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Ask the Slot Expert: Comments about server-based video poker

25 March 2020

Question: I tend to agree with the person that questioned the fairness of server-based video poker. My experience mirrors what he complained about.

My theory of what has happened to video poker players losing has to do with smart phones. The novice vp player can use their app to play perfectly. So the video poker programmers have installed sub-programs that send info to the RNG to eliminate certain strings of results. Not impossible, right?

Obviously illegal in most jurisdictions, but who will call the regulators. Just bad luck, or randomness prevails, is the common answer. Players have a recourse, like you say, but what sick, degenerate video poker player after millions of hands played would follow through?

My video poker program is old and the throw away hands (RAZGU) do not appear 5 or 6 times in sequence like they do on the new server-based games. Certainly you will say anecdotal evidence; but when a majority of anecdotes line up, there could be truth to the evidence.

This is my advice to playing video poker on server-based machines: If a razgu hand is dealt on a DDB game that contains a single 2,3, or 4. Hold that card. JMO, of course.

Answer: What you described in your second paragraph is not impossible, but it's not really possible in the way you described.

The RNG does nothing more than generate a series of numbers. The RNG function has no idea whether a number generated corresponds to a Megabucks symbol, an ace of spades, or any other game element.

It's up to the program running the slot machine to do something useful with the numbers from the RNG. The program determines what the number from the RNG corresponds to.

Over 30 years ago, a company called American Coin placed gaffed programs in many of their video poker machines. The programs in the machines in the field did not match the program they submitted to the Gaming Control Board. When a player achieved a royal flush, the program in the field would occasionally change the royal to some other hand.

The RNG function wasn't altered. A secondary decision was inserted into the program flow to throw away the result determined by the RNG and display another result instead. Changing the results from the RNG is how this kind of cheating is accomplished, not changing the RNG.

I think there are sick, degenerate video poker players who would report an anomaly to the Gaming Control Board. Also about 30 years ago, a number of video poker players thought they had detected non-random dealing in certain situations. If you held two pair and discarded one card, for instance, the replacement card would be the same rank but a different suit as the discarded card more frequently than it should have been.

If you think something is happening more frequently than it should, every time it does happen reinforces that belief and the times it doesn't happen don't register in your memory. Once the players tracked the replacement cards they received in these situations, they discovered that there was no bias in the selection of the replacement cards. The only bias was confirmation bias. And that's the problem with anecdotal evidence. People see what they want to see.

The frequency of throw-away hands depends on the paytable. How many times in a row I don't hold any cards doesn't register with me, but a streak of losing hands does. Losing hands on NSU, for example, are more frequent than on Bonus Poker. I've had many streaks of four or more losing hands in a row playing NSU. It's less frequent, but I've also had streaks of losing hands on Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker. Those times stick out because I see my credit meter falling and wonder whether I'm going to have to put in more money or redeem points to continue playing.


Today marks the beginning of the second week of the big shutdown in Las Vegas. I could deal with this shutdown better if I could still go to the casinos and see a movie now and then.

Speaking of the movies, the precautions taken by my primary theater changed on an almost daily basis. First, like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, it stopped refilling refillable containers. Even though you would get new, disposable containers for your soda and popcorn, you would still get the discounted price for using the refillable containers, according to an email announcing the new policy. The only thing the email didn't explain was how you were to prove that you had purchased the refillable containers.

I went to the theater the day this policy went into effect. I brought both my refillable popcorn bucket and drink cup with me to prove that I had purchased them even though I thought bring them into the theater defeated the purpose of the policy. The purpose was to keep food (if you can consider popcorn and soda to be food) containers that the theater had no control over and that could possibly be carrying containers with the virus into the theater.

I showed the popcorn steward my refillable bucket. He reached out to take it and I reminded him that he was now supposed to give me the equivalent amount of popcorn in a disposable bag. He said the policy was new and he wasn't used to it yet. The cashier, on the other hand, gave me a disposable drink cup when he saw my refillable cup.

