What does “Random” Really Mean?

In bingo and casino games, we are reassured that games are fair by the knowledge that numbers, symbols or playing cards are selected at random. Games of online bingo, for example, must be played with a certified and independently tested Random Number Generator before any site can be granted a licence to trade in the United Kingdom.

But what does “random” mean? There are many definitions, dependent on the context, but when it comes to mathematics and statistics, the Oxford Dictionary states that random means “… governed by or involving equal chances for each item”. So for bingo (in the ninety ball game) that means that every number between one and ninety stands an equal chance of being the first ball drawn. In the next draw, each remaining number has a 1 in 89 chance of being drawn. And so on. For roulette, every number between 0 and 36 stands an equal chance of being the next winning number.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But true randomness is a strange thing. The trouble is, humans have an inbuilt psychological tendency to look for patterns. This, according to scientists, would have been very useful when we were trying not to get eaten by sabre-toothed tigers thousands of years ago. It still is useful today: our brains can react much faster if our subconscious minds can match what our senses detect with information already stored in our memories. This is why we are “hard-wired” to detect patterns. The clearest example of this is our tendency to detect faces when they aren’t really there. Distant mountains on the Moon or Mars? Odd patterns in carpets or on wallpaper? Random dots on paper? We can see faces in them all.

What has this got to do with gaming? Well, we see patterns in numbers too, even when they truly are random. And this may lead us alter our strategy or tactics, or even to believe that things are fixed or corrupt in some way.

Let’s start with something very basic: the coin toss. Suppose we toss a real coin. Heads or Tails? We complete three sets of six coin tosses, and the following results occur: which of these patterns is truly random?

T T T T T T or H T H T H T or H T T H T H H

The answer is that all of them are. Each one of these combinations has a 1 in 64 chance of occurring. But the first two seem to us to form a pattern. Which call comes next? If we follow our natural instincts, we may think that in the first instance, maybe it is more likely to be Tails. Or maybe we think that because we have had six Tails in a row, the next coin toss must be Heads. In the second example, it looks like it may be Heads next. But the truth is, in all three cases, it is equally likely to be either. There is no REAL pattern; it just looks like it to us!

This can cause us to change our behaviour. In the National Lottery, many people choose numbers which are well spaced apart, and seem to us to be what we think of as random. 8, 15, 24, 31, 43 and 54 seem much more likely to win than 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. But it isn’t true. Each one of these combinations has an equal chance of being the six numbers drawn: about 1 in 45 million. I know that sounds unbelievable, but trust me, it’s true! The reason why it sounds so wrong is that sometimes, a “sequence” can occur randomly!

Our brains also just prefer things to be in order, and if a pattern isn’t found, we tend to create one. Look at what happens every time the National Lottery draw is made. The first thing the announcer does is to alter the sequence, because we prefer things to be in a pattern… “Here are tonight’s numbers in ascending order…”, so 39, 15, 54, 2, 53, 31 becomes 2, 15, 31, 39, 53, 54.

This effect can lead people to alter their decisions. Very often we think we see a pattern, and therefore believe that because of that, we are unlikely to win. For example, a bingo player may reject a card because there are too many numbers close together. Other times, we are fooled into seeing a pattern, and think that it must therefore end. A roulette player may assume the next number must be Even, because the wheel has just produced five Odd results in a row. The slot gamer believes the next spin must be a winner, because nothing has happened for ten games in a row. Well each and every one of these players may be right. Or they may be wrong. But there is no pattern. It’s all random!

By |Bingo, Casino, Slots|

Bingo Vs Slots

Is Bingo Fair? discussed the widely held suspicion that online bingo is in some way “fixed”. As the article pointed out, within the United Kingdom at least, we can be sure that it isn’t. Nevertheless, one of the striking features noted was that the Return to Player (RTP) rate for bingo is far lower than it is for slots.

The RTP rate for a game tells us what proportion of our stake or ticket money is returned to players in the form of prizes. Basically, the higher the figure, the better. With slots, most games have an RTP figure around 95%. This means that a typical game may, over the long term, pay back 95% of the money staked on the game, with 5% retained by the site operator.

For bingo, the anticipated long term average RTP rate is more difficult to calculate than for slots, because of the mechanics of the game. But in general, it is certainly true that the expected return rate is far lower for bingo than can be expected from playing on slots. The actual rate is rarely published, but is widely estimated to average around the 70% mark.

There are some good reasons for this: the operators costs are far higher for putting on bingo than for slots for example. Bingo is a social game, and players generally expect lively chat rooms and a friendly experience. The game also takes time. Playing slots on the other hand, is a largely solitary experience. It is also very swift: a spin is over in seconds at most, whereas a game of bingo takes far longer to complete. It is also true that the average bingo player tends to spend far less on his or her game than the average slot player, which again means fewer profits for the site operator. So the question is, why doesn’t everyone just play slots?

Well it’s not just all about money is it? As already outlined, bingo is a social game. Bingo players expect a social experience, and paying for all those friendly chat hosts is expensive. I suppose you could have chat hosts for slots, but it’s unlikely they would be very popular. Even in the real world, where slot machines are lined up in rows just inches apart, communication between players is unlikely to go much beyond the occasional cursory glance or brief raised eyebrow if your neighbour strikes it lucky. Besides, if slot sites provided chat, the players would have to pay for it, and the RTP for slots would have to fall to similar levels to that of bingo.

But there are other factors too. Really, whether we spend money on bingo cards or slot spins, one of the major components of what we are paying for is entertainment. Sure we want to win some money. Sure it’s nice when we win a major prize, whether from a full house or a good line combination. But looked at from the entertainment point of view, despite its lower RTP rates, bingo can still be seen as better value for money.

Slots have the potential to pay out more, but it’s far easier to lose money too. You can buy bingo tickets from as little as 1p. Let’s say you buy a ticket for 10p. Bigger sites tend to have a new game starting every few minutes, so even if you are a speed freak, dodging from room to room, it’s easy to limit the amount you can spend. Of course, many if not most online players buy more than one ticket per game, but even so, you are going to get some time and entertainment for your money, even if you don’t win.

Now let’s look at slots. A spin is over in a second, or maybe two. And they don’t come cheap. In practice, as players tend to prefer to play with all available lines, the minimum stake per spin is likely to be 20p – 25p. It would be easy to play say, 20 spins a minute, giving you a minimum stake of around £4 – £5 per minute. And that is just a minimum. Many players choose to stake more.

So for slot players, the higher RTP rate means it can be a more efficient way to play from a financial point of view. Prizes tend to be bigger too. But on the down side the stakes and potential losses are higher, and each spin is over in seconds.

Bingo players may get a lower potential prize pot, and a smaller proportion of their ticket money returned in winnings, but they get a social experience, and more time as a proportion of money spent to enjoy the game.

So, at the end of the day, you pay your money and you make your choice… And in any case, on most bingo sites and many casino sites, you can choose both. As long as you stick to your budget, why not enjoy the best of both worlds?

By |Bingo, Casino, Slots|