A trip to a casino can be a great way to relax, spend some time with friends, and, most importantly, have some fun. Playing online for real money or simply at your local casino offers a chance for some entertainment and possibly a big win. Seeing those reels line up perfectly can make for an ever-better trip, hopefully with plenty of dollars heading your way. However, losing streaks are a part of life for any gambler leaving some to ask the simple question: Are slot machines rigged? The simple answer is no, although technical glitches can be a problem at times and do occur. However, modern legal regulations and computer technology make it difficult to “rig” not to pay out at all. WHY SLOTS AREN’T RIGGED “These slots are rigged and just never pay out.” That may be something many slot players hear when taking a seat at a casino in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or even just in their local area. Perhaps you’ve muttered these words of frustration even when playing a slot game online or on a mobile device. A losing streak can seem like you’re never going to hit not just a jackpot, but not even smaller winners. The truth is that despite those feelings of exasperation, slot machines aren’t rigged. The legitimate gaming industry just doesn’t work that way. All legalized live and online casinos are governed by gaming boards which set regulations that all properties must follow. These groups are responsible for ensuring that all players are guaranteed a fair game. Casinos must follow these regulations or they face large fines or other major penalties for violating them. Casinos could even risk losing their license, which cost companies huge sums of money. These properties have little incentive in trying to rig a slot machine to cheat customers – especially when the house already has an edge in slot games and most other games. On the contrary, most casinos enjoy celebrating big winners. These properties and online casinos regularly publicize major jackpot winners. This helps get more players in the doors when they see others striking it big. Also on this note, any casino caught rigging slot machines risks ruining its reputation with players. But as noted earlier, no casino has to worry about rigging any slot game – these properties already have a built-in house edge. Although players can hit some nice wins, the casino is the winner in the long run. SLOT TECHNOLOGY & RNG Beyond the fact that casinos must deal with regulatory agencies to operate, the nature of modern slot machines makes it extremely difficult to rig a slot. Today’s slot manufacturers make use of high technology when designing video and digital slots, both the casino versions and online and social gaming slots. These slots are now basically high-tech computers with sophisticated programming and features. In fact, unlike early slots, the reels, whether real or digital, are solely dependent on the programming inside the machine and not any mechanics. In the old days, a person pulling a lever was actually spinning the reels on the machine through his or her own action. Some modern slots even have these levers for those who wish to play a little “old school.” However, these devices merely serve as a little window dressing. Modern slots make use of algorithms and random number generators to determine a winner. This sophistication makes it virtually impossible for someone to “rig” these games. Online and social gaming slots follow similar setups. These machines go through millions of outcomes instantaneously as a player pushes the “spin” button. The lever on the machines of today doesn't really spin the reels, it simply triggers exactly what that spin button does. The random number generator, also known as an RNG, actually determines a winner. This determines which slot machine symbols appear when a player makes a spin, based on those algorithms and the computer’s extensive programming. Because of all this technological wizardry, rigging a slot machine never to pay out is extremely unlikely. And when someone is winning, these same players never question if the machine is rigged and paying out too much or too often. As most people know, however, there are times when technology can go haywire. Errors in awarding jackpots do occur (more on that below). But with today’s modern games, players can feel secure that they aren’t being cheated and don’t have to worry about rigged slots. PAYOUT PERCENTAGES While wins and losses on slots can be rigged overall, the number of certain machines can be manipulated. This is a normal part of business for machines. Perhaps you’ve heard a casino lauding its “loose slots” and letting customers know a percentage of the money goes back out to players. This is known as payout percentage and is a regular part of the casino industry. Is this really “rigging” a slot? Not really. Casinos and slot manufacturers can only determine the percentage of all coin-in-to machines returned to players. And this concept of payout percentage is generally applied to all of a casino’s slots, depending on stakes. Casinos can’t manipulate individual slots to determine that they don’t pay out. Payout percentages simply tell a player the amount a casino keeps on average of all money put into the machines. For example, a casino with a 92% payback keeps 8% of all money inserted into their machines. Rather than seeing this as a negative, players can find these payout percentages online and choose to play at properties that offer higher payout percentages. This gives players a better chance at winning. Some properties are even broken down by denomination, allowing you to find the stakes you enjoy playing for and the best place to play. Reading up a bit offers players some added knowledge, hopefully on the road to a jackpot. Slot Machine Errors & Malfunctions With any piece of technology, errors can and do occur. From programming errors to mechanical problems, there have been plenty of headlines from these unfortunate situations – often to the anger of players who thought they were winners. Here’s a look at a few of those situations. Slot errors Imagine you’ve been playing at a slot for a bit, maybe you’ve been a progressive machine for a half hour or so. You win a few spins here and lose a few spins here. And then it happens – everything comes together and you see every symbol lined up perfectly. A mega jackpot is heading your way and your life is changed. That’s a dream of many slot players. But sometimes a computer glitch can leave players