Skill or luck? Strategy or chance? How do you actually beat a slot machine? These are questions that every gambler wants answered – mainly because beating a slot machine could result in some spectacular wins.
The CasinoPlay.com crew did some digging and found some very interesting stories about beating slot machines. Unfortunately, they probably won’t help you hit that Mega Moolah progressive jackpot any time soon.
Modern slot machines and online slots games work on Random Number Generator software which makes it 99.99% impossible to predict or affect any sort of outcome. While we do have tips and advice on how to best play slot machines and online slots game, there really is no way of guaranteeing a win.
In the past, however, there were many schemes and scams that could influence how a slot machine paid out. Remember, these early games were mechanical for a long while and anything mechanical can be tampered with if you know what you’re doing.
So this article is less about how to win on a modern slot machine or online slots game and more about the devious ways people used to cheat the system and earn themselves some ill-gotten gambling gains.
There are three ways to scam a slot machine: 1) affecting the coin or token being inserted, 2) affecting the way the slot machine pays out and, 3) changing the outcome of the game.
One of the earliest, and relatively easiest, ways of crooking the mechanical slot machines was to manufacture fake coins or tokens with the same size and weight as the coins or tokens used in the slot machine. By putting in fake coins and redeeming the win in real coins you could make a tidy profit. Of course, your fake coins would need to be worth a lot less in value than the real coins.
By putting valueless fake coins into the slot machine and playing you are always playing for a profit. When you hit a win, you get to cash out real money. If you lose you don’t really lose as much as you would if you were putting real money into the slot machine.
A tidy little scheme but one which requires a bit of outlay in machining/sourcing the fake coins or tokens.
The yo-yo was a scam using a coin on string. Mechanical slot machine used the size and weight of the coin or token to trigger the game when it fell through the coin slot. Scammers drilled a small hole in the coin and tied a string to it. The coin was inserted into the slot machine, but the scammer held onto the string and pulled the coin back out as soon as the slot machine registered that a coin had been inserted.
This allowed the scammer to play the same coin over and over without actually spending a cent. Any winnings from the game were pure profit.
A clever ruse to be sure but one that could be easily spotted and, if caught, the scammer had the evidence literally in the palm of their hand.
Shaving is very similar to the yo-yo in that it allowed scammers to reuse the same coin over and over again. As mentioned earlier, mechanical slot machines used the size and weight of a coin or token to trigger the game and allow players to start playing. To get around the fake coin or token scam, slot machines began using a light sensor to register whether a coin or token was actually real or fake.
Enterprising scammers began ‘shaving’ or cutting of small pieces of coins to make them marginally thinner. This meant that the coin was recognised as legit by the light sensor but its slightly thinner profile meant that it fell through the physical comparator and was returned to the player who could reuse it as many times as they wanted.
Interesting fact: modern coins all have tiny ridges on the outer edge for the express purpose of stopping shaving. Back in the day, like in ancient Rome and before, coins were made of specific weights of precious metals. Early scammers would shave off small portions of the coin and collect the shaving to create a new coin thereby devaluing the original coin and stealing a lot of cash in the process. The ridges allowed authorities, traders, shopkeepers, etc. to quickly identify whether or not a coin has been tampered with.
Old mechanical slot machines had mechanical coin counters that measured how many coins were paid out. The coat hanger was a simple scam where the cheater used a coat hanger or similar shaped tool to mess with the coin counter. This was as simple as inserting the tool into the coin counter area and jamming it open so more coins fell out.
The top-bottom joint was an innovative scam run during the 1970’s. As technology became more prevalent in slot machines, the ways of conning them began to change. Physical interference like the coat hanger began to fade away, and ways of affecting the machine using electricity became more popular.
The top-bottom tool was a circle of metal (top) attached to a thin wire (bottom). The top was inserted into the coin slot while the bottom was inserted into the bottom of the slot machine where it came into contact with the internal electronics to form a crude circuit. When the circuit was completed, the electrical charge forced the slot machine to pay out all the coins it held inside.
