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Ask the Slot Expert: Changing a Machine's Payback

28 December 2011

By John Robison

I have a question regarding updating software on machines. I play at Firekeepers casino in Battle Creek, Michigan. I've read many times in your articles that machines can't be altered for change of payout without paperwork being filed.

I've played on a machine that would pay out a pretty good amount of money, if you have the money to stay on it to get to that point. The software was "upgraded" by the casino, since that point there is virtually no winning on that machine anymore.

So I guess my question is twofold: Is there a check and balance system in place to monitor how a casino changes the payout amount? If they are fined, is the fine sizeable enough to deter them from continuing the process?

Thank you,

Dear Jeri,

States want to be able to ensure that they are getting their fair share of the gaming revenue, so they need to know the long-term paybacks on the machines in the casinos. Casinos have to notify their gaming authorities when they change the payback on a machine.

What is your evidence that the software was "upgraded" on your machine? The fact that you're not doing as well on the machine as you have in the past is not evidence that something has changed on the machine. I've played machines that have been hot for me on one visit and cold on another and I was able to verify with the slot director that nothing had changed on the machines.

As for checks and balances, in some states casinos can't access the logic drawers in their machines. Someone from the gaming authority must make the change. In other states, someone from the gaming authority must be present to witness the change. In Nevada, casinos can change payback chips themselves if they have a manufacturers license, which they all do. In most (if not all) states, machines are subject to surprise inspections in which someone from the gaming authority verifies that a machine has not been tampered with and the chips in the machine match the reference chips approved by the authority.

As for a penalty, the state could revoke the casino's gaming license. That's sufficient to keep casinos following the rules.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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