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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Losing at server-based video poker machines

4 December 2019

Question: My family and I play Double Double Bonus and Triple Double video poker. It used to be sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. The game seemed fair.

About two years ago the casino we go to took out the old machines and went to a server-based format. It is not just us. All the people we talk to there say the same thing. Winning is way down, almost non-existent. Since that time we have had only one small win. We never get much play for our money.

Can the newer server-based poker games be manipulated so you do not get as many four-of-a-kinds and royals?

FYI, my brother went to a casino four hours from our house and found the old-style Game King video poker games, which our casino used to have. He stayed for a week. Every day he won. Sometimes for thousands. So there has to be a different type of RNG in the old machines. Or is this a secret the casinos don't want us to know about?

Please do not come back and say he was due for a win.

Answer: I would never say someone was due for a win. I recently went over 100,000 hands between royals on NSU Deuces Wild. Even after finally getting a royal, I'm still statistically behind five royals. As much as I would like to think I'm due to hit more royals soon, I know that my chances of hitting a royal on any given hand hasn't changed. We may be statistically ahead or behind on hitting certain high-paying hands, but that doesn't mean that our probabilities for hitting those hands have changed. We are never due for anything to happen.

A Random Number Generator (RNG) just generates a stream of numbers. RNGs aren't tight or loose. The program in the machine merely uses the output from the RNG to help it choose an outcome. In an IGT Game King video poker machine, the output from the RNG tells the program which card has been dealt from the electronic deck. In a slot machine, the output from the RNG tells the program where each reel will stop. To change the long-term payback on a slot machine, you change the layout of the symbols on the reels, not the RNG. To change the long-term payback on a video poker machine, you change how much each hand pays.

There are a couple of different flavors of server-based gaming and I don't know which one your casino is using. One flavor is Class II, where the machine is actually a Bingo drawing under the hood. You didn't say this was an Indian casino, so I don't think your casino installed Class II machines.

Another flavor is where the game program resides on the server and the machine just displays the results, sort of like using a browser to view a website. I doubt this is what the casino is doing.

I think the most likely flavor your casino installed is what I call downloadable games. The casino is able to reconfigure the machines (i.e., change which video poker paytables are available, change the slot games on them, change the display in the top monitor) from a central server without having to visit each machine and make the changes manually. The game program still runs on the machine itself.

I almost always take statements I hear from others around the video poker machines with a large grain of salt. Unless I know them well, I don't know how much they play or how accurate their statements are. Sure, they may have gone months without hitting a royal, but if they play only a few hundred hands a week, that's not unusual. If they don't keep records, they may be completely wrong about how well they're doing or how long it's been since they've hit a high-paying hand.

That said, there's no shortage of posts on video poker message boards from players saying that their casinos installed server-based machines and now they're not winning as much on video poker. They don't provide any numbers to back up their statements, like they experienced a 99% payback on the last million hands they played before the switch and only 97% on the first million hands after.

I'm not kidding about the million hands. Some video poker paytables are so volatile, you need a very large sample size to draw any statistically significant conclusions. You're playing two of the most volatile paytables, so you need a really large sample.

I think that most of the people who blame the switch to server-based machines for their results are just trying to find a concrete source for their bad luck run than the amorphous randomness, even though randomness is most likely the source.

For instance, I usually play on the same four machines. Some days I hit right and left on them, some days I get hit right and left. I don't think that the casino has altered the machines in any way. I know that my results are well within the bounds of -- and to be expected with -- a random game.

I don't know how much you've played the past two years. Your losing streak might not be that unusual. And your brother's winning streak sounds like a great week, but again I don't know how much he played.

Right now I'm leaning towards your losing streak just being a run of bad luck. But here's what you can do. Contact your local gaming commission, or go to its website, or use Google to get the slot regulations in your state and see if there are any specific regulations for video poker machines. Here in Nevada, any electronic gaming device that mimics a real-life game must have the same odds as the real-life game. That means that video poker and blackjack machines have to deal from a fair deck and the odds on video keno and video roulette have to be the same as on the live game.

If your state has that rule, then you can be sure that the new machines are fair. If it doesn't, that doesn't mean the machines aren't fair. Most (all?) of the video poker machines in the U.S. that aren't Class II operate just like the machines in Las Vegas and deal from a fair deck. You just have to ask whether your commission would approve a video poker machine that operates like a slot machine (that is, chooses an outcome from a pool of outcomes instead of dealing cards from a fair deck).

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