Slot Machine Betting Systems That Don’t Work
Published on March 10, 2018
It might seem like writing blog posts that debunk various betting strategies and systems would be the easiest to write. You’d be surprised, though.
It turns out that people who buy into various betting systems aren’t swayed by things like facts, logic, or math.
In fact, I have a friend who told me once that he just flat-out doesn’t believe “that math stuff.” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.
It seems to me like math isn’t something you believe or disbelieve. It just is, like gravity or something.
At any rate, if you’re open to learning some of the facts and math behind gambling and having it inform your playing, you’ll like this post. It’s a look at some of the sillier slot machine betting systems that don’t work.
Unfortunately, the title of this post is a misnomer, though. It implies that some slot machine betting systems work.
But the truth is, none of them work.
I just don’t have the space to debunk all the slot machine betting systems that are being shilled these days.
I should start by distinguishing between a betting system and an advantage gambling technique.
A betting system is a means of raising and/or lowering your bets based on your previous results. Sometimes it might also involve quitting at a certain arbitrary point in your session.
An advantage gambling technique is a means of changing the odds of a gambling game so that they’re in your favor. This might involve raising the size of your bets, but not because of how much you’ve won or lost previously.
An example of a betting system is the Martingale System. It has no real application to slot machines, but it demonstrates the thinking behind betting systems well.
With the Martingale System, you double the size of your previous bet after every loss. You continue to do this until you win. This recoups the losses from your previous bets and puts you one unit ahead.
Here’s how that might work in roulette:
You bet $5 on black and lose. You then bet $10 on black and lose again. For your third bet, you bet $20 and win. You’ve won back the $15 you’d lost on the first couple of bets, and you have a $5 profit to show for your trouble.
The reason the Martingale System doesn’t work is because the probabilities don’t change based on what happened on previous spins of the roulette wheel. In the long run, your losses will still outweigh your wins.
Also, you’ll hit the betting max at the table faster than you think. Or you’ll run out of money to place on the next bet.
Here’s an example progression of the Martingale System:
Notice that it only takes 7 losses in a row before you’re betting a whopping $640 on a single spin of the wheel. Many roulette tables have a maximum bet of $500, which breaks the system.
But even if you’re playing at a table where the betting limit is $1,000 per spin, you’ll hit the betting limit after 8 losses.
An example of an advantage gambling strategy, on the other hand, is card counting in blackjack. Unlike a roulette wheel, a deck of cards has a memory of sorts. Once a card has been dealt, it’s gone from the deck until the dealer reshuffles.
Since a blackjack (a 2-card hand totaling 21) pays off at 3 to 2, you can get an edge over the casino by raising the size of your bets when a blackjack is more likely.
If you’re playing blackjack with a deck which has a relatively high percentage of aces and 10s left in it, you can raise your bets and get an edge because of that increased payout.
It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one. Card counters aren’t raising their bets based on their previous losses. They’re raising them based on the actual probabilities changing.
In the long run, an advantage gambling strategy can make you money.
A betting system cannot make you money in the long run.
One aspect of slot machine betting systems involves money management. This is just a fancy phrase that describes a system for quitting a gambling session based on being ahead or behind a certain amount.
Here’s an example of a money management strategy for a slot machine player:
You’re going to be in Las Vegas for 3 days. You have a $600 budget to gamble with. You decide to gamble with $200 per day.
You further decide that you want to gamble in the morning and in the evening every day, so you split that $200 per day into 2 smaller bankrolls of $100 each.
You then decide on how much of that bankroll you’re willing to lose in each session (your stop-loss limit) and how much you’re hoping to win in each session (your win goal).
You might decide that you’re willing to lose the entire $100 in each session, but if you win $100 or more in a session, you call it quits.
This has the effect of allowing you to occasionally walk away from the slot machines a winner.
It does not, however, affect the probability that you’ll walk away a winner.
The odds on the slot machines don’t change just because you quit while you’re ahead. In fact, from a mathematical perspective, there’s no point in dividing your gambling into separate sessions at all.
Mathematically, all your gambling sessions work just like one long session.
Money management strategies can be a fun way to gamble, but don’t fall into the trap of believing they’re going to help you win money.
This all brings me to the subject of the most egregious example of a slot machine betting system book — .
John Patrick is the author of multiple books about gambling, but the consensus I see on most gambling forums is that he’s probably a paid shill for the casinos.
ALL of the gambling advice you get from John Patrick is fundamentally wrong from a mathematical perspective.
Patrick is a firm proponent of money management systems, and in his book on slots, all of his systems are based on variations of setting loss limits and win goals. He also sells the myth that slot machines run hot or cold.
He offers 2 guidelines that override all 25 of the systems in his book.
The first is a limit to the number of “naked pulls” you’re willing to accept before you walk away from a specific machine. He suggests that you choose a number between 7 and 14 as your limit. For example, you might choose 9.
If you have 9 naked pulls in a row on a slot machine, you quit playing it and switch to another machine.
A “naked pull,” by the way, is just a slot machine spin that doesn’t win anything. The idea is that a game where you’ve lost that many times in a row has gotten cold.
Some people, by the way, would believe the opposite about such a machine. They would think that since the game hasn’t had a winning spin in 9 pulls of the lever, it’s due for a win, so you should keep playing.
They’re wrong, too. The results of the previous spins have no effect on the probability of winning on the next spin. Every spin of the reels on a slot machine is an independent event. The probability of winning on each spin is the same regardless of what happened on the previous spin.
