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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Are the video poker machines I play fair?

3 March 2008

Hello, John,

I've read a lot of your articles and respect you for your knowledge of the game, but I really must say that I cannot make "The Leap of Faith" anymore.

The Leap of Faith? Believing that a video poker machine is dealing me cards in a relatively random way (We have that RNG programming, right?) without any other type of influence dictating or controlling the play of the game.

I play at a very large "tribal" casino in the Northeast. I do like the environment and I do enjoy playing the VP machines, but I have to say that, in my opinion, all in all, the machines behave in a non-random fashion. I play to near perfect strategies on JorB, DDB and Super Ace Bonus. The only reason I miss is when I get careless and start playing too fast. The key point is that I play the same strategy to 99+ percent perfection both on my computer simulator play, and at the casino. I have set up my "VP for Winners" software with the same pay tables as the games at the casino. Now here's the point.

I "always" last longer on a set amount of credits on my computer software than I do at the casino. In most cases much longer. The play is also a lot more consistent. I can set up DDB on my software (with the same poor 8/5 pay table as at the casino) and 1,000 credits and last for hours playing the proper strategy. However, take the same strategy into the casino and I can be done with my 1,000 credits in 20 minutes. And when I go in the early morning hours (before 12:00 noon) it is pretty much a lock that I will finish within 20 minutes. This is a consistent thing, not a one time selective memory. However, I have noticed that when the casino packs up, and the "take" for the day is increasing on the casino's part, all of a sudden my playing ability grows by leaps and bounds. I get 20 quads within a few hours of play.

I have hit quad aces multiple times on Super Ace bonus in crowded casino conditions, been dealt the quad aces ($1,500), hit quad aces three times within 40 minutes on the same machine! I play it to near perfection on my simulator using the same pay table (7/5) and it always takes a very long time for me to go through 1,000 credits. However, go to the casino in uncrowded conditions and kaboom! Withing a matter of minutes my 1,000 credits is gone . . . Consistently. As a matter of fact, after one particularly good day ($2,000 net) the next three times I went to this casino to play this Super Ace Bonus game every time I would get dealt a four-card flush I would not complete the flush on any of the three hands! (triple play machine) This happened 15 to 20 times. Never completing a four flush on any of the three hands! What is the probability of not completing a four flush on a triple play machine through 15-20 straight occurrences?

Please excuse me for I know that I am basically saying in a very wordy way that I believe that there are other ways in which these machines are being controlled. I am not a professional, but I am college educated (accounting) and I have racked up a solid two years of VP play with 8 royal flushes and many quad aces. I just can't believe that in this era of computer technology and software that the payout rates for any machine (including VP machines) can't be manipulated at any time by the casino.

How can I find out what the regulations are for the casino that I play at? Can they change the chips in the VP machines? (I have seen entire banks of VP machines at this casino roped off for hours.) Can replacement chips be computer controlled to increase or decrease payouts? I believe this casino also is self-regulated. Can they basically do whatever they want? In an era of increased gaming throughout the country, I find that the player's knowledge of regulatory oversight is very poor. At least I'll admit in my case it is. How can I find out how fairly these games play? If I can't find this out, I believe it will be time for me to take my free time and money elsewhere.

All I want is a fair game. Is that what I am getting here?

Thanks for your time,
Curious

Dear Curious,

Funny, I've had the same experience of generally doing much better playing on my PC than on casino video poker machines. But rather than questioning the performance of the RNG in the video poker machine, I questioned the performance of the RNG function used on my PC.

The RNG function in a slot machine is tested for performance by multiple testing labs. The labs look at the stream of numbers generated by the function and run different statistical tests on the stream. Different jurisdictions may require different tests and may set different requirements for passing those tests. If you do a search for patents on RNG functions used in slot machines, you can see some of the thinking that goes into designing these functions.

I don't know what RNG function the writers of the PC game used, but I suspect that they used the one available in whatever language the game was written in. I'd be willing to bet that that function does not perform as well as the one in the slot machine.

Now, to answer your questions.

You didn't mention which casino you played at, but if it's a large tribal casino in the Northeast, I guess it's either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. Those tribes have compacts with Connecticut, so you can search to see if Connecticut put the casino-enabling legislature on the Internet. If you have difficulty finding it, your state representative can help you find the legislation, which is probably available in your local library.

If you're not playing in one of those two casinos, you have to determine whether the casino has Class II or Class III machines — a distinction I should have mentioned this earlier. If you're playing in a Class II casino, all bets are off. Your results are determined by an event on the central server and no amount of skill on your part can alter those results. You didn't mention that the machines have random bonuses or some other mechanism to "fix" your mistakes, so I don't think you're playing Class II machines.

If the machines are Class III, then search the Internet for the enabling legislation and if you have difficulty finding it, your state representative or local librarian can probably help you find it. Another source is your state's division of gaming. The division's public relations officer can point you in the right direction, if not even provide a copy of the legislation (for a small copying fee, at least in New Jersey).

Casinos can change chips in machines. The level of supervision varies by jurisdiction. Las Vegas casinos can change the chips themselves and report the change to the state. In other jurisdictions, a gaming division representative must witness the change and in others the representative must make the change. Casinos do not, however, change chips at whim. There are many reasons why banks of machines are roped off.

Machines could be manipulated by the casino at any time. The technology exists. But machines don't work that way for two reasons. First, the necessary programming to enable this manipulation does not exist in the machines because second, regulations prohibit this sort of manipulation.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John



Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots