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Ask the Slot Expert: Determining the outcome of a play on a machine with cascading reels

19 February 2020

Question: I changed my name legally. I do not want any association with my previous name. Does not seem too difficult except maybe the Social Security number.

If I win a jackpot at a casino I had previously won at with my previous name, will they question the two different names and same Social Security number?

Answer: I was in a similar situation a few years ago after moving to Las Vegas. I didn't have a name change -- the closest I've been to changing my name was using an additional middle name when I was in high school because I wanted my father's English middle name in my name along with my grandfather's Hungarian last name. I had a change of address.

I hadn't changed my address yet at this one casino. I planned to do it sometime during this one visit. I hit a royal playing dollar 9/6 Jacks before making the change. I knew the slot attendant who processed my handpay fairly well and he knew I had just moved to Las Vegas. He asked me if I had changed my address yet. I told him that I hadn't so he took my drivers license to make the update.

One of the terminals they used to process jackpots was 15 feet away from my machine, so I was able to watch the process. I saw him do a lot of typing and a lot of staring at the screen and looking puzzled. Then some more typing and some more staring. He came to me and said that he was having a problem and that he had to get his supervisor for help. His forehead had beads of sweat on it.

My friend freely admits that he's not that good with computers and his computer proficiency was given as an area that needed improvement in his last review. The last thing he wanted was to have to ask for help with the computer. In addition, the slot attendants were measured on how quickly they handled jackpots and I was well over the maximum it was supposed to take.

He got his supervisor to come to the terminal and it was deja vu all over again. Typing and staring and typing and staring.

About 20 minutes after I hit the royal, they figured out what was wrong. I had a line of credit at the casino and changes to my account had to be made at the cage. They couldn't be made on the casino floor. "So that's what the C means in the corner of the name/address display! Cage account."

When I get a tax-form jackpot (I was going to write "taxable jackpot," but they're all taxable even though only some generate a tax form), the attendant asks if I'm in the system and if anything has changed. It's like signing in at the doctor's office where they ask if you have a new address or new insurance.

As far as the casino is concerned, it seems to me that your situation is analogous to a name change after marriage or divorce. Go to the players club booth and tell the rep that you have legally changed your name. Give the rep your players card and your new ID. She'll update your account.

When you hit your jackpot, tell the slot attendant that you have a new name, but the same social security number. You might have to fill out a new W-9 form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification).


Question: I have a question about games with cascading reels such as Da Vinci Diamonds, Crystal Forest, and the various Planet Moolah slot machines.

When you hit the spin button and the random number generator is invoked, is it returning the results of the entire spin or just the first screen?

When you have a winning combination on the initial spin the winning symbols disappear and new symbols drop. It’s possible to have multiple winning combinations before the spin is completed.

Is the entire outcome of the spin determined at the moment the button is pressed, or is each cascade pulling its own random number to see if that cascade will be a winning combination or not?

Also, I read your recent column about how you use YouTube to do some research on slots. I have a channel where I show the good and bad (unfortunately more bad than good) slot machine sessions I’ve had. Most people have a limited budget when visiting a casino and I think showing them the good as well as the bad will help them spend their entertainment dollars wisely. No two sessions are ever going to be the same but watching these videos can help show a person where they can have the most fun regardless of winning or losing.

Take a look if you are interested. My channel is called STC11STC.

Answer: Catchy name for your YouTube channel. I suppose though that it's based on your initials. When I was choosing my Google Voice number about 15 years ago, I tried to get a number that spelled something so it would be easy for people to remember. That wasn't possible with the choices available in the 908 area code, so I picked a number that ended with my initials. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then I realized that no casual acquaintance would know my middle initial and even few of my friends knew it. Using my initials was not a good mnemonic to make my number memorable.

I hadn't come across your channel before so I looked at a few of your videos. Well done. It's amazing what people can do today with smartphone video and video editing software. The last time I did any serious video editing was when my brother-in-law and I put together a tape of my brother's wedding using two VCRs. You can image the quality of that masterpiece produced 30-something years ago.

I applaud your philosophy of giving your subscribers a realistic view of playing the games. Watching the video can give players an idea of whether they would enjoy playing a particular game.

You might want to consider putting together sizzle reels with your big hits too. I can see all the losing spins I want when I play the machines. Sometimes I want to see realistic game play, and sometimes I want to see the bonuses that I haven't hit yet.

Looking at changes to slot regulations over the years, I think there are two principles that regulators want the programmers to follow. One, make the outcome determination process similar to the way the old electro-mechanical machines worked. As a result, most machines get a number from the RNG for each reel and that number tells the program where to stop the reel. Now that the regulators who transitioned from electro-mechanical to stepper slots have retired, though, I think regulators are more comfortable with machines that work differently, like the games you listed.

Two, determine only what you need when you need it and nothing more. This principle applies mainly to video poker. Machines used to choose all 10 cards that might be needed for a hand when you pressed the Deal button. Then a manufacturer got sloppy with how it implemented the RNG and a group of cheats were able to determine from the dealt cards which cards were waiting to replace discards, so regulations were changed to require video poker machines to choose only five cards on the deal and then choose the replacement cards on the draw.

I haven't seen a par sheet for a cascading reels game, though I would love to see one to see how they handle figuring out the return when one play can have multiple sets of symbols. Then again, that kind of detail might not be on the par sheet. I don't remember the game, but I asked IGT if they could explain how they calculated the return of a particular event on a machine. They sent me the formula and a printout from the spreadsheet they used.

In any case, we can apply the principles to make an educated guess as to how these machines operate. I think we can safely say that the entire outcome of the play is not determined when you hit the Spin button.

When you hit the Spin button, the program polls the RNG multiple times to build the first screen. It's possible that it polls for each position on the screen, choosing each symbol in a column independently. It's also possible that instead of choosing a symbol for each position, it chooses from pools of three stacked symbols for each column. The argument in favor of the stacked symbols theory is that we see three wilds in a column more frequently than we would expect given how frequently we see a wild in any particular position in a column. In other words, if 1/3 is the probability of landing a wild in a row in a column, then 1/9 would be the probability of landing a column of wilds and we see three wilds in a column more frequently than that.

After the symbols in a winning combination have been removed from the screen, the program needs to replace them. It might choose each position independently or it might choose from pools of combinations of three symbols, two symbols and one symbol, depending upon how many symbols it needs to fill the column.

I watched your Crystal Forest vs. Planet Moolah video. I suppose winning 15 cents on seven spins in the bonus is better than nothing -- just barely. I too have never gotten the unicow. You'll get it yet.

And if you want to see what getting the unicow is like, I found a number of unicow videos on YouTube.


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