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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Does stopping when you're ahead work on slots?

10 April 2013

Last week you wrote:

A group in the Midwest was able to figure out the RNG function in a video poker machine and, with that information, they were able to figure out the five cards that would be used to replace discards. Obviously, they were caught.

"Caught" implies "and prosecuted for cheating" to me. Was that the case? If the players were able to figure out the RNG algorithm on their own, as opposed to having inside information about it like Ron Harris did; that would be considered skill, not cheating. Certainly casinos would ban them after they were "caught", but could they actually be prosecuted?

The Midnight Skulker

Dear Midnight,

Good questions. Were they prosecuted? No, the charges were dropped, presumably because the casino did not want to publicize the fact that some of its machines were vulnerable. I suppose it's like the way banks used to keep hacking of their websites and ATM networks quiet.

Could they figure out the RNG algorithm on their own? No, I think that is impossible. They bought a machine, took it apart, and looked at the program in the chips in the machine.

Could they be prosecuted? Maybe not for buying a machine, disassembling the software running it, and programming another computer to simulate the RNG, but definitely for using an electronic device to try to get an edge on the casino. If they had been able to simulate the RNG in their heads, the situation would be the same as counting cards -- using your brain power to do better. But they had to depend on the brain power in a separate device.

You can read more about the group and its exploits in The Art of Intrusion by Kevin Mitnick. An excerpt is online at The Ethical Hacker Network website.

Jackpots for all,
John


I know, regardless of some opinions, that all jackpots or bonuses on a machine are only the result of the RNG and the exact moment you hit that magic button to hopeful prosperity. I've sat down after someone has left a machine on many an occasion and watched them boil over when I hit a bonus on that same machine. Or, on the other hand, the same has happened to me. I was wondering if even though you do not hit that exact bonus, can the RNG go to a loose mode at which the numbers favor some kind of bonus better or worse than the one hit?

Secondly, I guess it's just coincidence, but it's crazy how many times you play a machine and get a bonus on your last pull before your money runs out. Recently a friend told me of a guy he knew who only put 10 dollars at a time in a machine. If he didn't win more than his 10, he would move on. He said he's hardly ever lost. I've tried it recently and it seems to be working as well.

Thanks for your time. I always enjoy your articles.

Thanks for the kind words about my articles.

RNGs don't have loose modes or tight modes. Random events can have streaks in which more outcomes favor one side over the other, but those streaks are just a consequence of randomness. There is nothing in the machine that tells the RNG to be a little more generous to the player for a while.

In fact, RNGs can't be tight or loose. They just produce a stream of numbers. It's what the program running the slot machine does with those numbers that determines whether a number is good for the player.

Moving on to your second point, it does sometimes seem that a machine knows when you are about to give up on it and it hits something good. One could even think that the machine knows when your credit meter is low so it gives you a little something to keep you playing. Never mind that any programming like that is illegal in the United States.

That guy's playing method sounds like it can't lose. Put $10 in. Have more than $10 on the credit meter, cash out and move on. Everyone knows that the more you play a machine, the more the house edge eats away at your bankroll. And everyone also knows that you're almost always ahead at some point, right?

Wrong. Many times you will have a profit at some point in your play, but you will also have sessions in which you never get to breakeven, let alone profit. What usually happens with these "stop when you're ahead" strategies is you end up cashing out with small profits that are more than offset by the times you lose your entire session bankroll.

If the strategy is working for you, great. I never argue with success.

Jackpots for all,
John


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