angry and even taking a casino to court. That’s what happened in 2011 when Illinois grandmother Pauline McKee appeared to hit a $41.8 million jackpot while playing at Isle of Capri Casino in Waterloo, Iowa. The machine said she’d won 185 credits, or around $1.85. However, the game also noted that she’d won almost $42 million. Casino management said the machine had malfunctioned and that McKee actually didn't win the jackpot. The game only advertised a maximum prize of $10,000. The casino noted that the payout amount was the result of a software malfunction and refused the payout. The issue eventually wound up in court and McKee’s attorneys noted that it was the casino’s responsibility to repair the machine after being notified of faulty payout awards. “The slot machine’s manufacturer had notified the casino of the possibility of a multi-million-dollar error,” Iowa Public Radio noted. “McKee argued since the casino didn’t fix the game, she should get the money.” In the end, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with the casino in 2015 and ruled the slot-loving grandmother was entitled to only the $1.85 win and not the $42 million. That certainly stings and these types of incidents make news from time to time. As noted, however, this isn’t a case of rigging a slot but simply a malfunction. Paperwork Pain This next scenario has less to do with the machine and more to do with the appropriate paperwork involved with winning a jackpot at a casino. In January 2019, Cynthia Obie hit a jackpot for thousands of dollars at MGM National Harbor in Maryland. As in these cases, the happy winner had to provide the casino with some of her personal details to meet tax requirements to secure her winnings. Casino employees are required to enter her information in a state database and they did that as regulations spell out. However, a typo was entered when adding in Obie’s social security number. The number entered into the database was one digit off. That’s where the jackpot controversy began. “The person whose number they plugged into the database apparently owed the state of Maryland a lot of child support, and Obie’s winnings were immediately confiscated,” TV station FOX-5 notes. All of the winner’s children were adults and Obie had never had to pay child support in her life. As with many incidents involving governmental bodies, reversing the error wouldn’t come quickly. She was forced to work directly with the gaming commission in hopes of finally getting her jackpot and the issue resolved. “We are aware of this unfortunate error and have taken the necessary steps to assist Ms. Obie in rectifying this issue,” the casino said in a statement to FOX-5. “Due to MLGCA rules and Maryland state law, we cannot provide an additional payout for this jackpot, however, if she presents the proper identification credentials to the Maryland Gaming Commission, they will provide her with the appropriate payout. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused Ms. Obie.” This may not have been a rigged slot, but that missing money probably felt like quite a ripoff. No word on when she received that payout, but it seems likely the delay was eventually ironed out. This could be a lesson for all slot players. When you do hit that big jackpot, double-check and make sure casino officials enter your data correctly – and make sure you pay any child support as well, obviously. Missed Jackpot Not every slot machine malfunction costs a player his money. This next anecdote shows that slots aren’t rigged and casinos and gaming commissions work to resolve issues that should have paid out a six-figure jackpot but didn’t. In January 2022, Robert Taylor dropped into Treasure Island to play some slots, he was on vacation from Arizona and apparently should have been awarded a jackpot while playing. A game malfunction, however, didn’t display his big win on the machine. Before casino officials could correct the error and award Taylor his money, he left the casino. The property tried to find this “lucky” gambler but wasn’t able to track him down. That’s when the enforcement division of the Nevada Gaming Control Board got involved. Investigating agents reviewed hours of security footage spoke with witnesses, and reviewed rideshare data in an attempt to determine who the player was. After a thorough review of all the evidence, investigators contacted Taylor a few weeks later letting him know the good news. “I can’t remember a time when we’ve done this before and I just can’t imagine somebody walking away from a machine,” the Control Board’s enforcement division chief James Taylor told FOX Business. “And it wasn’t his fault. The machine truly did have a communication error.” The winner couldn’t believe the news that he’d actually won $229,369. Enforcement chief James Taylor couldn’t remember a similar case in his 30 years with the gaming board. Taylor told FOX Business: "It was quite shocking to him to get a call a few weeks later and say, ‘By the way, you actually did win that money.’” WHAT TO DO IF A GAME FEELS “RIGGED” Obviously, slots aren’t rigged, but a player’s attempt to win can come up short – sometimes over and over again. When this happens, simply moving to another machine might be in order. Here are a few other things to consider: Switch to lower limits. Take a break or get something to eat. Take and walk or look at some other entertainment options. If you suspect a slot malfunction or error, alert casino staff. It’s important to remember that slot machine play should be fun. If things aren’t going your way, perhaps it’s simply time to take a break or end the trip. Live to fight another day. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Are slot machines rigged? No, jackpots, wins, and losses are based on computer programming within the game. All live and online slots use a random number generator to determine winners. Can slots have errors and malfunctions? Yes errors do occur but are more to do with machine and software errors than casino staff attempting to rig a slot machine. Why wouldn’t a casino rig a slot machine? Casinos already have a house edge and have no incentive to rig a machine even if they could. Properties are under strict gaming commission regulations and could face serious fines and legal issues for violating them. Casinos, both live and online, could also face major reputational issues if caught in some kind of controversy like this. In essence, casinos have no motivation to attempt rigging a slot machine.