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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are slot machines 'controlled'?

4 September 2013

I just read the letter from Barbara about the "controlled" machines.

I am a computer programmer, mathematician and a games player. I have programmed many games of chance and understand probability, statistics and game theory.

Now, to Barbara's letter.

First, ALL MACHINES ARE CONTROLLED. THEY ARE PROGRAMMED!!!

Second, anyone who complains about losing at a casino is just delusional. All the conspiracy theories noted are at best made up to justify the "I shouldn't be losing" delusion.

Third, John, I disagree with you (which I rarely do). The machines do hypnotize. It is a physiological phenomenon known as Random, Repetitive, Positive Results. As long as you win sometimes, our psychology plants in our brain that we can win again (a variation of Pavlov's dog experiments). However, the mathematicians have figured out those percentages and programmed (CONTROLLED) the machines to give back less than you put in.

Fourth, the Lottery commissions run the absolute worst games (in payback percent). Anyone who plays in other than Vegas is simply depositing their bank account.

Fifth, the Lottery people also run those scratch cards and state lotteries, which have less than 50 percent payback! Where are the complaints about those games?

Get real, people. Vegas has the best paybacks (off-Strip, of course). BUT YOU STILL LOSE!

Finally, it is not gambling. It is entertainment. Unless you realize that, you are fodder for the gaming mill and will lose your shirt.

Thanks for your letter. Let me add to your points.

First, what exactly are the machines programmed to do? Contrary to some players' beliefs, they are not programmed let them win a little and then take it all back and then some.

The machines are programmed to one primary thing: Choose an outcome at random from a pool of outcomes. All the other functions (handling currency, printing tickets, awarding the proper number of credits for a winning combination, reporting your play to the players club system) are all ancillary to the machine's primary task.

Why does the house have an edge on the machines? Because the total value of the pool of outcomes is not high enough. Let's say, for example, we have a machine with 100 possible outcomes and the total value of those outcomes is 99. We have a 99 percent payback machine. Increase the value of the pool to 102 and we have a machine with a 2 percent player edge with no change in programming.

My point is that, technically, the machines are not programmed to have a house edge. They have a house edge because of the virtual reels and paytable. One could consider them to be part of the program, but they're really data for the program to act on.

We are very close to agreeing on your third point. Intermittent, unpredictable rewards are a very potent method to get people, players and lab rats to repeat a behavior. Even though some players look like they're in a trance, I wouldn't go so far as to say they were hypnotized.

Lotteries (lotto drawings and scratch-off tickets) are some of the worst bets you can make. Maybe even the worst. There may not be a table game bet or side bet that has as high an edge.

Casinos run by lotteries are another matter. According to the American Casino Guide, the long-term paybacks in Delaware's and New York's racinos are in the low 90s. Maybe not as high as those in the locals casinos in Las Vegas, but better than those in many casinos run by corporations. Casinos run by lotteries offer much better bets than lottery retailers.

Finally, I'm going to disagree with half of your last point. Playing in a casino is entertainment. But it is also gambling. Players have a chance to win, but it is more likely that they will lose. Players should bet with money that is earmarked for entertainment and that they can afford to lose. It's OK to hope for a win, but they should be prepared for a loss.

Thanks again for your thoughtful letter.

John


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