GTA Online's slot machines are rigged and the NPCs are winning all the damn money

I haven't been inside a real casino in years, but I remember enjoying the Wheel of Fortune slot machines. It was like any other three-reel machine, but if you got the special wheel symbol on the payline, you could then spin the big Wheel of Fortune on the top for a bonus prize. The machine would shout "Wheel! Of! Fortune!" and the big wheel would spin and anyone nearby would stop what they were doing to watch. A fun, satisfying, and extremely stupid way to give away your money.

As I was walking through GTA Online's new Diamond Casino yesterday, I noticed a couple of the virtual slot machines had Wheel of Fortune-style wheels built into them, too. I sat down at one called Fame or Shame to see if I could win the chance to spin the big-ass wheel. Next to me was an NPC playing a different slot, so as I sat there I watched her reels, too, to see which of us would hit three matching symbols on the payline first. Sort of like a race to pass the time.

I figured I'd win easily because I was spinning the reels much faster than she was—the casino NPCs tend to react, curse, complain, look around, and fiddle with their bets between each spin. Meanwhile I hit the button as soon as possible, so I was spinning my reels about three times for every one of hers.

But she hit three sevens on her payline pretty quickly. And soon I began to notice she wasn't the only one. The casino NPCs are hitting three sevens suspiciously often. All of them. They're winning hundreds of thousands of dollars every couple minutes. You know who isn't? Me. An important person.

I took a few laps around the casino, peeking over the gamblers' shoulders. Everywhere I went, I saw winners. And not just sevens on the payline! Below, I walk by five different gamblers and see lots of matching symbols on the payline. Three grapes. Three grapes. A miss. Three sevens. And three more sevens. At any given time, four out of five gamblers are hitting a damn jackpot. What gives?

This isn't random. I played slots for two solid hours last night because in addition to having no life I wanted to gather evidence. I'm not saying I never won anything—each slot has a symbol that pays off even if you only get one or two of them, but in all that time I hit three symbols exactly once. About an hour in I got three grapes. That was it! Three lousy goddamn grapes.

At the end of the night I was down 10 grand on a slot machine with a max bet of $25.

All the AI-controlled NPCs, though? In that same period of time they won hundreds of thousand of dollars. Over and over again I'd walk past a gambler or park my ass next to one of them and they'd come up all sevens. Where are my sevens?

Is it a conspiracy? Are these NPCs paid by the casino to sit there and win to convince idiots (me) that these are the loosest (and only) slots in town? Are they all part of a collective of cheaters who cracked these machines' algorithms and know how to hit the jackpot 25% of the time and won't tell me how they do it? Did one of my many, many deaths in GTA Online deliver me to hell, like in that Twilight Zone episode, but instead of me always winning, everyone else is always winning? (Note to the writer of that episode: that would be a much more punishing version of hell. Oh, wait, the writer of that episode died in 1967. Disregard.)

Lost in this frustrating slot machine conspiracy is the fact that I never got the chance to spin the Fame or Shame wheel and win a shirt or a watch or whatever prize it dispatches. You need to get three golden microphones on the payline to spin it, and I never got those. I also never got three sevens or three melons or three bells. Just those three measly grapes, once, in two hours.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! I've been strolling around in a white suit, white shoes, a white scarf and a white top hat—decidedly un-NPC-like. This morning I buy myself a standard NPC outfit, and drive back in a dull brown car, obeying all the traffic rules like an obedient AI.

I buy a sensible 500 chips from the cashier—not the usual 50,000 some high-falutin' player character might. I stand around in a cluster of NPCs for a bit, blending in, then pretend to notice an interesting looking slot machine for the first time. 

"Fame or Shame? Say, that sounds like a lark! Maybe I will give it a try! Excuse me, fellow automatons, I'll be right back." I walk nonchalantly over, glancing at at NPC sitting nearby (of course she has just hit triple sevens) and give the reels a spin.

Huh. Triple cherries. Just like that. What took me two hours last night, I just accomplished in a single spin.

It ain't triple sevens—frankly, it's not even as good as triple grapes—and I still haven't gotten to spin the Fame or Shame Wheel. But it's an instant win for this fake NPC. Maybe I'm onto something.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.