Well, there is and there isn’t. Read on to find out why.
- Picking your time of day
- The game’s past performance
- Other factors
- The real answer
Picking your time of day
Is it better to play slot games at some times of day than others?
Firstly let’s examine the idea that slots pay out more at busy times. Like many of the ideas we’ll be looking at, it originates in land based casinos where players noticed that most of the jackpots dropped in the evenings when the casino was full of players rather than during the daytime when it was quieter.
Does this mean you have a better chance of winning the jackpot if you play when it’s busy? No, of course not! The jackpots drop more often when it’s busy simply because there are more players doing more spins! The RTP and the chance of triggering the jackpot on any specific spin remain the same for each player, there’s just more players putting more money in and it stands to reason there’d be proportionately more money coming out.
Secondly, let’s look at a special type of slot game where it CAN make a difference what time of day you play – time-limited must-drop jackpots.
A must drop jackpot is guaranteed to drop before the end of a defined time period, most commonly by the end of a day but sometimes by the end of an hour. These slot games are designed so that there is an extremely high probability that the jackpot will have already dropped by the time the deadline is reached.
On the extremely rare occasions that the jackpot HASN’T dropped as the end of the day or hour approaches, the slot has to go into a different state just before the goal is reached to ensure that the jackpot drops on one of the final spins. It’s possible to know, then, that someone is going to get a big payout in the near future.
We see this effect in bingo games where there is a must-go escalator jackpot; it’s almost always won at some point during the session but if not, it goes to the winner of the final game. With just that one game left, players know someone is going to win big. In bingo, of course, there’s a couple of minutes for players to realise what’s about to happen and pile in to buy tickets for the game in question (especially as these types of jackpots typically pay out to all ticket holders and not just the full house winner), whereas in slots there could be thousands or tens of thousands of players doing spins simultaneously so you’d still have to be incredibly lucky to grab that final spin!
Right up until that point, the chance of the jackpot dropping is the same in every spin (but usually relative to spin value, so 10x more likely, for very small values of likely, to drop in a £1 spin than in a 10p spin). But the longer it goes without dropping, the bigger it gets, so a player who wins the jackpot late in a day wins more than a player who wins the jackpot early in a day.
I’ve used the Red Tiger Daily Jackpots at Paddy Power as an example of a time limited jackpot here. In the screenshot, the daily jackpot has to drop within the next 4 hours 32 minutes and the hourly jackpot within the next 32 minutes and both will continue to get bigger and bigger until they drop. So if I come back a bit later and play then, I’ll be playing for a bigger jackpot – UNLESS, of course, it’s dropped in the meantime.
Conversely, a REALLY BAD time to play one of these games is when the jackpot has already dropped and the next time period hasn’t started! Play then and you have ZERO chance of winning the jackpot coupled with the lower base game RTP that progressive jackpot games invariably have.
Not all must drop jackpots are time limited; some have a maximum value and are guaranteed to drop before reaching that value. Again, if you happen to see one of these jackpots close to its maximum value, that’s a better time to play that game than when it’s just been re-seeded, because you still have the same extremely remote chance of winning but the prize is bigger.
Having said all this, it should also be pointed out that progressive jackpot games in general will burn through your cash considerably faster than games with no jackpot. Not only is a lot of the RTP is tied up in the jackpot, they often have lower overall RTP than non progressive games. For example, regular Fishin’ Frenzy has RTP of 96.12%, but Fishin’ Frenzy Jackpot King has a lower RTP of 93.32%. The Eyecon classic Shaman’s Dream is even worse; the regular version of the slot has RTP of 95.4% but Shaman’s Dream Jackpot has a lower RTP of 93% including the jackpot and a very disappointing 90% if you don’t include the jackpot.
You could even argue that because of these issues with RTP, it’s NEVER a good time to play progressive jackpot slots.
