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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Turn in money you find in a casino

27 April 2016

Question: This year I see a big change in the Konami Lion Festival machines at the Maryland Live casino. The machines pay differently and the reels drop differently.

I believe Live has changed all the machines in the casino because MGM will open later this year near Washington, D.C.

The casino tells me it has no control over the pay out or the way the machine operates. It says the Maryland Lottery controls all machines in the casino.

Can a machine's program be changed either onsite or offsite?

Answer: Maryland has a two-faceted requirement in regards to slot paybacks. The statutory minimum is 87%, but there is also a requirement that the floorwide payback be between 90% to 95%. Last year casinos asked permission to change the minimum payback to 85% and the state's gaming division instead recommended that the floorwide average requirement be changed to 87% to 95%.

There are two unusual aspects to Maryland's payback rules. First, it has both a machine minimum and a floorwide minimum and maximum. Other jurisdictions just specify a statutory minimum for machines and let competition take care of the rest. According to a spokeswoman describing research conducted by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission in an article on the NBC Washington site, "Maryland was the only jurisdiction that restricted casinos' ability to control their floor average beyond the statutory minimum."

The other unusual aspect is that the phrase "over the course of a year" is frequently used along with the percentages. Time on a slot machine is measured in spins, not ticks of a clock. Almost all slot machines get enough play over the course of a year that their actual payback is close to the long-term (calculated) payback, but some high-denomination machines may not get enough play to zero in on the long-term payback in just a year.

In any case, I didn't find any articles saying that any changes have been made to the regulations yet.

In the early days of Maryland's casinos, the state lottery bought and provided the machines for the casinos in order to maintain control over the machines and the integrity of slot gaming. In 2012, the lottery switched to leasing machines so it wouldn't get stuck with underperforming machines. The machines still belonged to the state. A few years ago, Maryland determined that it would be better financially for the state for the casinos to own the machines. I found a House Ways and Means Committee Briefing online that said that as of April 1, 2015, Maryland Live and Hollywood Casino could procure their own slot machines.

It makes more sense to me to have the casinos be in charge of acquiring their own machines. The state still has control over the integrity of slot gaming in that it has approve a machine before it can be used in a casino. But who will know better what machines will work well in a casino -- the casino's slot director or some bureaucrat in Annapolis?

Turning to your observation about machine changes, you're most likely seeing changes in the machines as the casino replaces the older machines bought by the state with newer ones bought or leased by the casino itself.

As for reprogramming slot machines, nothing can be done to the machine offsite. It's too dangerous because it opens up the possibility of a hacker getting in and altering machine. Onsite, a chip or flash drive or CD-ROM could be replaced in a machine to change its program. Some machines support downloadable games, on which a new game program can be sent to the machine from a central server, eliminating the need to make a physical replacement on the machine.


Question: Yesterday I was at the Aqueduct Resort World casino enjoying myself.

I noticed an envelope on the casino floor. I picked it up and checked the contents. It had $202 in it.

I decided to keep the money and continue playing slots. About 20 minutes later two security guards approached me and asked me if I found an envelope with money in it. I said yes.

As a result of my actions I had to return the cash and they banned me from the casino for three years.

I think this punishment was way too harsh.

The thing that baffles me is there is a specific group of people who are wondering around looking for machines that people have left money in and I don’t see them getting kicked out.

Answer: You decided to keep the money?

Let's be realistic and acknowledge that our morality can be financially influenced. If you found toll money, you'd feel justified in keeping it because nobody is going to try to recover a dropped dollar bill, five, ten or twenty. If I lost a ten or twentry, I would certainly retrace my steps to see if I could find it, but I know that the two shortest time periods in the world are the time between the light turning green and a New York taxi driver honking at the car in front and the time between paper money hitting the casino floor and someone picking it up. Larger amounts, though, should be turned over to the casino.

Normally you can't prove ownership of paper money. In your case, there was an extraordinary circumstance -- the money was in an envelope. This fact helps determine the rightful owner. You should have turned it in right away.

The people who look for money left on machines used to be known as silver miners when machines used coins. Some casinos do ban them. I didn't find anything online about whether New York's racinos are able to ban them.


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