What Is a Slot?

A narrow notch, groove or opening, as a keyway in a piece of machinery, a slit for a coin in a vending machine, etc. A position in a group, series, sequence or rank. (c) A gap in a roof or in a wall through which rainwater may drain, etc.

(d) A space in a keyboard or typewriter for inserting paper, so that it can be printed or otherwise recorded on the page: ‘I put the sheet of music into the slot on my piano’; ‘The clerk slotted the letter into the envelope’; ‘The student slotted the questions into the correct columns’

The word is derived from the Dutch word sleutel meaning “slit” or “groove.” The first mechanical slots were a series of holes cut in a board, into which coins could be dropped to activate levers that operated mechanisms like reels. Eventually, mechanical devices were replaced by electromechanical ones that used computer chips to track the positions of symbols on each reel and calculate payouts.

Modern slot machines often have a number of paylines in various patterns, complex game rules and a huge list of possible symbols. Players who play these games need to keep track of a lot of data, which can be difficult. To help, the makers of these games usually include a table known as the paytable that shows all the potential combinations and payouts.

Airline passengers, too, can suffer from slot frustration: they’ve checked in on time, made it through security, found their gate, queued to get on board, struggled with the overhead lockers and settled back into their seats. Then they hear the captain saying, “We’re waiting for a slot.”

In aviation, a slot is an authorization to take off or land at an airport during a certain time period. Airlines use slots to manage congestion at busy airports and prevent repeated delays caused by too many flights trying to take off or land at the same time.

Psychologists have also linked video slot machines to gambling addiction, with one study finding that such games cause people to reach a debilitating level of involvement with gambling three times faster than those who play traditional casino games. And a 2011 60 Minutes report featured the story of a young woman who became addicted to online slot games and lost her home and her children.

Fortunately, central flow management is now widely used at major European airports and has been proven to reduce air traffic delays and fuel burn, while improving flight safety. It is also being introduced at other major airports around the world, with the ultimate goal of reducing slot frustration and allowing airlines to fly more efficiently.