less expensive counterparts.

Assuming that to be true, you could be dumping dollars on a cheap machine and not winning often, while your friend is playing a $5 machine that’s the same game but winning much more frequently.

If you’re lucky, someone who works for the casino might be able to confirm this for you. But even if you’re never sure of why two machines playing the same game pay at different rates, sooner or later, you’ll want to try the other machine.

All you have to do is make a larger wager than you are used to.

5 – You’re Falling Prey to the Confirmation Bias Fallacy

We’re all vulnerable to confirmation bias. This is the tendency to believe that new information confirms what you already believe you know to be true.

In classic confirmation bias, a person misinterprets or filters data to make it conform to their expectations. But another type of confirmation bias happens when people see only small samples of data. They reach conclusions on the basis of the data they see, not realizing that they don’t have enough data to see a larger trend or pattern.

Long series of random numbers rise above and drop below their expected median values. But if you only look at a fixed segment of randomly generated numbers, you may see a very different median value.

This is what happens when players watch each other on slot machine games. You may see someone win $1,000 on a game and never know they spent $2,000 to win that much money. All you see is the fact that the game paid that person $1,000.

Based on the evidence, you might conclude that it must be a loose slot machine. Your expectation is that there is a loose slot machine and that you can identify it simply by seeing who wins. When you see someone win a lot of money, you confirm your belief with a small set of data.

6 – You’re Missing the Obvious (Bigger Bets)

You don’t have to compare the $5 machine to the $25 machine to see how larger bets can have an impact on the money a player wins.

Just making small bets limits your risk but it also cuts down on how much you’ll win from any bonus game or large prize. While it’s true that many slot games only pay their highest jackpot on maximum bets, simple math explains why making larger bets makes machines seem looser than others.

If you play 50 spins on a machine and it pays a 2x bet prize three out of five times, you’ll win 30 times 2x your bet. If each of your bets was only $1x then you’ll bet $50 and win $60 for a net gain of $10.

But if you had made $3 bets on those spins you’d have wagered $150 and won $180 for a net gain of $30.

In other words, the maximum bet builds your net profit or loss faster. Due to the variance of a game, the maximum bet can deplete your bankroll faster, but it will build your bankroll faster.

Many slot machine game strategies are based on how volatile the games are. Players guess when they should make larger bets or just bank on playing larger bets all the time.

If you mostly play smaller bets, chances are good that you’ll feel like machines around you are looser than yours simply because the other players are making maximum bets.

7 – Some Games Are Designed to Pay More for Maximum Bets

It’s not just the jackpot that depends on your maximum bet. A few tight games that came out in the early 2000s required that you make maximum bets to qualify for certain bonus round games. You might still win bonus rounds, but you didn’t get the really good games.

In my experience, these extra bonus features included higher multipliers and more free spins. There may still be games that pay out this way.

They’re not unfair. They just give you a choice about how to gamble.


Everyone hates losing, but let’s be honest. When you gamble at the casino, you’re paying for the experience, not for guaranteed wins.

Even though American slot machines rarely require any skill at all, players can still make mistakes and hurt their chances of winning.

As with any type of gambling game, you should know the rules and avoid making mistakes that cost you money. Casinos already run profitable games. No one should be surprised to learn that players often make them even more profitable.

The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but make sure you’re not imagining it or poisoning your own grass.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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