Why Are ‘Weighted Wheels’ Allowed on Slot Machines?

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Jinse Dao Dragon by Light & Wonder wheel spin

When you look at a wheel on a slot machine, it shows a certain number of evenly sized wedges, but as players we know they’re not an equal chance of hitting them. Why is that allowed, one player asks:

I was told in the past when elements appear in a slot machine, such as a pair of dice, the outcome of rolls from these dice must conform to the same odds as real dice. If that is true, I don’t understand why wheels, like the ones from Wheel of Fortune, are obviously weighted to land rarely on the big prize. The wedges are all the same size? Can you explain why these elements are allowed in the games?

Rob R.

The rules around dice, cards, etc., were introduced to ensure games like video poker and electronic table games worked exactly the same as if they were using physical versions of the same objects.

Wheels have been thought of more like a different form of a slot reel, by comparison. When you see a slot machine with three reels, these reels can also be weighted – that means some spaces will land more often than others. This overcomes a physical size limitation of the reels that you can only have so many spaces on a physical reel, allowing for more overall outcomes, and with that, the chance for bigger top prizes.

Similarly, when it comes to a physical wheel, you can only realistically get so many wedges on that wheel and still have it be legible and easily followed. So the wedges can be weighted too, with some being more common to land than others. If all the wedges had to be equal chance, you’d end up with a very different range of prizes given each wedge would have a 1/16 or thereabouts chance of landing. So the game simply couldn’t offer a similar top prize because it would hit too frequently.

Why this is allowed simply comes down to regulations. The regulators wanted to make sure that game makers couldn’t do weird things with a deck of cards in video poker or dice in craps. But a weighted wheel was not seen as a similar problem, by comparison, as it usually is connected to a bonus and not a core part of the game like those cards or dice would be.

Furthermore, manufacturers go out of their way pretty often to state that the outcome isn’t evenly distributed across the wedges – it will be often written in the pay table to be clear, just like other statements like stopping the reels has no effect on the outcome of a spin. 

Of course, most of us don’t go so far as to be digging through the pay tables for this information, but ultimately this is why wheels can do it, but cards and dice cannot.

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2 Replies to “Why Are ‘Weighted Wheels’ Allowed on Slot Machines?”

  • Sandra Muskopf says:

    I’m wondering how a random bonus being available impacts people’s thoughts about how long they play a machine. For me, when a machine has a random bonus, if I am not getting any line hits and I know it has a random option and it’s also not coming up, I’m more likely to leave than if there isn’t a random bonus.

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