Understanding Random Number Generators
Online casinos aim to provide a gaming experience that is as close as possible to playing in a land based casino. Given that there are certain aspects of live casinos that cannot be replicated over the internet, this is not wholly possible. However, for the most part, online casinos do a pretty good job of offering a realistic imitation.
The most important thing that online casinos have to get right is making the games they offer behave in essentially the same way as they do when being played at the tables. As there are no real cards being dealt, no real dice being rolled, and no real roulette wheels being spun, the outcome of these actions have to be reproduced artificially by the software used to power online casinos. This is done through the use of random number generators.
Random number generators are a vital component of online casino software, as randomness is an integral aspect of casino games. We explain just why randomness is so important below, and provide a detailed explanation of exactly what random number generators are. We also answer a commonly asked question – are random number generators fair?
Please note that many online casinos now offer live dealer games. These do not need to use random number generators, as they work differently. They feature real dealers running games in the same way they would in a land based casino, with the action streamed to your computer via an interactive video feed. You can read more about these games here.
Why Is Randomness Important?
Casino games are what are known as games of chance. This is because it is chance, or luck, that determines whether you win or lose. The outcome of any game is always determined randomly in some way. This could be by the turn of a card, the roll of a dice, or the spin of a roulette wheel. Because these actions have random outcomes, you can never accurately predict what is going to happen.
In certain games you can have some effect on the outcome. Take blackjack, for example. You can choose when you want to hit and when you want to stand, and this directly impacts the end results. If you consistently make the right decisions, you can improve your overall chances of winning. You can still never be sure what card will be dealt next though. You can work out the probability of what is likely to happen, but the shuffling of the deck effectively makes each card dealt a random event.
Of course, the games simply wouldn't work if it was possible to know exactly what was going to happen. The whole point of them is that the results are unpredictable. That's what gambling is all about – risking money on an uncertain outcome. It is the random nature of casino games that largely, if not wholly, makes playing them so much fun. The excitement comes from having the chance of winning some money, and facing the risk of losing, without any direct control over what is going to happen.
Randomness is also what effectively makes it possible to win at casino games. The house will always win in the long run, as they have a built in advantage (the house edge) that effectively puts the odds in their favor. However, because the results of any given game are random, this advantage only really applies over a large enough sample size for the laws of probability to "even themselves out". In the short term, it is quite possible for a player to overcome the odds and win some money.
What is a Random Number Generator?
Random number generators, commonly referred to as RNGs, are basically a type of computer program. They do exactly what their name suggests – generate numbers that are random. They constantly produce vast sequences of numbers every second while they are active, and can be called upon by the relevant software to provide a single number, or a collection of numbers, from that sequence at any point.
The numbers that RNGs produce can actually never be truly random, as computers always have to follow some kind of instruction or pattern. However, the most sophisticated RNGs are very powerful. Any patterns that they follow are effectively indecipherable. They therefore serve their purpose in terms of producing numbers that are, to all intents and purposes, completely random.
How Do Online Casinos Use RNGs?
Online casinos work by using software that imitates the actions that take place in a live casino, and then displays the outcomes virtually on your computer screen using graphics. The outcomes displayed have to be produced randomly in order to reflect the randomness that is inherent in all casino games. This is where the use of RNGs comes in.
Any time that the software needs to reproduce a random outcome, it communicates with the RNG. Whatever number has been generated by the RNG at that precise moment is then fed into the software. Each possible number is related to a possible outcome, and the software displays the relevant outcome accordingly.
For example, imagine you are playing blackjack and decide to hit. In a real casino, your next card will simply be dealt from the top of the deck. In an online casino, though, there is no physical deck to deal cards from. The casino software will therefore call upon the RNG to provide it with a random number. The number the RNG provides will determine which card you are to receive.
This is a somewhat simplified explanation of how casinos use RNGs, but you really don't need to know all the technical details. All you need to know is that RNGs are basically used to recreate the randomness of games which occurs naturally in land based casinos.
It's also worth mentioning that RNGs are also used in land based casinos. Video slot machines use them to determine which symbols appear on each spin, and video poker machines use them to determine which cards are dealt.
Are Random Number Generators Fair?
A common concern among online casino players is that the games they are playing may not be fair, and that casinos use random number generators to cheat. This is largely an unfounded concern. In fact, the main reason for using random number generators is precisely to ensure that the games are fair. If the relevant outcomes are produced randomly, the results of games should perform in line with their true probability over time.
It is possible, in theory at least, for an online casino to program its software so that it manipulates the numbers produced from an RNG and "rigs" the games in their favor. However, the reality is that they simply have no reason to do this. The games are already in their favor due to the house edge. Of course they will have to pay out to some winning players, but they'll make money in the long run.
There are a handful of crooked operations that are greedy and operate unethically, but they are very few and far between. They don't tend to last long either, as they usually get found out. This is why the vast majority of online casinos make absolutely sure that their games are fair. Their reputation depends on it, and reputation is everything in the online casino market due to there being so many options for players.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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