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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: A slot machine bets more than the player selected

22 August 2018

Question: Empire Casino. Yonkers, NY. I play the minimum on a 1-cent slot machine, max 50 cents.

I placed a voucher value $96.16. Played 1-cent, 50-cent bet & hit the play button.

Paid no attention to balance as I was playing only a few minutes. When I finally looked at the balance it was $13.00. Calling the manager I was told I was playing $5.00. I was told I was playing according to the slot machine paper listing my every $5.00 transactions.

I said the machine calculates & prints $5.00. & not my bet. I told the Manager the machine was wrong & he said I should have paid attention to the balance.

I tried the same game another day & chose 1 cent for 50 cents. Placed a $5.00 bill & lost it as a $5.00 bet. I hit the play button. Called the Manager. Same story.

When I approached the V.P. of Management he scanned my play card, asked my e-mail address & offered me $30.00 in a food voucher. No reply from the Casino since June 25th. Answered their regular surveys & wrote the entire story.

This should not happen to players who are not high betters.

This has happened to other players. This not legal & cheating for a Casino.

Thank you for reading ......What is your opinion/advice???

Answer: I posted your letter verbatim because I didn't want to edit it to state what I think happened. I want to do that in my reply. And this way, others might report their own similar experiences and clarify some of your statements.

The gist of your story is that you wanted to bet 50 cents, you thought you made the proper selections for a 50-cent bet, yet you were actually betting $5.

I take it that this machine allows you to select a denomination. You selected 1 cent. I further assume that the machine has a series of bet amount buttons, with the maximum being 50 credits. You selected the maximum bet button.

Let me clarify that. You didn't press the Max Bet button. You pressed the button that had the largest bet value on it. Many players have been surprised at just how big the maximum bet on a machine can be and they didn't know how big until after they hit the Max Bet button.

I was caught in a Max Bet surprise a few months ago. My usual Triple Play machine was in use, so I went to another one nearby. I put in my money, chose my paytable, and hit Max Bet, expecting to bet 15 credits. Instead, my meter went down by 30. After I finished the hand, I noticed the indications that the max bet was 10 credits per hand, not five. All machines indicate how large the max bet is.

Getting back to your experience, hitting a bet button usually starts a spin. But I've never been to one of the New York racinos run by the state lottery, so those machines may operate differently from those I'm used to and require you to also hit the Play button.

These machines are tested thoroughly. And, as you stated, it would be cheating for a machine to not honor the bet selections made by a player. No testing laboratory would ever approve such a machine and no casino would allow such a machine on its slot floor.

The most likely explanation for what you experienced is player error.

You didn't mention what machine you played, so I had to guess at your options and actions. (Feel free to write back with more detailed information — which machine, exactly which buttons you pressed.)

I have two theories. One, you actually chose the 10-cent denomination. Two, you actually chose a 500-credit bet. We can maybe rule out the second theory because I get the impression that there is no 500-credit button. So maybe you did choose the 10-cent denomination.

Another double-header: I have two theories for how you could have chosen the 10-cent denomination. One, an incredibly bad user interface. When I was working developing software, I always encouraged my team to design the user interface to make it difficult for the user to make a mistake. Perhaps the user interface on this machine makes it easy for players to make a mistake when choosing the denomination they want.

My second theory is a massively mis-aligned touchscreen. We've all experienced touchscreens that are out of alignment and instead of hitting a button squarely in the middle, you have to touch an edge instead. I've even dealt with some screens on which I had to hit the space between buttons to get a hit on the button I wanted.

There's usually a lot of distance between 1-cent and 10-cent buttons with 5-cent and maybe 2-cent buttons inbetween. As I said, the alignment would have to be way off, but it is possible.

My advice? Because you said the same thing has happened to others, there is a problem here. Let's get to the bottom of it.

Go back to the machine and put $20 in it. Make the selections for a 50-cent bet and hit Play. If your credit meter goes down by 50 cents, either you made a mistake before or something has changed on the machine.

If your meter decreases by $5, call over a slot floorperson. Have them watch you make your selections. They should be able to see why your 50-cent bet is turning into a $5-bet, either something you're doing or a problem on the machine.

Finally, I have to agree with the manager. It is the player's responsibility to report any machine malfunctions immediately to a slot floorperson. I hope you took the food voucher.


Question: We've corresponded in the past about habits at the slot machines, but I just had to comment about the smoke Nazi that was in the CT column of 08/21.

I agree that the amount of smoke is bothersome, and in Illinois all casinos are smoke free. (They have patios and other enclosures for smokers to take a break). My wife, a smoker, hates this so we more often go to Iowa, Wisconsin or Indiana casinos, but as far as I know, in general, Illinois casinos have not lost business because of the smoking ban. There is a lot of verbal backlash when it happens, but the gamblers still show up.

When the smokers have a choice they will pick a smoking casino, so casinos near a state border may be affected, but if all the casinos comply, it won't matter.

Answer: I wanted to check out the column you referenced, but there was nothing on Casino City Times today (8/21) that you referred to, but I don't see anything dealing with smoking in the casino. Perhaps you could send me the title and the author.

A number of years ago, some casinos in Las Vegas and, I think, New Jersey tried going smoke-free as a marketing device. They all failed. Some analysts point to these failures as evidence that casinos need to allow smoking to be profitable.

Let me compare that failure rate to the failure rate of the restaurants Gordon Ramsey tried to help in his series Kitchen Nightmares. He does not have a very good success rate. Most of the restaurants he tried to help still fail.

One could argue that his intervention caused them to fail, but you have to remember that they would have failed without his intervention. Similarly, the casinos that tried smoke-free as a last-ditch effort were already failing. Going smoke-free did not cause them to fail. They would have failed anyway without the smoke-free policy.

Smoking is not an essential and integral part of gambling. A hookah or cigar bar necessarily involves smoking — smoking is the primary activity — but not in gambling, where smoking is just an ancillary activity (like drinking a beverage) to the primary activity. No one in my circle smokes, and we log hundreds of hours per week playing video poker.

There is some disagreement about whether the smoking ban in Illinois affected casino revenue, but it is difficult to separate the effects of all of the factors that affect a casino's reveneue.

There are so many smoke-free casinos in the United States today that no one can credibly argue that a smoke-free casino cannot survive.


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