The game’s past performance
Variations in Return to Player
The theoretical Return To Player of any given online slot game has to undergo thorough testing to ensure it is correct, but as it is a long term average over hundreds of thousands or millions of spins, for shorter sequences of spins the actual RTP can and does diverge temporarily from the expected RTP. For example, if someone has just won the Mega Moolah jackpot, that’s a huge spike of a payout – but it doesn’t affect the chances of the jackpot being won (again) on the next spin and indeed there are several cases of the jackpot being won twice in fairly quick succession (hours not days).
Players have theorised that there must be some way to spot and capitalise on these natural deviations.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
The Gambler’s Fallacy is a cognitive bias which causes people to believe that the probability of future events is affected by how often those events have occurred in the past, despite the event being something like the roll of a dice which has been shown to be statistically independent. It is a natural sort of error to make; extrapolating the future from the past is something that humans do all day long, every day, and most of the time it is quite right to do so because the future IS causally linked to the past. For example, we learn that dark looking clouds in the sky usually result in rain, so we take an umbrella or raincoat when we leave the house if there are dark clouds in the sky (but not if there’s no clouds at all). And we also see that previous winners of sporting events are more likely to win the event again than a team or player who has never won, because the previous winner has already demonstrated that they are exceptionally good at the sport (and that’s why you’ll get much shorter odds on them at the bookie).
The Gambler’s Fallacy comes in two flavours as illustrated by the following examples:
- Gambler’s Fallacy 1 – the roulette wheel has come up black several times in a row, therefore the next ball is more likely to land on red than black
- Gambler’s Fallacy 2 – the roulette wheel has come up black several times in a row, therefore it must be biased towards the black numbers so the next ball is more likely to land on black than red.
The problem with Gambler’s Fallacy 1 is failing to grasp that each spin of the wheel is independent of any other spins of the wheel.
The problem with Gambler’s Fallacy 2 is small sample size – you’d need thousands of spins, not a handful, to detect a possible bias (and while it is perfectly possible for a physical roulette wheel to have a slight bias due to the table not being perfectly level or frets being loose, the bias would be towards a set of adjacent numbers not towards red or black).
Tight and loose slots
The theory of tight and loose slots is not new and comes from US bricks and mortar casinos, long before the online era. It’s based on identifying slot machines which are believed to be paying out at a higher rate than other similar machines. In those days there was no requirement for casinos to display the payout percentage of slot machines so players had to try and work it out for themselves.
The players who kept tabs on loose and tight slots believed that the machines were intentionally set to pay out different amounts based on placement in the casino, with bigger payouts from machines located at the end of aisles and smaller payouts from machines in the aisles. They also believed that slot machines located near food and drink or where people were queuing to see a show were tight (as they would play the machines to pass the time while waiting without being too bothered about whether they won), whereas machines in other highly visible locations were loose. The idea behind all of this is that the casino would put the loose slots somewhere where serious slots players would be encouraged to spend more after seeing other players winning.
These ideas are all very last century, for several reasons:
- Modern video slots are so enticing and entertaining that they attract players with no need for the casino to do anything extra
- Modern casinos have lots of different machines (each of which has its own RTP and volatility) rather than large numbers of instances of the same machine, so there’s no need for casinos to set different instances of the same machine to pay out different amounts – they can just pick the machine with the RTP and volatility that is best suited to the location
- The frequency at which a slot machine pays out (which is what would encourage other players to play it) is not the same as the rate at which it pays out – a machine with a high hit rate (frequent payouts) can still have a poor RTP depending on how the paytable is set up
Hot and cold slots
The modern, online equivalent of tight and loose slots is “hot” and “cold” slots – and one EXTREMELY important difference between the old loose/tight theories and the new hot/cold theories is REGULATION. At UK slot sites, the Gambling Commission regulates the games as well as the operators, so every online slot game you can play in the UK has a known and documented Return To Player and this doesn’t change over time. (It can, however, change from casino to casino as some slots, including Red Tiger daily jackpot games, have a range of RTPs and the operator can choose which to use. They have to show it in the game documentation so do check before you play).
