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Best of John Robison
Ask the Slot Expert: Did Tunica's casinos tighten their slots after the 2011 flood?4 May 2016
Answer: Hmm. I would like to see your research and "reviews from slot machine programmers" indicating there is no such thing as an RNG. If there is no RNG, can you please tell me how the machines determine where to stop their reels?
I'd also liked to know how you determined that the long-term paybacks on the slots in Tunica's casinos have fallen below 80%. You really can't estimate long-term payback by playing a machine — unless you play a few hundred thousand spins!
I think it is possible that the overall percentage returned to players has decreased in the last decade. This decrease is not because casinos have decreased the long-term payback they want for each denomination (i.e., ordering 90% long-term payback quarter machines instead of 92%). The decrease arises from low-paying penny machines replacing higher-paying nickel, quarter and dollar machines.
In any case, in some jurisdictions a long-term payback of 80% or below is illegal. And even if a jurisdiction allows paybacks that low, competition keeps them much higher.
The proliferation of penny machines also explains why we see fewer jackpots today. Many players play less than full coin on penny machines, so they'll never hit a machine's top jackpots. In addition, with bets spread over so many paylines, even a 1,000-for-1 payout on a winning combination may only be enough for a couple of buffets.
As for feeding the machines the last time you were in Las Vegas, that happens. I remember one trip many (many) years ago that was very profitable. I just couldn't lose. When I got home, I booked another trip to come back a few weeks later.
On the second trip, I just couldn't win. Machines that were my personal ATMs on the first trip turned into bill-sucking vampires on the second.
My bankroll nearly gone, I had to do many free or nearly free things on the second trip. A one-shot slot tournament near the Flamingo; winner gets $50. A $20-for-$10 promotion at the Riviera. Pay $10 and get $10 worth of credits on special slot machines. If you won more than $20, you kept the money. Otherwise you could choose a gift from their display case of $20 gift items that were really worth about $5.
Moving on to not getting one hit from $100 played on a dollar machine, I would like to know how much you were betting per spin and what machines you were playing. The lowest hit frequency I've seen on a traditional, reel-spinning machine is about 5%. If you played 100 spins at $1 each, it would not be that unusual to get no hits instead of the five we expect. (I once played a machine that I knew had a hit frequency of about 5% and went 80 spins without a hit.) If you played only 33 spins at $3 each or 20 at $5, it's even more likely that you would get no hits. Even if the hit frequency was a more typical 10%-15%, it would not be very unlikely to get no hits from 20-30 spins.
Casino promotions are inevitable in most areas. I attended a seminar about effective casino promotions at the last Global Gaming Expo. One attendee complained that he was running giveaways and sweepstakes each month to match what his competitors were doing and asked if there was any way to break the cycle. The expert on the panel said that he answered his own question. As long as the competition was running these promotions, he had to run them too.
In any case, eliminating the promotions would not raise slot paybacks. First, in many casinos, the cost of the promotions is charged to a marketing budget. And second, the amount given away is so small compared to what the casino wins each month that even if the cost of the promotions were added back to the machines, it would have a negligible effect on their long-term paybacks.
Whenever there is a significant event in a casino, players always claim that it caused the casino to lower the paybacks on its machines. Heck, even an insignificant event can cause players to have that belief.
Many years ago I was doing fairly well on a machine at Caesars Palace. A slot tech was working on the machines in the area. He asked me if he could make a quick change to the machine. All he had to do was lower the volume a little, as he had done to the other machines in the area.
Of course, I started losing after he lowered the volume. I couldn't help thinking that the change in volume caused the change in my luck, even though I knew that my subsequent losing streak was just a normal consequence of randomness.
The flood you're referring to took place in May 2011. The Mississippi Gaming Commission, fortunately, has an archive of Slot Win Reports on its site. We can compare the win percentages before the flood with those after to see if the casinos really have lowered the long-term paybacks on their machines. Let's compare the numbers from March 2011 and March 2012 for the Northern region (Tunica).
Right away we have a problem. There are no penny machines on the 2011 report. We do have nickels and their win percentage decreased from 7.51% to 6.72%. Nickel players were actually doing a little better. This denomination is a bad one to look at, however, because the nickel machines are all being replaced with penny machines. I wouldn't be surprised if they're all gone in a few more years (there are still 215 machines reported on the March 2016 report).
There is also a drop in the number of quarter machines and the amount played on them. But the win on the machines stayed about the same, 6.94% in 2011 and 6.89% in 2012. At the dollar denomination, the number of machines is about the same (1,293 in 2011 and 1,120 in 2012) and the win percentage is also about the same (5.46% versus 5.50%).
The overall win percentage for the region actually decreased from 8.02% to 7.88%, but I wouldn't read much into this drop because there were some incredibly lucky $25 and $100 slot players in March 2012. I backed out the numbers for those denominations in both years and got an overall win percentage of 8.06% for 2011 and 8.08% for 2012.
The numbers don't support your contention that the Tunica casinos tightened their machines after the flood.
As I said before, every time there is a significant event — an adverse event — affecting a casino, my inbox gets flooded with e-mails complaining that the casino tightened its machines because of the event.
I've learned to take these claims with a grain of salt, no matter how many of them I receive. The players who write do not make up a random sample. I rarely hear from the players who did about the same or even won more after the event.
Only the players who lose write, and they're looking for some larger explanation than normal randomness and a run of bad luck.
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.
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