Patrick’s second guideline is to have a 60% stop loss limit. If at any point during your playing session you’ve lost 60% of your bankroll for that session, you call it quits and walk away. This prevents you from going completely broke during that session.
All his 25 slot machine betting systems are informed by those 2 guidelines—neither of which does anything to improve your odds of winning.
The first system Patrick recommends is the simplest. It’s called the “Straight 60.” It works like this: you play a slot machine until you’ve won or lost an amount equal to 60% of your bankroll.
If your bankroll for a session is $100, you’ll play until you’ve won $60 or more or lost $60. Once you’ve hit either of those limits, you quit and call that the end of your session.
Your naked pulls limit is still in effect, too. If you hit your naked pull limit, you walk away from the machine, too.
You might start playing again on a separate machine, though.
If you do, you still need to keep in mind the amount of money you lost on the “cold” machine.
It should be obvious that quitting when you’ve won $60 or lost $60 has no mathematical effect on your probability of winning or losing.
This system takes a different approach to how you manage your session. With the “Play and Run” system, you don’t spend more than 5 minutes playing any single machine.
You take your bankroll for the session and divide it into 5 separate mini-bankrolls. If we stick with our $100 bankroll example, we’d play with $20 on 5 different machines.
Instead of quitting when we’ve won a specific amount of money on each game, we quit when we hit our time limit of 5 minutes.
I’m not sure why anyone would think this would improve your chances of winning. This “Play and Run” system might be a fun way to get in some action on several different slot machines, but it obviously has no effect on your odds of winning or losing.
“The Chicken System” is where Patrick’s betting systems start getting more involved. With this system, you set an arbitrary betting sequence. You don’t change how much you bet based on your wins or losses, though. You just keep playing with the amounts specified.
Like most money management systems, the Chicken System uses units to track how much you’re going to bet on each spin. One unit might be a single dollar.
You start with bets of a single unit, then you place bets of 2 units, and, finally, you place bets of 3 units. You might place 4 bets in a row at each level.
If you reach the end of the betting sequence without hitting your win goal, your loss limit, or your naked pull limit, you start over again.
So here’s how much you would bet if $1 were your unit:
I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind how this arbitrary sizing of bets is going to help you win. If you can think of some reason that even seems remotely logical, feel free to leave a comment.
If you’re bored just playing slots, this might be one way to make it more interesting.
But it still doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll win.
You might have noticed by now that Patrick enjoys cute names for his slot machine systems. I like how he uses the names of animals for some of these.
“The Squirrel System” combines some of these earlier systems. For one thing, you’re supposed to limit your time at each machine to 5 minutes.
You’re also supposed to set a loss limit and a naked pull limit.
But most importantly, if you double the size of your bankroll, you keep playing, but you “squirrel away” half your winnings.
Let’s say you start with $100, and you get lucky early in the session and you’re up to $300 total. You’ll take your initial starting bankroll of $100 out of the machine and pocket it.
You’ll also take half your winnings ($100 of the $200 you’ve won) and pocket it, too.
You’ll continue to play with the $100 you have left in the machine, and you’ll pocket half of any additional winnings over the course of your session.
But keep in mind the other rules—the naked pull limit and the 5-minute limit on each machine.
“The Ladder System” is one of those betting systems where you raise the size of your bets when you’re winning and lower the size of your bets when you’re losing. You’re going up and down the ladder, see?
This is another attempt to capitalize on winning and losing streaks. If you know much about probability, you already know that winning and losing streaks happen. The problem is that they’re not predictive. They’re only visible in retrospect.
You have no way of knowing when a winning or losing streak will begin or end.
As a result, raising and lowering your bets based on previous results is pointless.
Then again, it can make something as mindless as spinning slot machine reels a little more interesting.
How much money you can expect to lose at a slot machine per hour is determined by 3 factors.
The average slot machine player spins the reels 600 times per hour. If you’re betting $3 per spin, you’re putting $1,800 per hour into action.
You don’t know what the payback percentage for the slot machine is, but it’s usually in the 92% range. The payback percentage is the amount of action you expect to get back in winnings over the long run.
92% of $1,800 is $1,656.
That’s an expected loss per hour of $144.
The easiest way to lower your expected loss per hour is to make fewer bets per hour.
I contend that the biggest advantage to using these kinds of slot machines is that they decrease the number of bets per hour that you’re making.
After all, if you’re counting how many spins in a row are losers, you’re not able to mindlessly hit the spin button repeatedly on the machine.
If you’re trying to keep up with how close to your win goal or loss limit you are, you’re going to play more slowly. In fact, you’ll also be paying more attention to what you’re doing.
The gambling industry has a nickname for people who zone out in front of a slot machine—“slot zombies.”
Playing with any of John Patrick’s gambling systems for slot machines will ensure that you’re not a slot zombie. This will reduce the amount of money you’re losing per hour on average.
That’s one advantage to using these kinds of systems.
Another advantage is that these systems make playing slots a little more interesting. If you’re a fan of no-frills, 3-reel, one-payline slot machines (like I am), you might need some additional stuff to keep up with that make playing interesting.
Those games have the highest payback percentages anyway. Anything I can do to make those games more interesting is worth doing.
Slot machine betting systems don’t work, but they have their purpose. As long as you understand that they don’t affect the odds of winning or losing, you can use these kinds of systems to your heart’s content.
Having stop loss limits, win goals, and naked pull limits can give you enough stuff to keep track of that the games become more interesting. More importantly, they’ll reduce the number of spins you’re making per hour, which results in a lower hourly expected loss rate.
And losing less money per hour playing the slots is the most a slot machine player can really hope for.