That was a Friday. The following Monday, the chain announced that it was suspending reserved seating and selling only half the seats available in each theater. Patrons could do their own physical distancing in the theater. I suppose that the company had to suspend reserved seating because their sales system could either stop selling seats when the number of seats sold reached a certain number (usually the number of seats in the theater) with open seating or when all the seats in the theater had been reserved. There was no way to put a cap on the number of seats sold with reserved seating.

I really like reserved seating, so I was disappointed to see this change. I was never affected by it, though, because all the theaters closed before I had a chance to go back.

I would give myself a B for taking actions in anticipation of a shut down. Listening to the gloom-and-doom reports on the radio while driving away from Red Rock on March 12, I decided that there was no good news ahead for casinos and airlines. I sold my casino and United Airlines stocks the next day. Quite by accident I caught the uptick on Friday the 13th and was fortunate to be out before the meltdown the following Monday.

As I wrote last week, I tried to use a dining credit coupon at Suncoast on March 17, but the restaurant wouldn't honor it that day because it was a holiday. I never thought St. Patrick's day was a Holiday, but maybe I'm biased because my ancestors were English and Scottish, not Irish. At least I had the foresight to redeem my slot ticket and I decided that I would now redeem tickets when I was done playing instead of holding on to them for the next time I played.

I should have driven down the street to Red Rock to redeem a ticket I had from there, but I was going to be there the next day and I thought I could just redeem my ticket when I was done playing that day. That evening Governor Sisolak ordered all gaming to stop at midnight.

I wanted to see what a casino looked like with all the machines shut down and no players playing, so I went to Red Rock the next morning. I also thought there would still be some staff available to handle transactions like redeeming tickets and paying off markers before all gaming operations shut down.

I never got beyond the guard at the entrance to the parking lot. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to redeem a slot ticket. He said all the slot machines were turned off. I was about to explain that I didn't want a slot machine, just a ticket redemption kiosk or a cashier. Instead, I said that I only need a cashier and asked if the cage was open.

He said that whole building was closed. That wasn't really true because they still had to deal with the guests who were staying at the hotel. My slot department friends, in addition, said that they had to go back to work on Wednesday because there were a number of close-out procedures the slot and table games departments had to do before completely shutting down. In any case, the building was closed to visitors like me. Even the Lucille's BBQ restaurant from which I had planned to get takeout was going to be closed until gaming resumed and the building was re-opened.

So I did two smart things and missed the boat on one, but I'm still giving myself a B because I'm grading on a curve.

The lag in restocking grocery store shelves creates a dilemma. Do you keep going to the store each day in the hopes that it finally has what you want in stock and risk coming into contact with an infected person while the number of infected people is still relatively low, or do you wait until you have a better chance of getting what you need but also a better chance of encountering an infected person?

I've never seen so many people leaving a grocery store empty-handed before. I thought I would be able to try a number of recipes I've been wanting to try, but getting the ingredients has been impossible.

I think my local Albertson's put away all the shopping baskets, so you have to take a cart now. I heard the shoplifting alarm go off many times yesterday while I was cruising the aisles to see if anything I needed was back in stock. I was out of luck, so I pushed the cart back to the vestibule where all the carts congregate. As soon as I went through the first set of doors, the shoplifting alarm went off and the cart's wheels locked up. I guess it was a problem that my cart never passed through a checkout area. Now I understood why the alarm sounded so many times and why there was a gaggle of empty carts abandoned near the self-checkout area.

At least I was finally able to get eggs today.

Paraphrasing Dr. Fauci, the best outcome would be to look back on this time and think that the social distancing, shutdowns, self-quarantining and isolation were an overreaction to the pandemic and things weren't as bad as some predicted.

Remember then that the reason we didn't experience the worst-case scenario is because we took the actions we're taking now.

Stay home and stay healthy.

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