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Ask the Slot Expert: Dealing with sticky buttons on video poker machines

2 November 2016

Question: Can you shed some light on a sticky situation?

During the non-winter months, when we go to Arizona and Nevada, if we want to play video poker we are stuck playing at the Potawatomi casinos (Milwaukee and Carter) and Mohican North Star in Wisconsin. They are full of video poker machines that have sticky buttons -- not only at the poker bars, but all over the casinos.

My questions are two-fold.

1) If you are dealt a winning hand, say 3 of a kind, or a near royal flush, say 4 to the royal, if you hit the Deal/Draw button and it sticks or one of the cards you attempted to hold does not hold right away (either by using the button or touching the screen) and you have to repeatedly hit the button or touch the screen to get it to hold, I assume, because of the time delay in finally getting the cards to hold or the deal/draw button to work, you will not get the same hand you would have if the buttons worked right away because the random number generator is still running until you actually are able to draw the new card(s) you want. Is that correct, or would you get the same result as if you were able to draw new cards right away?

2) I have had the following experience at least two times at each of the above mentioned Wisconsin casinos with no satisfactory outcome. Playing Bonus Poker Deluxe, I was dealt 3 of a kind. I pressed the buttons to hold all three cards. The last of the set of three did not hold, and of course the card needed to give me 4 of a kind popped up in one of the two open spots. I put the machine's light on to call for help, and when a slot tech finally arrived I got the "too bad, so sad" song and dance that I didn't hold the card. (In all four instances they verified that the matching fourth card was indeed where I told them I had held it, but the machine let go and didn't hold the card.)

At Carter, they looked at the previous cards, and said, "Yes, you had it. It would have made 4 of a kind." They took a written report, and said somebody would get back to me. Four months later I am still waiting to hear -- and they have just as many sticky buttons as ever.

I have had a number of smaller winning hands, flushes and full houses, etc., paid to me in Las Vegas casinos after they verified that the cards were there in the background hands, but not at Indian Casinos in Wisconsin. During a session at the Grand in downtown Vegas, I got paid five to six times on five to six different bar machines with winning hands that did not hold due to sticky buttons.

I admit I play fast, and occasionally it may be my fault, but when you have sticky buttons the casino needs to take some responsibility and at least fix the damn machines, especially if they don't pay you for losing the win. And more than once I have found machines where you touch the card on the screen, and it holds the card next to it instead of the card you touched -- what's with that?

Why the heck can't IGT, Bally's and others design machines that are drink/spill proof so the damn machines keep working -- and without that crappy plastic put over the top of the machines!

One of the slot techs at North Star said you have to be more careful and hold the cards. I told him, "Why don't you just fix the machines so the buttons work and hold the cards?" He tested the machine and said it works. A few hands later -- with him standing there -- a card didn't hold. After the hand was played, he went back into the test mode and the button was supposedly working.

All I got was a losing argument and almost thrown out when I told him, "I could take you all around this casino and show buttons on machines that have not been working for the last six months. Why don't you just fix them?"

I had the same thing happen in Tunica at Sam's Town at the upstairs VP bar (which has since closed) and six months apart, the same buttons on the same machines were not working. I finally started turning the lights on, and got slot techs to come and repair some ten to twelve buttons on six or seven different poker machines. Maybe that's why they finally closed the upstairs, which is too bad because now they have very little VP and we don't visit Tunica anymore -- or if we do, not Sam's Town.

Answer: The instant you hit the Draw button the software polls the RNG to draw the card(s) needed to replace your discards. So, you're right that you would have gotten different cards had the buttons worked right the first time.

Most machines have the "Malfunction voids all pays and plays" disclaimer somewhere on the glass or help screens. Here in Nevada, the casino could just return your bet in the event of a button malfunction. As you pointed out, though, many will pay what's called a PR Jackpot in the interest of good customer service.

It's good that you alerted the slot techs to the sticky buttons. They don't have any way to know when one or more buttons aren't working. It's bad, though, that the casinos did not repair or replace the buttons. Cleaning the contacts costs next to nothing and replacement buttons cost about $10 each.

One time when I ran into a slot tech friend of mine, he told me that because the casino was in between conventions and sort of slow, they were going to catch up on all of the outstanding maintenance issues on the slot floor. I can see not giving sticky buttons the highest priority, but a month should be more than enough time to look into the button problems, let alone six months.

Touchscreens can also be problematic. They can sometimes go out of alignment. When the software tries to figure out what was on the screen where you touched it, it can be wrong -- for example, selecting the card next to the one you really want. I never use the screen to hold cards, but I have noticed that I sometimes have to touch slightly off instead of dead-on center to get the machine to select the correct item in menus or bonus rounds.

Speaking of never using the screen, about a year ago I sat down at a video poker machine and put some money in it. I pressed the Deal button and discovered that none of the Hold buttons worked. I called over a slot floorperson and told him that I couldn't play the hand because the buttons didn't work. He said that I could always use the screen. I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought of that. I said that I never use the screen so it didn't occur to me that I could. He filled out a maintenance report and I played the hand using the screen, cashed out and moved to a machine whose buttons worked.

Something interesting happened to me at another video poker machine about a month ago. At this casino, the very bottom of the screen shows the number of points you've earned that session. On this machine, the line was almost completely off the bottom of the screen. The display needed to be shrunk a little so the top of the paytable and the bottom information line could be clearly seen.

I told a tech about the problem with the info line. He said there was nothing he could do about it. He could only shift the screen up and down; he couldn't shrink it. And he said that he couldn't shift the screen up any more because the top line of the paytable had to be completely visible. And, I'll add that regulations require that the paytable be visible but not that information line.

Now, I want to pose a question about playing machines with flaky buttons. At what point does a player have to assume responsibility for playing the machine? Once a player knows that a machine's buttons don't always work when pressed, isn't it incumbent upon the player to either move to another machine or be especially careful if he chooses to continue to play the machine?

I can see seeking redress the first few times it happened -- the first time could have been a fluke, the second a coincidence, but by the third we have a pattern -- but after that, it's either time to move or time to slow down and ensure that all of the cards you had intended to hold were indeed held. After all, it is the player's responsibility to check what cards were held before hitting the Draw button.

The weakest links on any electronic gaming device are the mechanical parts. Given the amount of use and abuse that these buttons get, plus the harsh environment of smoke, ashes and spills in which they have to function, I'm amazed that I don't find more bad buttons on machines. I suppose that the casinos I go to have better maintenance plans than the ones you go to.


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