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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are electronic craps games fair?

8 July 2015

There is a craps slot machine at Red Rock Casino-Resort that has two large dice in a glass dome on a vibrating table in the center of a circle of maybe eight stations. To roll the dice, the designated player hits a button on their station, the vibrating surface responds with a big bump, and the dice clatter around and land on whatever number.

Here's my question: The dice sometimes seem to defy the laws of physics in the way they land and I'm wondering if this is all chance, like at a real dice table, or whether there is an RNG of some sort that determines the result and magnets or whatever that affect the dice accordingly.

The electronic craps machine that I see most often is Organic Craps from Interblock. Casinos install this machine when they're prohibited from having craps tables with live dealers or when they want to offer an additional craps table without the cost of live dealers.

The following is from the Interblock website:

The Organic Dice is a fully automatic version of the different dice games. The Dice Center unit works on a principle of vibrating table and dice detection. The dice are evenly weighted and are capable of reading and displaying the results of each roll. A carefully calibrated vibration table assures that all dice land flat on the table and assures a very fast and 100 percent reliable dice detection. The generator enables between 60 and 80 results per hour.

The probability of rolling any particular number on this game should be the same as tossing two dice on a craps table. You can verify this yourself by tracking the numbers rolled for a hundred or so rolls. If you make a histogram of the results, you should see something very much like the familiar Pyramid of Craps.

In addition, check the payouts for the various bets. They should be the same as at a craps table. While having the same payouts does not necessarily prove the dice are not manipulated, having one or more bets with higher payouts does indicate the probabilities are not the same as on fair dice -- especially if the house edge on the electronic game appears to be negative.

One last thing, Nevada has a rule that any machine that mimics a physical game must have the same probabilities as the physical game. That means that video poker machines deal from fair electronic decks and that electronic craps games must use fair dice -- electronic or bouncing around on a vibrating table.


I am very interested in your column and have read almost every article you wrote on casinocitytimes.com. Your analyses on slot machines based on different perspectives really impress me.

I am confident that I am your first Hong Kong reader to send you a question as slot machines are legally prohibited here. The closest place you can find a slot machine is in Macau, but people are not big fans of them. Rather they are crazy about table games.

I have a question regarding the ownership of credits/token inside the slot machine after a player inserts a banknote (before pressing "cash out" button). To illustrate my question, I would like to walk you through two examples. One is table game and the other is slot machine.

Example 1: Baccarat (No-commission)

Assume Alan has a chip of USD$100 and bets Banker. He wins and now he has USD$200. Then he bets banker again and wins, so now he has USD$400.

He bets the USD$400 on banker but loses this time. In terms of the last bet, USD$400, I am confident that he has the ownership of USD$400. The reason why I say he owns this USD$400 is that by the time he wins his second bet with USD$200 and the dealer gives the dividend, he holds all four chips in hand. This is likely to constitute acceptance of USD$400. He is at liberty to choose (1) continue to have the third bet; or (2) cash out.

Please correct me if you have other opinions.

Example 2: Slot Machine – Jacks or Better.

Assume Tom inserts a banknote of USD$100 into a slot machine and spins. He wins and now has $200. He is given the option to double and wins, so he now has $400. He also takes the next option to double, but loses. He now has $0.

As a slot machine expert, you are familiar with what the screen shows after the spin wins. It basically says "Take it" and "Double it". In this example, Tom hits the "Double it" button twice for 1st and 2nd double.

My question is: Before the second double (hitting the "take it" or "double it" button), how much does Tom actually own?

We all know that after hitting the "take it" button, Tom actually owns USD$400 because it is a similar action that constitutes acceptance as in Example 1. If Tom takes USD$400 then re-inserts it and spins, I can safely say Tom owns USD$400 and is risking USD$400.

But before either button is pressed, the case is very confusing.

The reason why I ask this question is that I am thinking of a real-life case. I place a slot machine outside a shopping mall with free entry. Anyone who plays the slot machine starts with 100 credits (100 credits can exchange nothing). Every time you can choose to "take it" or "double it". Starting from 400 credits, you can exchange USD$400. This means you need to double it twice at least to exchange some real money. So same question arises, when a play wins 400 credits and decide to double it instead of taking it, does he really own that 400 credits (which can be converted to USD$400 directly)? If he does own that 400 credits, this definitely constitutes gambling as he is risking something for something. But he doesn't, then based on the free-entry method, he is basically risking nothing and such is not gambling.

I tried to find some clues based on individual tax assessment. However, in most commonwealth jurisdictions, gambling tax is not imposed on individual gamblers so I can’t really find much. I know in U.S. wagering gain is viewed as income and therefore subject to tax. With reference to Memorandum (AM2008-011) issued by Chief Counsel of IRS, "the fluctuating wins and losses left in play are not accessions to wealth until the taxpayer redeems her tokens and can definitively calculate the amount…" Does it mean during the slot machine play, the credits that show on the screen, although they can be exchanged for cash after the player takes it, are not owned by the player before the "take it" button is pressed? From the beginning, the player is essentially playing with the initial deposit, like USD$100 for Tom. If it is a free entry slot machine, the player is essentially risking nothing.

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

You're right. Your letter is my first one from a reader in Hong Kong. When I went to Hong Kong in the 1980s, I think gambling was allowed only in the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Hong Kong's Wikipedia page says that gambling is allowed "at a limited number of authorized outlets" and the Casino City page for Hong Kong lists some other options. It sounds like you're trying to find a loophole around gambling restrictions in Hong Kong.

I can't speak for the regulations in Hong Kong but I can for the regulations in the U.S. With only one exception that I know of, any credits on the credit meter belong to the player. The player is free to cash them out at any time.

The one exception is promotional credits that can be downloaded to a machine and must be played and cannot be cashed out. I'll ignore this exception in the discussion that follows.

Because players own the credits on their machines, there's no such thing as playing with the house's money. You can always cash out your credits. You are always playing with your money.

The memo to which you referred deals with how players are to determine their results for a session. The IRS acknowledges that there is a lot of back and forth (winning and losing) on a table game or slot machine. Rather than trying to track the result of each bet, players are allowed to use a net figure for the machine, table or session. So if you put $100 in a slot machine, won $1,000 and played it back until you were left with $100, you would show a net of $0 for the machine. You don't have to track the $1,000 win, nor any of the other winning or losing spins you had. The treatment of gambling winnings is unfair in the U.S. Tax Code and the treatment would be far worse if players had to declare every winning bet on one form and every losing bet on another. We're at least allowed to aggregate the bets into some of sort of summary by table, machine or session.

Because you can't redeem the credits on your slot machine until you have $400, I would say that a player is not risking anything until he has $400. He's no worse off if he doubles and loses at $200. Because $200 can't be redeemed, it is worthless. But at $400 and higher, a loss is really a loss because he could have taken the money at any time.

It goes without saying that you'll need an attorney to advise you on the legality of your plan. As you pointed out, this sort of gambling is allowed in Macau only.

There's one part of your machine I don't understand. If it is free to play, how can you or anyone make any money off it?


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