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Ask the Slot Expert: Changing the Odds of Hitting the Megabucks Jackpot

17 April 2013

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Dear Mr. Robison:

I enjoy reading the Slot Expert blog on Casino City Times.

I have a question about the Megabucks slot machine.

Someone won the Megabucks progressive jackpot on April 10th. This win occurred only five months after the previous jackpot win. Due to the short period between jackpots being won it makes me believe that IGT will now reduce the odds of the progressive jackpot being won. This will cause me to be less inclined to play this game.

I have two questions:

1. Is it possible for the Megabucks slot machines to be programmed with other odds for the progressive jackpot being won?

Someone sent a question to the Slot Expert blog about the odds of the Megabucks progressive jackpot being won. This was the response.

"What if each reel has 368 stops and there is one Megabucks symbol on each reel? You would have one chance in 49,836,032 to hit the Megabucks, and these are the number on the Megabucks par sheet I have."

Is it possible for all of the Megabucks machines to be programmed with a different number of virtual stops?

Why do the odds have to be equal for each stop being hit? Maybe I am not understanding what a stop is. Even if there are 368 stops on a reel, can the stop with the Megabucks symbol still be lower than 1/368?

2. Can this legally be done?


Dear KS:

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

The Megabucks machine can be reprogrammed with different odds. I did a quick Google and I couldn't find any official announcement from IGT about changing the odds. The reset amount has been raised twice in the 27-year history of Megabucks, so it seems likely that the programming could have been changed at the same time. Because the reset amount was raised, the probability of hitting the top jackpot might have been lowered. Alternatively, they could have lowered the probabilities of hitting the other winning combinations. If they raised the reset amount and didn't make adjustments elsewhere, they would lower the house edge. I estimate that even doubling the reset amount from $5 million to $10 million decreases the house edge by only 3 percentage points, which IGT and the casinos may have been willing to give up to keep the machines competitive with multi-state lotteries.

The reels in the machine have 22 stops. A stop is a position in which a reel can stop. Each stop has either a symbol or a blank. With one jackpot symbol on each reel, the least likely we can make a combination is 1 out of 10,648 (22 x 22 x 22). The machine can't afford to pay a multi-million-dollar jackpot on a combination that likely, so the machine uses a virtual reel to map the 22 physical stops on a reel with 368 stops. Each physical stop must appear at least once on the virtual reel. Most appear multiple times, but the jackpot symbol appears only once. That gives us our chances of 1 out of 49,836,032.

There's no reason that each virtual reel has to have the same number of virtual stops, but each virtual stop has to be equally likely to be chosen during a spin. If you want the probability of landing the jackpot symbol on the payline to be less than 1/368, you have to add virtual stops to the virtual reel.

The programming can be changed legally, but doing so is cumbersome. There is paperwork to be filed with the Nevada Gaming Commission, plus someone will have to visit each machine to perform the reprogramming by changing one or more chips in the machines. The machines can't be reprogrammed with a push of a button.

Jackpots for all,

Your April 10 newsletter says something about a group in the Midwest ripping off a casino. They figured out what was coming on the draw in a video poker game.

My question is, can this technique also be used in online poker? I say yes, but I have been wrong before.

First, you do remember that what the group did was illegal, right?

That said, the programmers have learned from past mistakes. If the online programmers follow the best practices followed by slot machine programmers, the vulnerability exploited by the group in the Midwest no longer exists. The cards used on the draw are not chosen until you actually press the Draw button, so you don't have the advantage of being able to stop the machine with a result locked in and all the time in the world to figure out what that result is.

Online poker should follow a similar philosophy with cards being chosen only when they are needed.

Jackpots for all,

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