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Are Video Poker Machines Rigged?

26 February 2007

By John Robison

Hi, John,

I sent you a quick question not too long ago... how many RNs required on a multiline slot? You had answered once before, the same number as the number of wheels/reels. BUT that actually conflicted (or at least I thought it did) with one of your previous articles when you suggested that playing more lines is just like playing more times...that implied to me that each line (combo) was completely independent of all others, and thus each line would require a different set of RNs.

Clearly if it has a mechanical reel and a reel strip then fixing one (say the center line) would fix all the others. BUT not with the video slots which could actually build their "symbol sets" on the fly to meet whatever is required. Where am I going wrong here? Also, on the remaining few physical reel machines in Mississippi is the Telnaes map still being used? There is one fairly popular 5 physical reel machine, Bonus Blazing 7s... You can select denom penny, dime, quarter and it can be played up to 25 lines X 3 coins. It's a buy-a-pay machine (your term) that requires 2 coins to get any of the 7 hits, and 3 coins to get a bonus.

Thanks for any assistance you can give.

HoMM

Dear HoMM,

Every independent result could require a separate number. Let's say we have a 3-reel machine with 10 stops on each reel. There are 1000 possible combinations. Suppose our RNG function generates numbers between 0 and 1 million. We could MOD 1000 a number from the RNG to get a result between 0 and 999 and then use each digit to choose the stop on each reel. For example, if the remainder were 190, we would use stop 1 on reel 1, stop 9 on reel 2, and stop 0 on reel 3.

Alternatively, we could MOD 10 the number and use the result for just one reel. We would then have to poll the RNG two more times to get the results for the other two reels. Most machines are programmed this way, to use separate numbers for each independent result.

On a reel-spinning slot, the symbols above and below the center payline are not independent. They're determined by what stop is on the center payline.

Most video slots are just like reel-spinning slots without the reels. They have fixed reel layouts. One manufacturer (I can't remember which one) has one or more machines on which the symbols drop into place from the top of the screen. I don't know how these machines choose their symbols.

There might be some exceptions, but Telnaes mapping is still in use on reel-spinning slots.

Finally, Buy-a-Pay is not my term. It's the industry standard name.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John,

Just discovered your excellent Q&A columns.

I now live in Florida where they have given the racinos Class III licenses and two are operating.

Having been a NY resident and spending every weekend in AC until 04, I was suprised when I went to these venues and found multi-denom machines that I thought were the domain of VP multi-game machines. Never saw that in single-line 3-reel spinners, e.g., 25 cents, 50 cents or $1.00 choices or other machines offering $1.00 and $5.00 betting choices on the same machine.

Question is, do you know if similar machine setups in Vegas and elsewhere allow for the player using dollars or halves versus quarters to see a higher payback, i.e., (85% for quarters, 87% for halves, 90% for dollars)? And similar question in payback percentage for $5 vs $1.00 on those machines that also offer either denom betting?

Also any clue as how to find official payback info? All I was told by a casino employee was state law requires 85%.

Thanks.

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

It is definitely possible for multi-denomination machines to have different long-term paybacks for the same game played at different denominations. Unfortunately, there's no way on a slot game to know for sure whether higher denoms have higher paybacks. On video poker games, we can compare paytables.

The best sources for payback info are Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines. They publish payback info for all jurisdictions that make numbers available to the public.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

Thanks for the always informative and interesting articles!

We are just occasional gamblers. In the past few years we've played video poker with some small success. We've practiced quite a lot and think we have a reasonably good understanding of choosing the best pay tables and optimum play.

But our last trip to Vegas was a huge disappointment. Both of us were on one heckuva losing streak. I know that can happen, but at some point we began to wonder if the machines were rigged. We both would be dealt hand after hand after hand of NOTHING. It got to the point that it seemed this could not be random.

I've read that Nevada requires that video poker machines deal each hand randomly, exactly as if they were dealt from a new, shuffled deck in live poker. That is, the machines cannot be set to deal certain cards in order to increase the house edge. Instead, the house increases its edge by manipulating pay tables and counting on the fact that most players will not have optimum play -- but the actual cards that are dealt are supposed to be absolutely random. Now I'm beginning to doubt this. The cards that we were dealt were so consistently bad -- over hundreds or even thousands of hands -- that we suspect it wasn't just a random string of bad luck for both of us. This was a markedly different experience than we've had in the past, when we'd win some and lose some, as we would expect with a random machine.

So what do you think? Were the stars just not aligned for us, or do the casinos set up the machines to deal more or less good hands or bad hands? Is there a law that applies to how the machines can be set up to deal the cards?

Thanks,
Becky

Dear Becky,

There is a regulation that says how machines have to be deal the cards. The regulation is just as you described: machines must deal cards as if you were dealing from a fair deck, as in live poker.

As human beings, we always want to find a reason for why things (only bad things, really) happen to us. With slot and video poker machines, there's no good reason for why players experience cold (or hot) streaks.

Actually, that's not right. There's an excellent reason for why players are dealt the hands they're dealt. Random selection.

You said that you expect to win some and lose some on a random machine. When you toss a coin, do you expect the flips to roughly alternate between heads and tails? Don't you expect to get some streaks of heads or tails?

It is precisely because the machines are random that you had your streak of bad luck. A series of non-paying hands is one of the possible results, so it will happen. As you said, the stars were just not aligned for you. Many professional video poker players (and blackjack card counters) have streaks of bad luck, sometimes lasting many months or even more than a year.

It's funny that when we hit a string of good hands, we accept that we just happened to hit the deal/draw button at the time when the RNG had generated a result that was favorable to us. But when we have a string of bad hands, we don't accept our bad luck as the result of random selection. We start to suspect the machines are rigged.

Bad luck streaks can last for many visits. It's tough to keep a stiff upper lip while you have to keep feeding machines, but keep your wits about you, don't chase your losses, and remember that the streak will end eventually.

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