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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Do casinos cheat on video poker?

18 May 2016

Question: In choosing a video poker machine, we are taught to choose a pay table that gives us full pay, such as 9/6 for Double Bonus.

A full house has a probability of paying 1 in every 90 hands and quads 1 in every 425 hands, according to studies I have read in magazines and on the Internet. Who is to say that a casino doesn't buy a chip that is programmed to pay out full houses 1 in 200 hands and quads 1 in 700 hands?

Even though the pay table is acceptable, the number of times that the winning hands occur is far less frequent.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Answer: Who's to say that a casino doesn't buy a chip like you described?

The local gaming commission. In Nevada, video poker machines must deal from a fair deck. Every video poker machine operated or manufactured in Nevada must be fair. Many states modeled their slot regulations on Nevada's. No state would approve your chip. I think you can rest assured that any Class III machine built by a major manufacturer will be fair.

What's to prevent a casino from creating and putting in its own gaffed chip? Periodic random inspections by the state gaming commission. The gaming commission may also notice that the gaffed machine is winning more than it should compared with a fair machine.

I don't know of an instance in which a casino was caught gaffing a machine. Why should it? It already has the advantage.

I do know of an instance in which a route operator in Las Vegas was caught altering the programming in their video poker machines so royal flushes would not hit as frequently as they would on a fair machine. American Coin lost is gaming license and was shut down in February 1990. It also had to pay a $1 million fine.

Class III machines are fair, but the odds on Class II machines at tribal casinos or video lottery terminals that are just front-ends for pull tabs can be different from those dealing from a fair deck.

By the way, full-pay Double Bonus is traditionally 10/7. Because its long-term payback is over 100%, though, it's very difficult to find now and 9/6 Double Bonus may be the best available. Full-pay Jacks or Better is 9/6.


Question: In recent years, as you well know, the casinos have changed marketing strategies. They used to provide gambling, a chance to win some big money. I have walked away with sums like $1,500, $2,700, $3,700, and $5,400 from $1 slots. Far more than I have invested. Today the casino slots are strictly for entertainment. The penny machines are wonderfully glitzy, with frequent bonuses that are truly exciting. But they pay next to nothing in winnings. My experience is that they cost about $40 an hour, playing 40 to 60 cents at a time. And obviously, people are enjoying the experience, because the penny machines are crowded. But it's entertainment, not gambling.

My advice: Don't put $1 to $5 bets into these machines. You'll get as much fun out of 50 cents a bet.

Answer: The honeymoon with penny machines is definitely over for many players. I frequently get e-mails from players saying that they rarely win playing slots now. In the past, they write, they used to have winning trips fairly regularly, but now they almost never, if ever, leave the casino ahead.

The multi-coin/multi-line (penny) slots were originally designed to provide a lot of "time on device." Frequent, small wins gave players plenty of what used to be known as "tray money," which kept them in the game.

The problem with the original model was that having a relatively small bet spread over many paylines meant that even high-paying combinations paid little more than toll money. Your credit meter would go down steadily over time and it was very difficult to break even from a cold streak.

Landing a winning combination on a single-payline machine, on the other hand, could take a big chunk out of your cold streak deficit. You do have to keep feeding the machine during the cold streak, though.

Some penny machines today make it easier to win larger amounts. Two of the techniques they use are stacked symbols, in which a symbol is repeated multiple times on a reel, and extra-tall or extra-wide symbols, in which a symbol extends over two or more stops or two or more reels. Using the techniques, the math on these machines is closer to the math on a single-payline machine and you can win larger amounts more frequently — and, with luck, climb out of the hole created by a cold streak.


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