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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot machines removed because they paid out too much

13 December 2017

Question: There were a couple of new machines at a casino in Biloxi, MS, that I played one day. When I returned a couple of weeks later, I was told that they removed them because they were paying out too much. This was told to me by an employee.

I know there was a couple that played most of the night and had won over $8,000. I won about $1,100 too, so I do think this was the exception.

Answer: I'm skeptical that the machines were removed because they were paying out too much.

I'm reminded of the time that I flew from Las Vegas to Newark and United took a long time to deliver the checked bags. Actually, United always took a long time to deliver the bags at Newark — a stark contrast with the service at Las Vegas, where the bags were almost always on the carousel shortly after I arrived at the carousel. I guess it's not really a far comparison, though. It's only a 10-minute walk from gate to carousel in Newark. In Las Vegas, it's a 10-minute walk, a 30-second monorail ride, and another five-minute walk to get from the gate to the carousel. United has a lot more time in Las Vegas to unload and deliver the bags.

In any case, the other passengers and I spent an unusually long time watching an empty baggage carousel go round and round. A United rep finally announced that they were sorry for the delay and that it was due to be shorthanded that night.

To that, one of the passengers replied, "You didn't know we were coming?"

The same thing applies to casinos and slot machines. The casino has the PAR sheet for the machines and it knows how frequently each winning combination will hit, how much the machines will pay out in the long term, and how many plays it will take for the machines to zero in on that long-term payback. Nothing that the machine does should come as a surprise.

How does a casino determine that a machine is paying out too much? You mentioned a couple that won over $8,000 and you said that you won about $1,100. What happened to the other people who played the machine?

Short-term results don't mean anything. Even the tightest machine in the world has to pay its jackpot sometime. The casino would have to look at a machine's performance over the long run — hundreds of thousands of spins — to get an indication that a machine is not paying the proper percentage.

And what could cause a machine to pay out too much? I can think of only two things. One, the machine has the wrong payback program installed. That can be fixed by putting the correct program in the machine.

And two, there's a problem with the software in the machine. The casino or the gaming commission can use a device to compare the reference chip with the approved software with the chip from the machine to ensure the contents of the chips are identical. Is the casino implying that the programming in the machines was incorrect or tampered with?

I suppose it's possible that something like this scene out of the movie Casino could have happened. Three slots hit their jackpots in close succession and the Robert De Niro character, the de facto casino manager, says that they were cheated. Three machines hitting their jackpots just can't happen.

These machines could have hit many high-paying combinations in a short period of time but, then again, short-term results don't mean anything. And the casino knows the probabilities of hitting the winning combinations and it can calculate the probability of hitting so many winning combinations. Even if the answer is a small probability, unlikely events do happen. It hasn't happened to me, but I know of people who have hit back-to-back royals.

Given that the casino has the PAR sheet and knows everything there is to know about the probabilities on the machine, I just don't see how a machine that hasn't been compromised can be said to be paying out too much.

In one of the casino management seminars I attended, the presenter said that management should inform the employees about what is going on in the casino. (He even advocated for telling the cleaners when, say, there was going to be a drawing and where it would occur. His goal was that any employees a player could come in contact with should know basically what is happening. The employees didn't have to have all the details, but they should be able to tell the patron where to go for more information.) It seems obvious the employees should be in the loop, but many casinos leave the employees clueless when changes occur.

One casino I frequent moved the machines used in its weekly "over 50" slot tournament. The tournament uses the Everi TournEvent system, so the machines are regular Everi titles right on the slot floor until they're reconfigured for the tournament. Everyone asked why the machines were moved, but the employees said they didn't know and could only offer some guesses. How difficult would it have been for management to make a short statement giving the reasons why the machines were moved?

In addition, I've found that some casino employees don't really understand how slot machines work. Sometimes it's because the machines are just computers and sometimes it's because the employees never took a Probability and Statistics course. I think it wasn't too long ago that UNLV announced it was adding some math courses to its Casino Management track. In any case, the employees' training probably consisted of casino procedures and very little, if any, technical or mathematical information about the 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