The Monkey Paw is a sort of mash-up between the coat hanger and the top-bottom. Devised by serial criminal and noted casino cheat Tommy Carmichael, the Monkey Paw was a bent metal road attached to a thin wire that was inserted into the slot machine’s air vent and fish around until he hooked the switch for the coin hopper. A simple pull later and all the coins were in his grubby paws.
The light sensors mentioned in the shaving scam earlier make a reappearance on our list! Light sensors were meant to be the technology police of the slot machine industry. After all, how do you fool light?
With a light wand of course. While sounding like something from Harry Potter or Star Wars, a light wand was actually just a small device that could ‘blind’ the optical sensor and confuse it when it came to recognising how much money was inserted and how much money was paid out. With the machine not knowing the correct amount that was being paid out it just kept on paying.
The wizard behind the light wand? Our felonious friend Tommy Carmichael.
Playing the piano had nothing to do with tickling the ivories. Rather, it was more about tickling the actual workings of the slot machine by jamming a piano wire into the moving machinery manipulating where and when the wheel stopped.
Brute force but quite effective.
The chip replacement scam is not an easy one to pull off, especially in a big casino. In fact, chip replacement in any semi-secure establishment would probably take Ocean’s 11 levels of cunning.
The idea is simple enough: get your hands on the processor chips used by the slot machine, reprogramme the chips to manipulate the outcome of the slot machine, replace the casino’s slot machine chips with your own version.
Easy. All you need to do is know which chips to use, how to reprogramme them, get access to the keys for the slot machine, open up the cases and switch them out. In a busy casino. Without raising suspicion. Right.
Actually, this was very successfully done by one Dennis Nikrasch. He made a LOT of money before he was caught and imprisoned.
Not recommended by the CasinoPlay crew!
Our final ‘how to cheat and beat slot machines’ contender is a modern tale for a modern casino industry. As we said in the opening, modern slot machines and online slots games are practically impossible to cheat because they rely heavily on Random Number Generator software.
But what if the developer, casino or supplier took a few short-cuts when building the software?
Russian programmer “Alex” discovered, to his probable delight and wealth, that a lot of casinos and developers were using sub-standard RNG programmes. A true Random Number Generator uses electromagnetic ‘noise’ to generate totally random and genuinely unpredictable vales. But there are programmes called Pseudo Random Number Generators (PRNG). PRNGs start with a predetermined value and then retro-engineers it with variable inputs to generate the ‘random’ sequence.
While this may seem feasible in the short term, if the algorithm is weak you can begin to see patterns and predict the next random number.
“Alex” was hired by a Russian casino to manipulate the RTP of certain slot machines where he discovered the use of these PRNGs and which slot machines and slots games were using them. Being the civic-minded individual that he was, “Alex” then set about reverse-engineering several popular slots games, creating his own algorithm, developing a phone app to work out the predicted outcomes, hiring a team of players and milking the system for millions over the next 7 years.
The question is: was “Alex” a scammer or was he just in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge?
Whatever you think of “Alex”, his actions clued the modern casino industry to the pitfalls of not taking security seriously and things have changed since then.
Online casinos in particular are incredibly strict with ensuring that their online slots games are fully secured and running only true RNG software.
Gambling is something we do for fun. And maybe a bit of profit if we’re lucky. But if you’re thinking about using any of these methods to skew Lady Luck in your favour you are going to be disappointed. Cheaters never win. While some of the scammers made some quick cash at the time, they were all eventually caught and spent significant time behind bars, Gambling is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise and anyone who messes with the running of said enterprise is likely to have an extremely short time to enjoy the fruits of their illegal labours.
Play for fun and excitement and play responsibly is what we recommend. For anyone looking to find out more about “Alex”, there is a very interesting article on Wired written by Brendan Koerner that you can read here: https://www.wired.com/story/meet-alex-the-russian-casino-hacker-who-makes-millions-targeting-slot-machines/