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Ask the Slot Expert: Changing the Odds of Hitting the Megabucks Jackpot17 April 2013
By John Robison, Slot Expert™
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,
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,
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.