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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Does Pennsylvania have VLTs?

3 August 2016

Comment: I just read your recent column that began with this statement: "I know there is no such thing as the RNG from all my research and reviews from slot machine programmers...."

In Pennsylvania that man is 100 percent correct. When the machine is opened there is nothing inside except a monitor, a dedicated telephone line to Harrisburg and a few ancillary buttons and gadgets -- no motherboard, and no RNG.

The legal explanation is it is not a slot machine, in the classic sense of the word. It is a Video Lottery Terminal (VLT).

Granted, there most certainly has to be an RNG located in casino control commission for every machine in the state.

But let me give you an example where the state -- a true partner in PA taking 55 percent of the gross PROFITS -- can control payouts.

Let us say there are a billion combinations within the RNG. And let us say the odds of drawing a Royal Flush are one in 650,000. The house can legally tamper with those odds regardless of pay tables by putting in fewer Royal Flush balls into the ping pong hopper and adding a few more Full Houses, Flushes, Straights, and pairs of Jacks.

Why would they do it? Because few people are likely to leave the building when getting a few extra Full House hits, yet many would leave on a high domination Royal Flush win.

To take it a step further, one could do this on all the machines in the building. In fact, the proof lies in the fact that at some point almost every player is up some amount of money -- but negligible in regards to "leaving a winner." The only way that would be possible is a lot more bottom-heavy hits, with fewer jackpots.

But isn't this against the law? Not at all. The law only says the house must return 80 percent. And the law of competition says the house must return 88-98 percent. As long as my coin-in versus coin-out approximates those payouts on the vast majority of machines, the house has done nothing wrong. Therein lies what they hold so covert and close, calling it proprietary.

Response: There may not be an RNG in a VLT, but there most definitely is a motherboard. A computer system without a motherboard is a computer system without a brain or I/O subsystem. Even when the result of a spin is determined remotely, the machine must drive the graphics, handle payouts and respond to button presses. All that requires a program and that requires a CPU -- and a CPU requires a motherboard.

When a lottery commission runs slot machines, it advertises that fact on its website so potential players know where they can play. The New York Lottery Commission site has a list of all of the casinos/racinos in New York. Curious that there's nothing on the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission's site about VLTs.

I did find an article about Pennsylvania's testing lab in The Plain Dealer. It said, "The slot machine's programming determines everything from how often its lights flash and what sound effects it plays, to how often and how much a gambler wins. All slots have a random number generator that produces an unpredictable lineup of symbols with each spin."

Okay, that article was from 2011. Things might have changed. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has a video about the RNG accessible from its FAQ page. The lady in the video says that each slot machine has a random number generator.

The section on Slot machine minimum design standards in the Pennsylvania Code, furthermore, states that "the selection from the set of all possible combinations of symbols shall be made applying a pseudo random number generator." The section then goes on to give the requirements of the RNG.

Finally, I checked with the Pennsylvanis Gaming Commission. Doug Harbach, Director of Communications, wrote that "all 26,000+ casino machines are true slot machines with RNGs and are not VLTs." I found some articles about allowing bars and taverns to have machines and I was confused about whether that expansion had taken place. Mr. Harbach said that "there are no legal machines in bars and taverns that make payouts and would be connected to a VLT system."

I don't know what machines you saw the innards of. The slots in Pennsylvania's casinos are Las Vegas-style machines that independently determine their results.

You are correct, however, in that a video poker machine that does not determine results through a random selection of cards from a fair deck is not really video poker. VLT and Class II video poker machines randomly choose results and not cards -- that is, a central server randomly chooses the result. If you don't hold the right cards to lead to the predetermined outcome, some fairy godmother or other Deus ex Machina will appear to award you the predetermined amount.

Strategy is useless on these machines.


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