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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Should I always play full coin on a slot machine?

31 December 2014

I enjoy reading your column and I have learned a lot. I have never won a jackpot, but I witnessed those who have. I enjoy playing the Royal Reels at Hialeah Park and I have won a little money. I am hoping that you can answer some slot questions using the Royal Reels as an example.

  1. Is it true that one should always bet the highest bet? For example, Royal Reels bets are $0.50, $1.25, $2.50 and $5.00. I play 50-cents bets and sometimes $1.25. However, I see some players bet higher than $5.00. I have seen players bet $90.00.
  2. Does the jackpot amount matter? For example, will the lowest jackpot for the same bet for the same machine on the other side of the casino floor have a better chance of winning? I typically pick the machine with the highest jackpot amount.
  3. Is it true that I can ask the casino to provide me with a printout of my player's card usage and declare that amount as a loss on my taxes?

I appreciate any advice and tips from a professional to a rookie.

Thanks for the kind words. Here are the answers to your questions:

1. No, you should not always bet the highest bet. To stretch your bankroll, you should bet only enough to activate all the ways to win. That means betting at least one coin per line. Most video slots act as multipliers — that is, what you win on a line is just a straight multiple of what you bet on a line. Increasing your bet, therefore, does not increase your long-term payback. Still, you can bet whatever you are comfortable betting. Even though there's no increase in payback, for example, I will sometimes bet more than the minimum because my bankroll can sustain me through cold spells and I want the chance at winning larger amounts.

Some video slots are not multipliers; they pay a bonus on one or more combinations when you bet max coin on a line or on the machine. Check the paytable for Royal Reels. You might have to bet full coin on all lines to be eligible to win the jackpot. In that case, you have to decide if you have the bankroll to make that large a bet.

2. We'd have to check the PAR sheets to know for sure, but it's very likely that your chances of hitting the jackpot are the same on both machines. Most slot directors order the same math model on all machines of a particular game. You might as well play the machine with the largest jackpot.

3. Yes and no. Yes, you can ask the casino to print a win/loss statement for you. But no, you can't declare that amount as a loss on your taxes. First, you can only deduct losses up to your winnings. Second, the IRS will not accept the statement as proof because there's no guarantee you always played with your card inserted. There's just no escaping keeping your own contemporaneous log to justify the amounts you claim on your taxes. Read Tax Help for Gamblers by Jean Scott and Marissa Chien now so you know what records to keep next year.


A recent news article said that four Russian slot cheats used smartphones to cheat certain slot machines:

Using smartphones and software linking them to an overseas server, the indictment claims, the defendants exploited technology that allowed them to predict the behavior of a certain make and model of slot machine game, scoring them "uncharacteristically large payouts" far exceeding those expected from fair play.

How can they exploit technology to get uncharacteristically large payouts if wins/payouts are determined by a random number generator? If they are able to track the outcomes and predict, well, anything, then outcomes are not as random as one is to believe, correct?

This is not the first time cheats have been able to predict outcomes on electronic gaming devices. In a recent column I described how a group of cheats in the Midwest used knowledge of the RNG function in a specific video poker machine to simulate the RNG on their own computer and predict when they could hit a royal flush.

It's true that the output of the RNG function — and therefore the outcomes on a slot machine — are not truly random.

The RNG function is a collection of mathematical operations, the results of which never vary. For example, 2 + 2 is always 4 and never sometimes 3 or 5. In mathematics, this is known as a deterministic function. Deterministic functions always return the same result for a given set of inputs. The RNG function contains deterministic functions, so it is also a deterministic function. If we knew the inputs to the RNG, we would also know with certainty the output.

The RNG in a slot machine is more correctly called a PRNG — psuedo-random number generator. The output of the PRNG looks like a stream of random numbers, satisfies many of the tests for a stream of random numbers, but is not truly random because it is the product of a deterministic function. The bottom line for players, though, is that they cannot predict the outcome of a spin just by tracking the outcomes of prior spins.

I wasn't able to find out any more information about this particular incident, but I would bet that the cheats were somehow able to get inside knowledge of the RNG function and used their overseas server to simulate the RNG and predict outcomes.

James Maida, President of Gaming Labs International, once said at a seminar on slot cheating that "if man made it, man can cheat it."


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