Nevertheless many players are interested in the idea of hot and cold slots and some online casinos – including PlayOJO who are now in trouble with the ASA for promoting irresponsibly – have a tracker which shows the games where people have won the most or lost the most relative to stake over the last few hours. In other words, these are the games where the actual RTP over the last few hours has diverged substantially from the theoretical RTP. The reasoning is as follows:
- Hot slots: these games are on a winning streak and I’d like to be part of that
- Cold slots: these games owe players a big payout and I’d like to be the one that gets it
And now we come right back to the Gambler’s Fallacy and the false idea that the probability of the outcome of a online slot machine spin is affected by the result of previous spins by other players.
The “hot slots” reasoning makes no sense at all in terms of the RTP tending back towards the mean. It only makes sense if you believe that there’s something wrong with the game causing it to pay out too much (Gambler’s Fallacy 2).
The “cold slots” reasoning is less obviously daft as over extremely large numbers of spins, actual RTP can indeed be expected to tend more and more to theoretical RTP (Gambler’s Fallacy 1). The numbers of spins are so large though, that one shouldn’t expect a cold period to be followed immediately by a hot period. It’s on a par with the belief that if you’ve done 100 spins without triggering the bonus round, your next spin is more likely to trigger it than earlier spins were. It’s not; what does change, slowly, as you carry on spinning without the bonus round turning up, is the probability of getting that long a streak with no bonus round if you went back to the beginning and started again. But you aren’t starting again, are you? You’ve already completed most of the streak and put yourself into just such a probability branch.
Slots that make you doubt the gambler’s fallacy
Now, sometimes what happens in a spin DOES appear to be affected by the result of previous spins. What appears to be a very obvious example of this is a bonus round with an increasing multiplier or increasing numbers of wild symbols triggered by what happened earlier in the bonus round. It’s not, though, because a bonus round is actually a single spin; it just takes a while to unfold.
What about slots where the state of the reels at the start of a spin is determined by the result of the previous spin? Playtech’s Ways Boost mechanic as seen in Age of the Gods Norse: Ways of Thunder is an example of this and basically it’s a slot that has player specific hot and cold states baked into its RTP. You start with many of the spaces on the reels covered up, giving you just 45 ways to win. As long as you don’t change your stake level, every time you win spaces are uncovered increasing the number of ways you can win on your next spin, until all the spaces are uncovered for the maximum 3125 ways to win. Every time you lose, spaces get covered up and the number of ways you can win on your next spin decreases. So when you play a slot like this, you’ll naturally experience winning streaks and losing streaks but this is all part of the game design and the overall RTP reflects it. Crucially, what DOESN’T affect the state of the reels in your game is whether other people have been winning or losing when they play the same slot.
If you had a game like that in a bricks and mortar casino, of course, no-one would stop playing while on a winning streak. They’d wait until the number of ways to win was at its lowest so as not to leave anything on the table for the next player. And then, no-one would want to start playing the game – they’d want to wait for someone else to leave it with more ways to win. Online, you can stop playing and come back the following day to find the reels in the same state as the game is specific to you (and your stake level) only.
The same is true of games like Immortal Romance where you can unlock better versions of the bonus round, games like Pirates Plenty where you can unlock more paylines and games like the Kingdoms Rise slots where you collect tokens to buy the bonus round, all by playing the same game at the same casino (and usually at the same spin value) over an extended period. In all these cases, the game is private to you and its state is not affected by other people’s play.
Progressive jackpot size
We’ve already talked about must-drop jackpots and the best times to play and to avoid them. What about other progressive jackpots?
Your chance of winning a wide area progressive jackpot (paying out the same large amount at all casinos worldwide) like Mega Moolah or Mega Fortune is utterly minuscle, and as we pointed out earlier these games deplete your cash much faster than non jackpot games. But if you are going to play one of these games regardless, it makes more sense to do so when the jackpot is huge rather than when it has recently been reseeded on the grounds that if you did win, you’d be winning a much larger amount.
