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Slot players like to think about the games they play as much as those who play any other games. A key difference is that you can’t see the inner workings of a slot machine. You can’t watch the process by which results are determined and calculate your chances, like craps, roulette or blackjack players can.That has long led slot players to speculate and form their own theories. Are results really random? (Short answer: yes.) Does it make a difference to your payback percentage if you push buttons, pull handles or touch the screen? (No.) Can the casino choose who wins and who loses? (No.)Modern video slots have brought new questions including both the mechanics of how games work and downright philosophical debates.On the game mechanics side, one question that’s been prominent in reader email is, “How can players who bet different amounts be allowed to play for the same jackpot?

Are you better off to bet the minimum if you can win the same pot as someone betting the max?”As for the philosophical side, skill-based games have raised the question of whether a game with no reels or reel symbols and no paylines is really a slot machine at all.Let’s take the philosophical question first. One example of a no payline, no reel game is Danger Arena, a skill-based game from GameCo. Danger Arena is a futuristic, first-person shooter in which your task as a player isn’t to spin reels. It’s to gun down robots.You’re placed in a warehouse and navigate up the aisles, between shelves and stacks of crates, looking for robots. With your controller you can turn, choose a direction, take aim and fire. The more robots you hit in the allotted time, the bigger your payback. Time is short, and not even skilled players will get to profit territory every time. The house must have an edge, after all.It’s fun to play, but is it a slot machine?

One answer: It is a slot as long as players embrace the games and terminology. Games such as Danger Arena can be seen as a logical development in the wake of bonus events that are highly anticipated in video slots. A no-reel slot such as Danger Arena is like playing nothing but bonus events without reel spins in between. The main difference is that you have to wager to play Danger Arena, while bonus events are no-bet portions of most games.

Still, we have more than two decades of bonus event precedent that states players accept non-reel spinning portions of games as important components of slot machines. In Reel ’Em In, the WMS Gaming 1997 breakthrough that gave video slots their original beachhead in their rise to popularity, players were amazed when the reels faded from the screen and were replaced by fishermen on a pond. Those same players were thrilled when their fisherman landed a big one to send their credit meters through the roof. There was no question that the game as a whole was still a slot machine. The same goes for early games with skill-based bonus events. One of the first was Bally Technologies’ Pong. Those who had played Pong as a video arcade game were right at home with the bonus that had them position a white line “paddle” to bat a square “ball” back to the other side of the screen. That bonus event looked nothing like traditional slot games, but the whole package remained a slot machine. So did slots with wheel-spinning bonuses, trivia questions, Battleship grids and more. Before its merger into IGT,  Atronic even designed a slot that was all bonus. What players loved best about Deal or No Deal slots was the suitcase-picking bonus, so Atronic produced a version that was all about the suitcases with no reels involved.If that’s a slot, then so is Danger Arena.In the original sense, virtually no games are really slot machines anymore. They don’t have coin heads, so there is no slot to drop in coins to activate machines. A few older machines with coin heads remain in play at some locations, but mostly, we buy in with paper currency or tickets.

The term “slot machine” has been around since the 1880s. It originally referred to any coin-operated device. If you dropped coins into a machine and got a chocolate bar, you were buying your candy from a slot machine. That changed in the 1900s, and slot machine came to mean specifically coin-operated gambling devices. The term has persisted through the elimination of coin slots, and it’s almost certain to persist through the changes on modern gambling devices.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE JACKPOTS? To get back to the purely mechanical question of how players with different bet sizes can play for the same jackpot, it requires an understanding of how such jackpots work. You’ll often find them on multi-tiered jackpots with levels such a mini, minor, major and grand, or copper, silver, gold and platinum. There can be two levels, or there can be 12 or more. And the formats described here do work with single-level jackpots, though they’re more often used with multiple tiers. Just as an example, all jackpots on a penny slot can be available regardless of whether you bet one coin per line, two per line, or more.One way to make it work is to make the jackpots a side bet. To be eligible for the jackpots, you must make the side bet in addition to a wager on the main game. The jackpots then are funded out of the side bet.If you and I each are making 30-cent side bets, then it makes no difference that perhaps I’m also betting 30 cents on the main 30-line game while you’re betting $3. We’re betting the same amount on the jackpot, and so we can have equal chances to win them.

With no side bets, players with different bet sizes still can play for the same jackpots, but those who bet more have a greater chance to win. The key is mystery jackpot programming.With mystery jackpots, you don’t need jackpot symbols to line up. If your bet pushes the jackpot to a mystery amount that has been chosen by a random number generator, you are awarded the jackpot even if you don’t have a winning combination on the screen or reels.With mystery jackpots, the casino sets parameters and a random number generator selects a point between those parameters at which to award the jackpot.Two common methods are to set parameters based on jackpot size, or to set them based on total wagers.Imagine that the parameters in use involve total wagers, and that we’re looking at a mini jackpot with a starting value of $5. These typically are rapid-hit jackpots, giving you a few extra dollars to play with and letting everyone in on the progressive action.To insure rapid hits, let’s say the casino has set low, narrow parameters with a minimum of 2,000 coins in play at machines on the link at a maximum of 10,000 coins. That’s a range of $20 to $100 in play to trigger a jackpot.The random number generator is programmed to select a number between the $20 and $100 parameters.If the number generated is $63.87, then the player whose wager takes the total at the bank to that amount wins the mini jackpot.Bigger bettors have a better chance to win because they are adding more to that wager total on every spin. We don’t know what trigger amount the RNG has been selected, but let’s say it’s $63.87, that the total wagers so far have been $63.56, that I’m betting 30 cents and you’re betting $3. My 30 cent bet won’t be enough to push the total to $63.87, but your $3 bet will.

Small bettors will win the jackpots sometimes. Big bettors will win more often. The same goes if the parameters are set for jackpot totals instead. Imagine a major jackpot is set with a minimum payoff of $250 and a maximum of $500. As in all progressives, a portion of wagers is added to the jackpot until someone wins.The RNG would be programmed to generate a target jackpot between those parameters. If it selected $312.11, then the player whose wager raises the pot to that total wins it.Again, if I bet 30 cents and you bet $3, than the portion of your bet added to the jackpot will give you more chances to win than I get.There are other ways to program slots with mystery payoffs. It’s possible to use time as a parameter, though that’s used more often with surprise bonus events than with jackpots.Imagine an operator wants to make sure bonuses occur frequently to keep players excited. A machine or bank of linked machines with mystery bonuses can be set so a bonus event comes up at least once every 10 minutes, and usually more often, to players who were betting enough to be eligible.Parameters could be set at zero and 10 minutes. Then the random number generator would be told to select a number between the two parameters. If the RNG selected 4 minutes, 28 seconds, then 4:28 after the sequence began, a bonus would launch.With mystery jackpots, the more common parameters are wager totals or jackpot size. And to answer the common readers’ question: yes, big bettors, small bettors and those in between can play for the same jackpot with bigger bettors having a bigger chance to win.The answer is also yes for slot philosophers wondering if no-reel, no-line games are really slot machines. End of discussion? Of course not. There’s always something new in the slots, and that goes for player questions as well as for the games themselves.

By, John Grochowski