An understanding of the inner workings of the poker machines is reliant on an appreciation of randomness. ‘Randomness’ is a tricky concept, in that we often think we understand what this term means and may use it frequently without even realising that its true meaning evades us. As a test, if you were asked to define the word random what would you say? What does ‘random’ really mean?

The term ‘random’ is made up of two related concepts, for something to be considered random it must operate as an independent event and it must be unpredictable.

The word ‘random’ implies independent events; when we say that two events are independent we are saying that there is no connection or association between them. For example, if I drop a pen at my desk and at the same time a person at the local pub gets the feature, these two events are independent as they are not connected or associated in any way. Interestingly, each spin of the machine is independent of all other spins, the machine does not connect previous spins with the successive spins, and therefore each spin is an independent event.

The word random also implies that the events in question are unpredictable, that is there is no rule which governs what will happen next. If an event is random, as is the inner workings of the poker machines, there is no way to predict what will happen on the next spin or series of spins as there is no rule to what is happening. What has happened previously, for example the last 10 spins of the machine gives no information or indication whatsoever of what will happen in the next spin.

A misguided understanding of randomness influences people’s beliefs about the machines and their chances of winning. A problem gambler may think that they can in some way control or influence the outcome of play, without realising that the randomness of the machines means that this is impossible. An accurate understanding of the random operation of poker machines is a way to change the way you think about the poker machines and allow you to make informed choices about your gambling.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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