Local progressive jackpots such as Jackpot King by Blueprint are only networked across sites run by the same operator so the size of the jackpot can vary dramatically between operators. For example, in July 2021 the Jackpot King at Entain sites including Coral Bingo stood at over £5 million, whereas at Skill On Net casinos, the jackpot was a mere £1 million. Of course you’re extremely unlikely to win this jackpot wherever you play (that’s how come it gets so large in the first place), but if you do want to play Jackpot King games you may as well go for the operator with the biggest jackpot. In this case, then, it’s about where you play as well as about when you play.
If there’s a one-off or regular promotion that gives out any kind of reward – bonus, spins, cashback on losses, prize draw entries – for playing a slot game that you like to play anyway, that’s bound to be a better than usual time to play that particular slot as you will get the reward to add to any wins or offset any losses. For example, consider a promotion that gives out 10 free spins when you play £10 on the featured slot. If the slot has RTP of 96%, your expected return on your £10 of play is £9.60 (remember that what you actually end up with could be very different because of short term divergence of actual RTP from theoretical RTP). But you’ve also got 10 spins, the face value of which is more than that 40p difference (watch out for wagering requirements though).
Slot tournaments are sometimes a good time to play slot games, particularly if there are lots of prizes and/or consolation prizes such as spins for non winning participants, but it very much depends on the way the tournament works. Slot tournaments are basically promotions where only some of the players are rewarded, so the questions to consider are what the prizes are and how likely it is that you’ll win one.
- Turnover based tournaments reward the biggest spenders only and the prizes often pale into insignificance next to the amount of money that you’d have to play through to get on the leaderboard. So not a good time to play.
- A tournament with scoring based on how many wins you get, or the size of your biggest win, is a bit more likely to be worthwhile depending on how many players are competing for how many prizes and whether the number of spins you need to play to qualify is in line with what you would normally want to do. For example, the tournaments at Buzz Bingo are based on 1000 spins over 48 hours. IF this is the amount of play you’d usually do, AND the slot is one you’d usually play or would like to try then yes, this is a better than usual time to play that particular slot as you could win cash or free spins just for doing what you’d normally do. If you don’t normally play that much or don’t like that slot, not so much.
The vast majority of slot bonus offers are valid for a limited period (7 days and 28 days are common) and you will normally have to play through the wagering requirements in that time as well as the original bonus. If you didn’t spend all of your bonus when you collected it, there will come a point where it’s time to use it or lose it. So yes, if you’ve got a bonus that is expiring soon, that’s a good time to play slots.
The real answer
The best time to play online slots is when you’re in the right frame of mind!
What is the right frame of mind? It’s being able to enjoy slot games purely as entertainment and not be bothered if you lose – and only you know for sure when that is. What is pretty obvious, though, is when it isn’t!
- DON’T play when you’re unhappy
- DON’T play when you’re intoxicated
- DON’T play when you’re supposed to be doing something else like working or spending time with your family
- DON’T play when you can’t afford to lose the money you’re playing with
- DON’T play if you are not enjoying it
- DON’T chase losses
And here is where safer gambling tools come into it. All online slot sites and bingo sites for UK players offer the facility to set deposit limits so players can ensure they can’t be tempted to play with money they cannot afford to lose, and many offer additional safer gambling tools.
- Loss limits, wager limits and/or session limits
- Curfew – block deposits at specified times (e.g. Friday evenings, late night)
- Product specific exclusion – block from a specific game or product area (e.g. block casino games but allow sports betting)
To help players keep track, from November 2021 all operators also have to show you the following information during a slot play session:
- How long you have been playing
- Your net position (how much you are up or down by)
All of this helps players to be mindful of their play but for some, there comes a time when there is no longer any good time to play slots and that’s when further measures such as time out or various degrees of self exclusion may need to be considered. If you – or anyone you know – has any concerns of this nature there is a huge amount of help out there and the BeGambleAware website is an excellent place to start.
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