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Ask the Slot Expert: The Tribal Lottery System in Washington State

24 July 2019

Question: I live in Washington, where we have the Tribal Lottery System, wherein the casinos use the scratch ticket-like method for their slots.

My understanding is that:

  • each game set is premade and divided into subsets, which may or may not be rotating subsets,
  • AND tickets from these subsets are what's being bet on and drawn from each machine.

I think the bet amount is its own game set. So that there are 40-cent game sets, 60-cent game sets, etc., for the same game machine. I could be wrong on this.

Some of the machines show the ability to bet fewer than max lines with multipliers. Based on the above, this could mean either:

  • a maxline 40-cent ticket can return 1x the amount, or 2x the amount depending on your multiplier,
  • OR a maxline 1x40-cent ticket is a different game set from a 2x40-cent ticket.
  • OR each line is 1 ticket, and a 20 line game is buying 20 tickets (though I'm not sure how a multiplier would work with this).

Anyway, my question is: how do bet choices ACTUALLY WORK in terms of Video Lottery System multiline/multireel and modifiers? (Any other info you can provide or link to regarding how this system works would be greatly appreciated.)

(I know that they are different from the typical RNG-type slots. And I know that video poker on this type of system has zero skill in that the machine has already predetermined what if anything you've won and will show symbols to match that. Such that even if you threw away four kings it would give you back the equivalent of four kings somehow. But VPs aren't multi-line/multi-reel machines.)

Answer: I can never see the benefit for some states having their own arcane regulations about slot machines. It would be much less confusing for players — and so much easier for me — if all casinos everywhere had RNG-based machines.

I found this statement on the FAQ page at the Washington State Gambling Commission's website: The virtual scratch tickets are dispensed from a finite "game set" that delivers tickets randomly to two or more terminals. The most common scenario is that players on the same bank (group) of machines are playing from the same game set.

I take this to mean that all of the games using a particular game set have similar paytables, but that not all games with similar paytables use the same game set. In other words, this bank of Buffalo machines is using one game set and that other bank of Buffalo machines over there may be using another game set.

What exactly is in each game set? According to posts on some message boards and this presentation about equipment testing prepared by a fellow in the Washington State Gambling Commission's Electronic Gaming Lab, each electronic scratch ticket in the game set is an amount won by the player or $0. It makes sense that the machines and game sets are divided by paytable. Otherwise, how would a dollar slot with a max jackpot of $1,600 deal with a $4,000 win that makes perfect sense on a dollar video poker machine?

I didn't find any reference to dividing game sets into subsets. But you're right that each game set is pre-made. A slide in the presentation referenced above shows the electronic scratch tickets moving from the Manufacturing Computer to the Central Computer, which distributes them to the slot machines (player terminals).

I didn't find any deeper technical details online, so I don't have a definitive explanation for how different bet amounts are handled. I doubt they require a separate game set, though. If the value of a scratchcard is not the absolute of amount of money won, but rather the number of credits won assuming a minimum bet, then the same game set could be used for all bet levels on a machine and for different denominations. The slide I referenced above then presents a high-level overview of how the system works and, as they say in cell phone commercials, sequences have been shortened.

Henry Tamburin described a question asked at the Blackjack Ball (a private party held each year) in an article a few years ago. The question asked how you should play a particular video poker hand if you were playing at the Snoqualmie casino. The hand was 9-10-J-Q-A in spades. Your choices are: hold the pat flush, hold the four-card straight flush, hold the four-card royal, hold no cards and redraw, or it doesn't matter.

Of course, the answer is that it doesn't matter what you do. The value of the scratchcard dictated what you would win on this hand. Henry wrote, "your machine is assigned an electronic scratch-off ticket and if the award is, say, six coins per coin played, the computer system in the machine then displays the video poker hand that corresponds to this prize, namely a flush."

Notice that I wrote that scratchcard gives the payoff assuming a minimum bet, not per coin played. If the value is per coin played, how do we handle the bonus on a royal flush when playing full coin or any bonus for playing more than the minimum, for that matter, when the proper payoff is not just the scratch card value times the number of coins played?

In my algorithm, the computer running your machine gets the amount won from the scratch card, determines what combination pays that amount with a minimum bet, then checks the paytable to see what the combination pays for the amount that you bet to determine the proper payoff. Further evidence that the scratch card indicates a combination and not a dollar amount is the fact that you have Quick Hit and other machines with constantly changing progressive amounts.

When the value of the scratchcard is not the dollar amount won but a relative value that actually points to a particular combination, then the same game set can be used for all bet levels on a machine and for machines with different denominations. The only requirements are that the paytables are the same and the casino wants the same house edge for all machines using a game set.

Finally, I don't understand your question about the machines that let you play fewer than max lines with multipliers. I looked at some casino sites and some manufacturer sites to see if I could see one of these machines, but I didn't find any pictures or information that helped me. Do these machines let you choose the number of lines you want to play and some of the winning combinations include a multiplier, like a multi-line Double Diamond machine? I take it that the multiplier has nothing to do with betting fewer than max lines because your first two scenarios have to do with multipliers on max line bets.

I'll drop Henry a line to see if he has more technical information on the Tribal Lottery System. And if you or anyone else can send me more information about the betting options on the machines that let you choose the number of lines to bet and how the multiplier works in a winning combination, I'll send a query to the Washington Gaming Commission.


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