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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Advantage play on VLTs in Washington

3 July 2019

Question: Your article on 88 Fortunes was helpful. I am in Washington state with VLTs and the rice bowl does indeed appear to be deceptive.

I am reading around trying to determine which machines at my local casino might have advantage play and, for that matter, if the RNG machine titles that are good for advantage play are also good for advantage play in Washington state. Or even if advantage play is possible in Washington state on VLTs, where the tribes do not report any statistics and my son (slot tech here) tells me each machine is on an algorithm.

Answer: An algorithm is "a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer." Everything that happens on a slot machine — which is just a computer system — has an algorithm that tells the processor the steps to take to accomplish the task. Saying that a slot machine uses an algorithm is like saying that a restaurant uses recipes. The key is knowing which algorithm the slot machine uses.

On an RNG-based slot machine, the algorithm to determine where the reels will stop consists of polling the RNG once for each reel, converting the number for each reel to a virtual stop, and stopping the reels at the appropriate stops.

On the Video Lottery Terminals in Washington state, the algorithm is to request an outcome from a central server. The Washington State Gambling Commission site says that its casinos have Electronic "Scratch" Ticket Games, with a finite number of tickets with pre-determined number of winners and losers. After the slot gets the outcome from the central server, the slot then stops the reels at spots appropriate to the outcome it received.

This is like buying scratchers from your lottery agent, only when the central server runs out of tickets in a pack, it can generate a new pack of tickets. Oh, and every possible outcome is in each and every pack.

One of the requirements for advantage play is knowing the probabilities for getting the various outcomes. We don't know how many tickets remain in the pool of outcomes in the central server and we don't know the mix of outcomes remaining, so advantage play is not possible in Washington state.

Strategic play on video poker is also not possible. Your outcome isn't determined by cards dealt randomly from a deck. Rather, the central server determines your outcome, which then determines the cards you get.


Question: I was just reading your article about players cards "timing out."

I was playing a game and got somewhere around 110 free games. I re-triggered the free games bonus two or three times during the spins, which is what made the total so high. At one point I noticed that my card was no longer accepted.

My problem was that after the bonus round, no machine would accept my card. I had to go to the club booth and get it reset. I was told that it was "abandoned." Apparently, not only was I given a time out, but they took it a step further.

I ultimately learned my lesson and whenever I get a bonus that gives me more than about 25 free games, I make sure that I remove the card. What offends me is when this happens at a casino that resets your point countdown whenever you remove your card, so you may lose partial credit for points if you have a time out.

Answer: I'm surprised that I received a few e-mails from players whose casinos inactivate cards that time out. The only reason I can see to do that is to thwart cheats who leave their cards in machines in the hopes that the next player doesn't have a card and will play on the cheat's card. But does anybody still do that today? Inactivating a timed-out card seems like a Draconian measure for a problem that I don't think exists in any significant way today.

And I think inactivating the card alienates legitimate players more than it thwarts cheats. Besides the long bonus round problem, how many times have you stopped playing to talk to a friend or the waitress or slot floorperson or host, or to take a phone call? If you don't remember to pull your card if the conversation goes on a long time, you may win yourself a trip back to the club desk to get your card reactivated. A less significant problem is that when your card is deactivated, the machine won't accept it so you can't get your players card number associated with your ticket when you cash out so you can go to the desk.

As I said before, I think slot-card cheating is a problem from another era. Twenty or so years ago, slot clubs were new and players were not accustomed to the ol' slot machine one-two — insert players card, insert money. If you forgot about your card, you wouldn't pull the cheat's card. And if you didn't have a card, you may not even know what the card reader was for.

Another remnant of a bygone era, one which I'm sorry to see still survives to today and one which I'm even sorrier still to see some casinos re-instituting, is the point countdown. I remember some of the early clubs in Atlantic City used a countdown and the club reps constantly stressed that if you didn't complete the countdown, you wouldn't earn a point. And I've written before about one of the big features described at a demo for a slot club system about 20 years ago — follow me countdown. The countdown would follow you when you switched machines so every dollar played was counted.

I can see only two reasons why a club would use a countdown. One, to slightly decrease the number of points it awards. No points are awarded for countdowns that are not completed. And two, to encourage players to play just a little bit more to complete a point.

Are there any other reasons why a club would use a countdown>


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