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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: About those "guaranteed to hit by" progressives

1 August 2018

Question: Is there any way to tell if you’re playing a server-based machine?

Answer: The term server-based gaming is like the lyrics to a Yes song — it can mean almost anything you want it to mean.

Let's look at different things server-based gaming can mean and whether you can tell if you're playing that kind of server-based machine.

One meaning is central determination. Instead of having a random number generator that determines the outcomes on the machine, machines that use central determination rely on a central server to determine their outcomes.

The most common examples of machines that use central determination are the Class II slot machines in Native American casinos. These machines are really bingo drawings under the hood. The central server performs the bingo drawing and sends the numbers drawn down to the machines. Each machine has a bingo card that is either always displayed or can be displayed at the touch of a button. The pattern filled by the numbers drawn determines what is won on a bet. You can tell you're playing a Class II machine because it has a bingo card.

Central determination machines don't need to be Class II machines in a Native American casino. Casinos run by state lotteries, for instance, frequently use central determination for their slot machines. Instead of a bingo drawing, the servers may choose outcomes from a finite pool of outcomes, like picking a scratch-off ticket.

There's no way you can tell if you're playing a slot machine on this kind of central determination system, but you can tell on a video poker machine. If the video poker machine has some sort of fairy godmother or other gimmick that awards you a bonus after a hand, then its results are determined by a central server. The machine has to pay you the amount specified by the central server and, for some reason, you didn't win that amount on the hand.

Another meaning of server-based gaming is downloadable games. In a downloadable games system, game programs are stored on the central server and sent down to the machines. One use of downloadable games given in the sales brochures is to change the mix of slot and video poker machines for a special event. A casino might want to change some slot machines to video poker when it's hosting a video poker tournament.

These machines can't be reconfigured at whim and definitely not while they're in use. They have to be idle for a certain length of time before and after the change and they have to display a series of messages during the change process. The only way you can tell if a machine supports downloadable games is to catch it while it is displaying those messages.

Finally, you'll definitely be able to tell if you're playing a server-based machine with the ultimate implementation of downloadable games. These machines are slot workstations, capable of playing any game licensed by the casino, not just a few that appear on the machine's menu. After you insert your player card, the screen displays your favorite games. You can start with Bonus Poker, switch to Invaders from the Planet Moolah, then play Double Bonus, and then give Double Diamond a try. Want to try something new? You can play every game the casino has licensed without having to change machines.


Question: My question has to do with many slot machines, including many Ainsworth slots, that have various jackpots that say, "Pays before $xxx". These machines pay before a specific amount is reached, i.e., $888, $8,888 or $88,888, etc.

If they are run by an RNG, how is it truly random if they will definitely pay before a specific amount is reached?

I'd like to understand this.

Answer: You're right. If paying the jackpot were based on a reel combination or some other poll of the RNG, we could set the probability to make it very likely that the jackpot will be paid before it hits the maximum amount, but we could never guarantee it. Unlikely things happen all the time in the casino.

Maybe there's something else we can use the RNG to choose and use that to award the jackpot. The minimum and maximum values of the jackpot are given in the rules, so what if we used the RNG to choose a value between the minimum and the maximum and used reaching that value to award the jackpot?

A typical, open-ended progressive jackpot works this way. A portion of each bet is added to the progressive. When the appropriate symbols land on the payline, the player wins the current value of the progressive and the progressive is reset to its initial amount.

A "guaranteed to hit" progressive works a little differently. A portion of each bet is still added to the progressive. But now, before the new value of the progressive is displayed, the value is compared to the previously chosen trigger value. If the current value is greater than or equal to the trigger value, the player wins the trigger value (or the current value, we can't tell and it doesn't matter) and the progressive goes back to the reset amount and a new trigger value is chosen. If the current value is less than the trigger value, the current value is displayed. Maybe you'll get it next spin.

Let me describe the procedure a bit more simply. The program running the slot machines uses the RNG to select the value at which the progressive will be awarded. A portion of each bet is added to the progressive. If that bet increased the progressive to the chosen value, the player wins the progressive. The progressive is then reset to the minimum amount and new value is chosen.

Some people (I hesitate to call them "players") check the values on machines with "guaranteed to hit" progressives and play them when the value is near the guarantee. I have to admit that I have decided to play a machine because one of its progressives was close to hitting and I have stayed on a machine because a progressive was close, but it has never been my mission to search out and play machines with progressives that are close to hitting.

It's much easier to find high-paying video poker machines.


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