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Ask the Slot Expert: Can casinos change slot paybacks electronically?5 August 2015
Many aspects of slot technology on the slot floor trail behind what can be done because security measures have to be devised and slot regulators have to approve the new technology.
In the early days of computer-controlled slots, the virtual reel layout table was stored on a chip. If the casino wanted to change the long-term payback on a machine, it had to order the new layout from the manufacturer and replace that chip in the machine. Depending on the jurisdiction, a slot technician at the casino could make the change, or a technician could make the change while a representative from the casino control commission observed, or someone from the commission had to make the change. And in some jurisdictions, changes were not even allowed.
Every time you open up the logic drawer in a slot machine and monkey around with the components in it, you run the risk of breaking something. As a result, casinos rarely changed the long-term paybacks on the machines on their slot floor.
In Las Vegas, casinos can make this change themselves. You may have noticed the collection of licenses on display at the cage. Casinos in Las Vegas have distributor and manufacturer licenses, in addition to their operator licenses. They still have to report the change to the state.
In the late 1990s, regulators got more comfortable with storing game program data on other forms of non-volatile memory (e.g., compact disc).
Changing long-term paybacks by changing a physical component in the machine is the most secure way of making the change. Many years ago, some slot technicians cheated their casinos by using a configuration menu on a dollar machine to change the denomination to pennies. A confederate would then insert a dollar bill, get 100 credits, and cash out 100 dollar tokens -- it was many years ago. As a result, regulators at the time required denomination changes to require chip changes.
In the 2000s, with the expansion of server-based gaming in Native American casinos and enhanced communications between gaming machines and servers, gaming commissions worked on regulations to allow game program data to be sent from a central server down to the machines, eliminating the need to visit each machine and change some component in it.
Downloadable games do give slot managers more flexibility, but the managers still have to acquire the different payback programs from the slot manufacturers. And then those pesky regulators come into play. No jurisdiction will allow a casino to make frequent (e.g., day/night, weekday/weekend, holiday) changes to the long-term paybacks on its machines.
In a sense, slot manufacturers are involved in long-term payback changes by law. The reel layouts for each long-term payback available for a machine are their intellectual property.
This is like the question of whether one should pay off a mortgage. There's no one answer and what's right for one person may not be right for another.
The best slot machines to play are the ones you have the most fun playing. That said, be aware that the Wide Area Progressive slots like Megabucks have lower long-term paybacks than other machines.
The best place to play is the casino you like playing in best. Locals casinos in Las Vegas usually have better-paying slots than strip casinos, but if you like hopping from one casino to another, shopping at the malls attached to the casinos, eating at restaurants associated with famous chefs and watching a volcano erupt, then you'll be happier staying on the strip.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at email@example.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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