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Ask the Slot Expert: Dealing with sticky buttons on video poker machines2 November 2016
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.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at email@example.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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