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Ask the Slot Expert: Do casinos on cruise ships cheat?

15 May 2019

Question: I travel to Vegas often and take quite a few cruises, mostly on RCL. I play lots of video poker and blackjack.

Obviously the VP pay schedules are pretty bad at sea. Having played millions of hands of VP over the years, I can’t help but feel that the results of each deal are not as random as they would be in a regulated Vegas casino. For instance, I know that in Vegas it would be illegal to program a VP machine to, say, never deal four aces, but at sea I would imagine it could easily be done.

Concerning blackjack, I have a friend who plays a ton but success always eludes him at sea. I’ve heard rumors that some cruise lines actually remove cards from the decks before inserting them in the shufflers, obviously in order to give the house a greater advantage.

I know these are somewhat sensitive questions as they allude to unfair practices, but I just wondered if you’d heard about this before and if you think there’s any possibility they could be true?

Answer: Casinos at sea may not be subject to the same regulatory requirements as land-based casinos, but it's not a free-for-all, either. According to the ICCL (International Council of Cruise Lines) Gambling Guidelines Policy Statement, "all equipment purchased and installed on cruise vessels will meet the regulatory standards of the Nevada Gaming Control Board or other licensed jurisdiction for payback and internal software."

I'm a little concerned with the phrase other licensed jurisdiction, but if the other jurisdiction is in the United States, then its regulations are based on Nevada's regulations, so the machines should be fair.

And consider this: You said that the video poker pay tables are pretty bad. If you were going to gaff a machine, wouldn't you start with a good pay table and then alter its programming so it didn't pay back what it should? Wouldn't you create a wolf in sheep's clothing instead of a wolf in wolf's clothing?

As for blackjack, I don't know what the procedures are for shuffling machines, but I assume that the casino has to periodically replace the cards in the machines. You should be able to watch the dealer break the seals on the packs, maybe do some manual shuffles on the cards, and then load the cards in the shuffler. I hope that you'll be able to see that all of the cards in the sealed packs end up in the shufflers.

I have heard all of these rumors before. Any time some players have a streak of bad luck, they want to find an explanation so they blame their losses on cheating by the casino. All of the pros I know blame their bad luck streaks on, well, bad luck.

The cruise ship has a captive audience, no competition, clientele that turns over completely after a few days, and very little repeat business. It's already giving you bad rules and McCarran-like long-term paybacks.

Would a cruise line risk the bad press it would get if it got caught cheating?


Question: On the subject of honesty at the casino: This is outstanding. While at the ATM, I did not realize I dropped my small wallet with all my cards, drivers license, and a $100 bill. I canceled all the cards when I got back home. I felt bad of course.

Much to my surprise, a few days later a letter arrived in the mail with the wallet and everything that was in the wallet — including the money. I met and rewarded this honest lady. Honesty personified.

Answer: Thanks for sharing your story.

Lost cell phones seem to be attracted to me. While playing video poker alone at a bank a few months ago, I suddenly noticed a cell phone sitting on the machine next to me. The phone wasn't locked, so I checked one of the contacts figuring that I would ask what Fred's last name was to prove ownership in case someone came back looking for the phone. In retrospect, I suppose that knowing that the phone was left on that machine was probably enough to prove ownership. No one came back to claim the phone, so I dropped it off at the security desk. Later that night I got picked in that casino's drawing. Good karma?

A few years ago I found a cell phone in the grass on the side of the road when I was walking home from Starbucks. (My doctor was happy to hear that I walk about two miles a day a few days a week. I didn't mention that I'm usually walking to Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels, or SmashBurger.) This phone was also unlocked, so I was able to get the owner's e-mail address and I sent him an e-mail.

A few hours later I heard a commotion at my next door neighbor's front door. A couple of strangers and my neighbor were arguing back and forth with the strangers saying that their phone-locating software said their phone was at his address and my neighbor saying that he didn't know anything about their phone.

I had left the phone upstairs in my office after sending the e-mail. I went upstairs to get the phone, which was making an awful racket now. After I opened my front door, I heard the visitors say that maybe the phone was next door instead.

Bingo! Another happy reunion, though this reunion of cell phone and owner was somewhat less emotional than the reunions of returning soldier and family members you see in the last segment of the news.


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