That’s so random

shuffle

Poker machines work randomly. Every win, every loss, every spin of the reel – completely random. We know this because it’s the law. It’s in the National Standards which are vigorously enforced by governments and independent testing agencies. It even says so in the Gaming Industry’s own Player Information Booklet. So why do so many people still see patterns in the machines?

The answer lies deep within our brains.  Humans have evolved to seek out and recognise patterns in the world around us. This ability has served us well. It helps us make sense of the world and improve our lot in it. It has enabled the development of science and technology that have shaped the modern world. However the same ability can get us into trouble too. It can lead us to see patterns where none exist, such as within the random spinning reels of a poker machine.

Randomness does not sit well with us humans. When we are faced with randomness, our natural instinct is to find patterns even when none exist. When Apple first brought out the iPod with its shuffle function, many people complained it was not random because they kept hearing the same songs. Apple was accused of bias, of programming the shuffle function so that it favoured certain “pet” artists or songs downloaded from iTunes. The fact is a completely random selection of songs will often produce the same songs. This is how randomness works. Each time a song is randomly selected, it is as likely to select one that has been played previously as any other song. In the end Apple had to reprogram the shuffle function so it did not repeat the same songs. Whilst this made the shuffle function LESS random in reality, it had the reverse effect of making song selection seem MORE random.

When our brains play the same trick on us whilst playing the pokies, the result can be dangerous. We may think we can see patterns emerging, and increase our bet sizes and session times to try and win more money. So the next time you are playing the pokies and see a pattern of wins or losses emerging, remind yourself it’s a trick your brain is playing on you. There is NO pattern, ever. The reality is poker machines ALWAYS generate results randomly and there’s nothing you can do to predict the outcome of the next spin.

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.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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