Here’s a system you can use. Let’s say you’re playing an old-fashioned three-reel machine at a dollar a spin with a max bet of three. A reel is a mechanical wheel that spins inside the machine. When the symbols on the reels line up in a designated pattern, the player wins. This line is called the payline. If you put in $10, the credit meter will display 10. You can bet one, two, or three credits. If you bet three credits, i.e. max bet, when the reels spin your credit meter adjusts to 7. Congratulations, a single spin on a $1 machine just cost you $3. It’s particularly frustrating when the first reel of your $3 bet stops between symbols. At this rate, you’ll be broke in no time. So start with a single credit. If the first reel doesn’t stop with a symbol on the payline, stick to a single-credit bet for the next spin. But if that first reel puts a symbol on the payline, up the bet, even if the second or third reel doesn’t. As long as the first reel puts a symbol on the payline, keep upping the bet all the way to max bet. But as soon as the first reel stops cooperating, drop back down to a one-credit wager. I call this system the Rule of Firsts. The thing about this system, of course, is it’s not really a system.
This is what happens when you press the spin button on a slot machine: the button sends an electromagnetic signal to a random number generator, which assigns a value to each reel that determines its position. In other words, before the reels even begin to spin the outcome of the game has been decided. So much for systems.
What about luck? Luck has nothing to do with anything unless you’re the kind of person who thinks it has everything to do with everything. People who believe in luck tend not to be system players. Luck isn’t what’s making the casinos rich. Luck doesn’t pay the rent or the car payment or the cosmetic surgeon. Luck doesn’t keep the lights on at Thunderclap. But going to a casino and not believing in luck is like going to church and not believing in heaven.
Jim Ruland, from “13 Ways of Looking at a Slot Machine” in This is Not a Camera (originally published at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency as part of the series “Dispatches from an Indian Casino” under the pseudonym “Leslie McDonald”)