How Do Random Number Generators Work?

How Do Random Number Generators Work?

March 22, 2011.

One of the primary reasons gamblers are hesitant to give online gambling a try is skepticism of how random the games are. In a land-based casino, everything is in front of the player to see, and he or she has the reassurance of constant surveillance. Online, however, no such visible protection exists. While the industry is largely unregulated, online gambling websites typically undergo plenty of certification to ensure that their games and the random number generators that power them are fair.

In a land-based casino, the randomness of the table games is based on physics. Take, for instance, the craps table. In craps, players are typically trying to roll a certain number before 7 is rolled. Players must throw the dice so that they hit the other end of the table and bounce back. Since gamblers can't possibly know how exactly to throw the dice so that a certain number comes up, the result is naturally random.

While an online craps games could simulate real physics, this would be a costly solution. Therefore, casinos on the Internet instead use random number generators. RNGs, as they are called, are the core of online casino games. A random number generator has no other duty except to make random numbers. It doesn't know why it makes the numbers and it has no other influence on the games.

What is a Random Number Generator (RNG)?

A Random Number Generator creates a number or set of numbers when a player makes a wager and begins playing. The process involves using a complex, unknown formula to transform a “seed” number into the result number. The seed is almost always time. The random number generator takes the tiny fraction of a second at which someone makes a wager and runs it through the formula. In fact, this is no different than how land-based table games work. In craps, for instance, the seed is how the dice are positioned and how they are thrown, and these factors are run through the formula of the natural world.

The most popular online games are slots. Incidentally, land-based slots use the same type of RNG as online slots. Each reel displays icons based on a set of numbers the random number generator states. However, the icons are weighted, meaning that higher-value and bonus symbols are less likely to appear than lower-value symbols. For instance, there may be a slot where a jackpot symbol will appear if a number less than 5 is generated, whereas a cherry will appear if any number between 6 through 50 is generated.

Microgaming and some other platforms have a special kind of slot machine that differs from this model of true randomness. These slots are called AWP slots, which stands for “amusement with prizes”. Unlike a typical slot machine, these are based on cycles of pre-determined loose and tight periods, and are designed to give the casino a definite edge over a certain amount of time. While some players enjoy the challenge of figuring out when an AWP is loose or tight, others are not interested in playing a game that isn't actually random. Don't get too concerned about this, though. If a slot is actually an AWP, it will be listed as such. The vast majority of online slots are genuinely random and use a fair RNG.

It is of primary concern of players and casinos that the RNG is fair. A game of craps with weighted dice would drastically affect the return of the game, making some players very angry and hurting the casino's bottom line. An unfair online RNG would have the same effect. Because of this, most reputable casino software companies submit their product to independent auditors for testing. Online casinos typically keep the seals of certification on their main website near the bottom, linking the image to the official report from the company. Consequently, players should check for TST, iTech Labs, and/or eCogra seals before making a wager at any casino.

Although online gambling doesn't have near the government regulation as most land-based gaming, this doesn't mean that it's rigged. This common misconception can be cleared up with just a basic understanding of the random number generators that make online casinos work. By simulating the randomness that makes real casino games work, RNGs enable online casinos to give players the opportunity to gamble from the comfort of their own homes. As long as the RNG is certified by an independent auditor, gamblers shouldn't worry for a minute about the fairness of the games they are playing.