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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Buying a used slot machine

25 December 2019

Question: I’ve been following a game on Youtube called Winning Tunnel video poker made by SIGMA. I’m trying to find it in a casino in south Florida, if it’s still there. It looks like a very exciting video poker game. If the machine is not in the casinos any longer, do you know how I can purchase it, if possible?

Answer: Around 2000, the line up of slot manufacturers at the gaming show included many names unknown today. IGT and Bally were there, but there was also Silicon Gaming, Mikohn Gaming and Sigma Game. Silicon Gaming was bought by IGT. Mikohn was purchased by Progressive Gaming International, but Progressive went bankrupt in 2009 and its assets were purchased by -- wait for it -- IGT.

Sigma was a Japanese company and it was the first foriegn-owned slot manufacturer to be licensed in Nevada. I remember walking around the Sigma display at a gaming show with Henry Tamburin. Sigma had just introduced its Where's Henry slot machine and Henry Tamburin commented that he liked the name.

According to this page on Slot Machine Makers, Sigma received a number of awards for innovation, including making one of the first slant-top slot machines. I certainly remember seeing Treasure Tunnel machines in the casinos (I guess Treasure Tunnel is the U.S. name for Winning Tunnel). Sigma is best known, though, for its mechanical horse racing game, Sigma Derby. The last Sigma Derby in Las Vegas -- and maybe the world -- is at The D in downtown Las Vegas.

I can't remember the last time I saw a Sigma slot machine in a casino. Sigma went out of business in 2010.

The first hurdle in buying a slot machine is ensuring that owning one is legal in your state. In Florida individuals can own machines that are older than 20 years. Many states have ages between 20 to 30 years because at this age the machines are no longer in casinos and the hardware and software is no longer used in currently produced machines. Treasure Tunnel came out around 1998, so you're probably just squeaking by on the age restriction.

I tell everyone who is thinking about buying a slot machine to think about it carefully. You might get tired of playing the machine. When I was in college, a friend of mine and I restored pinball machines. My house had a rec room that was a perfect workshop for working on a machine. I was able to play the machines as much as I wanted. After a while, I got tired of playing each machine we had. Even with all of that free practice, I'm only a mediocre pinball player.

Another thing to consider is what your options are when the machine breaks down. Can you find someone who can troubleshoot it and fix it? Are replacement parts still available?

You have an additional consideration. From what I've read, Sigma was the first manufacturer to include an integrated bill acceptor in its machines. If the machine does not accept coins, will the bill acceptor validate today's currency? Is there a maintenance menu option that lets you put credits on the machine?

I don't have any experience with any of the companies that sell used slot machines, so I can't recommend one. I suggest you Google "used slot machines" to see who sells them and continually Google the machine you want to see if there are any hits on one for sale.


Question: We are long-time video poker players and enjoy the game tremendously. However the Tunica Casinos have obviously made some quite noticeable adjustments to their software within the last few months. We still enjoy playing, but the results are not the same as in the last 12-14 years.

Also, as in the past, frequent players are unable to get reservations during the New Year's holiday week with the reservations restricted to corporate group bundles. It's a reasonable business move, but it sucks because we are the ones who support the casino during the year.

Thank you for listening.

Answer: Rooms are always harder to get and more expensive around a holiday or big event. In Atlantic City in the 90's, a big event was the weekend.

Tunica's casinos may have made some changes to their machines and may have installed new machines, but the video poker machines still deal the hands from a fair deck.

You didn't mention the type of changes that were made. Did they change the paytables? If so, not learning the strategies for the new paytables may be a factor in why your results got worse. And if the new paytables have lower long-term paybacks than the old ones, you will lose more money in the long run playing the new paytables now matter how perfectly you play them.

Many people write me to say that they're losing on video poker now so the casinos must have changed something in the machines. They never tell me exactly how much they play. They might say that the go regularly or frequently (whatever that means) and play for a few hours, but I have no idea how many hands they actually play.

Time on a video poker machine is measured in hands played. Most people don't play anywhere near enough hands to draw any valid conclusions about the machines. Their results are due to randomness, not changes to the machines.

I play nearly every day and by "nearly" I mean that I don't play on only two or three days in a month. There are still a few days left in December and I've played over 36,000 hands already. Today alone I played 4000 hands, but today is an anomaly.

A few columns ago I wrote that it takes millions of hands to zero in on the calculated probabilities of hitting the high-paying hands. I wasn't kidding. According to my records, I've played about 940,000 hands since I started keeping detailed records. I've only recently homed in on the expectation for hitting 4 Deuces. I have enough hands under my belt that even my current deuce drought of over 17,000 hands without four deuces increased my hands/deuces ratio to 5408 (the expectation on NSU is one set per 5347 hands).

Royals are way off. I figure that I'm owed six royals, with my current hands/royal ratio at 62,735 -- not very near the expected value of about 43,000 hands per royal.

I've had one bad session after another the past week or so. I'm just not winning like I used to. Others may play as much in a year as I do in a week or two. My results may represent someone else's yearly results.

I can see how a yearlong losing streak can make someone think that the games have been altered. I however know that the machines haven't changed and that I'm just experiencing a run of bad luck. It will get better. I was hoping that Santa would bring me a royal this year, but he didn't even leave me a set of deuces. Nevertheless, it will get better. Not soon enough, as far as I am concerned, but it will get better.

Your results will get better too.

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