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Ask the Slot Expert: More on Washington's Tribal Lottery System

31 July 2019

Question: I had asked about Washington's VLTs and the betting system, and have found an answer to the question I asked you. [See last week's column.]

I searched all the machines at my local casino and discovered that only some of the progressives have a bet modifier. The other games give you the choice of fewer reels/lines with no modifiers, or max reels/max lines with "modifiers". Just now I finally came across this web page, which says that each bet on a machine is a different game set (a different lottery game, essentially). So now my understanding is that betting 2 reels is a different lottery game than betting 5 reels, which is a different lottery game than betting 5 reels with 2x modifier.

The question I have left then is if the payback percentage on a theme (a game terminal bank) is the same across all the games on that theme, or if the higher bet games have higher payback percentage than the lower bet games. I'm guessing probably the latter.

Answer: The web page referenced has information that answers many of my correspondent's questions from last week. I wondered how I could have missed it when I researched Washington's Tribal Lottery System for last week's column.

The bread crumbs near the top of the page are: Home > Testing Lab > Tribal Lottery System. Who would look for technical information about the operation of the lottery system in the testing lab section?

The gaming commission logo on this page looks a bit old fashioned. Sure enough, it is not the same logo as on the Gaming Commission site that Google points you to. The domain in the link, furthermore, is not the same as the domain given by Google. There is a timestamp indicating when the page was last updated at the bottom of the page. The timestamp is 01/29/2014 11:50AM.

This page must be on an old site for the Washington Gaming Commission. Almost every link I tried on the page generated a page not found error.

Now that I know the text on the page, I can formulate a Google query that returns the page as the top result. If you use a general query, like Washington Tribal Lottery System, however, the page does not appear in the first 10 pages of results.

I'll save you the trouble of clicking on the link to view the page. The top part of the page defines five terms, some of which are never used. The meat of the page is this set of bullet points following the definitions.

  • The X-machines or Tribal Lottery System operate in a electronic environment dispensing digital scratch tickets from a centralized computer to a number of player terminals.
  • Just like one would buy a state lottery scratch ticket at your favorite store but in electronic form concentrated in one facility.
  • Each game-set has only one purchase price for the tickets and each ticket has an outcome associated with it. Each game-set must payout at least 75% of the total revenue it generates.
  • The size of game-sets may vary by the manufacturers and game theme.
  • Tickets are randomized and staked into subsets, which are dispensed to player terminals upon request and displayed in an entertaining graphics, which represents the outcome of the individual ticket received.
  • Manufacturers are able to have more than one game-set offered at any particular player terminal.
  • Some game themes have more than 40 game-sets associated with it.
  • Imagine a Multi line game theme. Where a player can choose multiple lines on digital reels, the more lines he chooses the higher the bet and each one a different game-set.
  • The total purchase price of any one-ticket can not go over $20.00 so the manufacturers structure multiple game-set themes very carefully.
  • Bonus themes are just another way to display a ticket outcome, revealing part of the win on one screen and the rest of the win in a bonus round which the player interacts with to display the total win.

There are a number of links in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. One of the links is accurately, but not helpfully, entitled Appendix X. This link points to a PDF called Rules Governing Tribal Lottery Systems, which would have been more descriptive text for the link -- at least for those of us who don't know that the Tribal Lottery System rules are contained in Appendix X (not the tenth appendix because there is also an Appendix Y) to the State of Washington Class III Gaming Compact.

Now that I have more technical details, let's go over how the system operates again.

A game set is a finite number of Electronic Scratch Tickets, each of which represents outcomes for a game theme. Each ticket in the game set is for a particular bet available on the game theme. Because "some game themes have more than 40 game sets" and paragraph 3.2.1e in the PDF states that "each ticket shall have a specific outcome and prize level associated with it," I take it that betting 1 cent on each of 10 lines is a different game set than betting 2 cents on each of 5 lines, even though the total bet is the same. In other words, there might be some other aspects of a bet that distinguishes bets of the same amount and cause the creation of a separate game set.

The total payback of all of the tickets in the entire game set must be 75% or more.

The tickets in a game set are created by the Manufacturing Computer using a template, which gives the number of tickets to be created for each outcome, winning or losing. The Manufacturing Computer creates the tickets and then randomly puts the tickets in a number of subsets of between 5,000 and 10,000 tickets. The Manufacturing Computer then transmits from two to five subsets for each game set to the Central Computer. The Central Computer rotates between the subsets for a game set on a fixed and sequential basis. The Central Computer uses tickets in a subset in the order in which it received them from the Manufacturing Computer.

When a player purchases a ticket (plays a game), the Central Computer sends the next available ticket in the current subset to the Player Terminal, which then displays the outcome associated with that ticket. When all of the tickets in a subset have been dispensed, the Central Computer gets another subset from the Manufacturing Computer. When all of the tickets in all of the subsets have been used, the Manufacturing Computer creates a new game set and subsets.

I wondered why the system creates subsets of tickets, but now I can see a reason. There can be many tens of thousands of tickets in a game set. The Central Computer would need more storage if it had to take in every ticket in every game set active in the casino. It doesn't need to have every ticket in a game set available on it. A subset will do. All of the subsets in a game set, moreover, are already stored redundantly on the Manufacturing Computer.

I noticed two interesting things in the appendix. First, all of the random operations are performed on the Manufacturing Computer. The Manufacturing Computer randomly assigns tickets to subsets. The Central Computer uses a fixed algorithm to rotate through the subsets in a game set, and it uses the tickets in a subset sequentially. The Central Computer doesn't do anything on a random basis.

Second, no one is able to see the status of any game set or subset, "including but not limited to a determination of the prizes won or prizes remaining to be won...without causing termination of the entire game set...." Employees are not able to tell you which games have good prizes remaining to be won.

Let's finally get to your current question. Do the higher bets on a game have higher long-term paybacks than the lower bets?

The answer is a definite maybe. On an RNG-based machine, slot designers have to change either the paytable or the reels to change the long-term payback. In Washington, the template used to create the game set for the higher bets might include more winning tickets or it might have the same number of winning tickets but overall the tickets pay more.

There's no way to know with the Tribal Lottery System.


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