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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask The Slot Expert

21 April 2000

Dear John,

I was recently in a conversation with some people that are frequent slot players and was explaining the advantages of video poker and other casino games. We got into a debate about how slot machines work. After explaining the RNG to them, I was asked how this can be changed for slot tournaments.

Do casinos use different machines for slot tournaments or does the manufacturer replace some of the RNG's? This subject came up because some people, including one casino employee, stated that the casino can change the payout on any machine whenever they want to and I do not believe that to be true.

Your response to this will be greatly appreciated!

Thank you,
Bob

Dear Bob:

I have found some casino employees to be misinformed about how slot machines actually work. I suppose the situation is akin to that of flight attendants. Flight attendants don't need to know Bernoulli's Equation or how thrust and lift make flight possible, they just need to know the routine procedures to follow during a routine flight and the emergency procedures to follow during an emergency. The casino employees may know how to fill hoppers and unjam them, but they don't necessarily know how the machines operate deep within the program running the machine.

Some casinos have special machines that they use only for tournaments; others rent machines from Bally or some other manufacturer for their tournaments. Still other casinos alter machines on their slot floor for tournament play.

All of these machines have two things in common. First, the program running the machine is a special tournament program. The tournament program alters how the machine operates--that is, free play (instead of requiring coins to be inserted) and never deducting from the credit meter, but always adding to it. On some machines you have to change a chip to have it run the tournament program.

The second difference is in the way the physical reel is mapped to the virtual reels in the program. The payout on a tournament program is frequently well over 1000 percent. The RNG wasn't changed, but the number of times the jackpot symbol and other symbols appear on the virtual reel is much greater than on a standard program. A typical Blazing 7s machine may have two Blazing 7 symbols on each of its virtual reels, but a tournament payout virtual reel might have six or more per reel. (Keep in mind that the number of times a symbol appears on the physical reel in a slot machine has nothing to do with how likely it is to land on the payline. Almost all modern slot machines map the physical reel to a virtual reel that has many more stops on it. So even though it looks like you have a 1-out-of-22 chance to land the Megabucks symbol on a reel, the true odds are more like 1-out-of-255.)

Whether or not a casino can change the payout on a slot "whenever they want to" depends on where the casino is. In Nevada, changing the payout on a machine requires a manufacturer's license and most casinos have manufacturer's licenses. You can sometimes see them displayed at the cage. In other jurisdictions, changing anything in a machine invokes as much pomp and circumstance as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, requiring representatives of the local casino commission to witness the change. In either case, there is usually a form that is filed with the state indicating that a payout change was made on a machine.

Keep spreading the truth about how slots really work--even if the casino employees contradict you!

Best of luck in and out of the casinos!
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@home.com.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
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