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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Do casinos tighten machines when they're no longer new?

24 February 2016

Question: We travel from the U.K. to Vegas twice a year. Just about every trip there is a new slot machine that just about every casino has. We have noticed that when we play these machines on the first trip, they pay out very well.

Titanic was a great example. We won on it downtown, on the Strip and even at Laughlin. The next trip and all subsequent trips, we just could not win anything.

Are new slots adjusted to pay out more in their first few weeks/months on the casino floor?

Answer: Let's look at this theory. New machines on the slot floor are loose so players will get used to winning on them. When the players are hooked, the casino tightens the noose — er, machines — so players lose now and some keep playing trying to recapture the old magic.

The main problem with this theory is the word "new." Casinos on the Las Vegas strip get far more destination visitors like yourself who come once or a few times a year. Even though a machine may have been on the slot floor for a few months, it's still "new" to many destination visitors. At what point does a casino decide that a machine is no longer "new" and it's time to tighten it up?

And if a casino did tighten an "old" machine, how could it ensure that it wins enough money for the casino to make up for the money won by the players during the honeymoon phase? Wouldn't the casino risk alienating the "old" players and they don't play enough to give back what they won?

There's a slot machine that I particularly enjoy playing at my local casino. It's from Bally and combines Hot Shot and Quick Hit. The first time I played it, I won about $100. The next time, I lost about $200. The next time, I won back the $200 I had lost. The machine didn't change from one session to another. Sometimes I was lucky, sometimes the machine was lucky.

Similarly, sometimes I win on my favorite video poker machines. Sometimes I don't. I know the machines haven't changed because the only way to change the long-term payback on video poker is to change the pay table.

What we've both experienced is randomness. Sometimes we're lucky. Sometimes the luck is with the casino.

Even though most (maybe all) casinos in Las Vegas have a Manufacturers License (you can usually see it on display at the cage in a frame like a diploma) and can change the long-term payback on a machine, as a rule they rarely do it. They still have to file paperwork about the change with the state.

Casinos specify the long-term payback percentage they want on a machine when they order it, and the machine stays with that percentage until it comes off the slot floor.


Question: My group has been discussing the meaning of video poker royal flush frequency. Statistics say there are approximately 40K plus hands between royals. Does this mean the machine that hit the royal would on average see this many hands before repeating? Or, does this mean the player may have to see this many hands before he experiences the next Royal?

Who, where, and how does the 40k average play out? If it is the player, then when at home playing on a practice game and I hit a royal, am I lessening my chances of hitting at the casino?

Answer: Where does the average play out? I think the Beatles have your answer: "Here, there and everywhere."

The 40,000-plus number comes from taking the reciprocal of the probability of hitting a royal flush and gives us the mean waiting time (measured in hands) between occurrences of the event. If we looked at all the hands of video poker you played, practice or pay, we'd find the ratio of royals over the number of hands to be about 40,000. If we looked at practice and pay hands separately, we'd get the same result. If we looked at the results on a particular video poker machine, we'd get the same result. If we looked at the results on all the video poker machines in a casino, we'd get the same result. (OK, you may not play enough to home in on the statistic, but a machine's total play or the total play on all machines in a casino will be close — although, in yet another disclaimer, players' strategies affect their probabilities of hitting royals.)

There is no cosmic hand-counter keeping track of your play or the play on a machine and counting the number of hands since the last royal. This statistic is strictly for looking at past events. It says nothing about what will happen in the immediate future. A royal can hit at any time. It's not unusual to go fewer than 40,000 hands between royals (I'm at about 25,000 right now) and it, unfortunately, is also not unusual to go more than 40,000 hands between royals, even 80,000 or 120,000 hands.

Your chances of hitting a royal are the same on every hand, even if you just hit a royal in practice or in real play. The average number of hands between royals is just another way of looking at the probability of hitting a royal. You don't diminish your chanced of hitting a royal in the casino by having hit one at home on your computer.


Question: My local casino occasionally has $1,000 free play giveaways. If I were lucky enough to win one, how would I go about maximizing the amount (in cash) that I could take home?

Answer: First, let's ensure that everyone understands the ground rules. The free play is just that — play. You can't cash it out, you can only play it off. Whatever you win from the free play, however, is yours to take home.

With only $1,000, long-term payback doesn't really come into play and, unfortunately, randomness (luck) really does. We're in the short run here.

I would play a machine with a high hit frequency so you have a good chance of turning your free-play bet into take-home cash. Many video slots have high hit frequencies, so you could try one of them. I however would play a video poker machine. Most video poker pay tables have relatively high hit frequencies and you have a good shot at hitting a premium hand. In fact, I once won $1,000 from $10 in free play on a quarter video machine.


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