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Ask the Slot Expert: What information is on a slot ticket?

20 March 2019

Question: While on a cruise I found a $300 slot voucher the first night. I turned it over to the cashier and asked if they would be able to find the owner. I was told yes!

Well, it took five days before the owner was found.

So my question is: What information is on the voucher, and if you use a players, card is it easier to find out who a voucher belongs to?

Answer: That's two questions, but who's counting?

How could it take five days to find someone on a cruise ship? Was he a stowaway hiding in the bathroom?

I never took a close look at all of the information that is on a cashout voucher until now. The most obvious feature on each voucher is the barcode, which is printed in cleartext both horizontally and vertically on the ticket. In my old job I dealt with scanning documents and we always had identifiers repeated in different locations on the form. If something happened to distort the image, we had other chances to read the identifier.

I once had a ticket that experienced a hiccup when it was being printed. Both the bar code and the ticket ID text under it had a wavy section that made both unreadable. The cashier at the cage was able to redeem the ticket for me by manually entering the ID that was printed vertically at the edge of the ticket.

According to my limited sampling of tickets from three casinos, the ticket ID is two digits followed by four groups of four digits. Where have we seen four groups of four digits before? The card number on most credit cards. On my American Express and ATM card the digits are broken into different groupings, but they still have a total of 16 digits in the card number.

I logged the data on each ticket I received over the last two weeks. I wanted to see if I could decode the ticket ID.

I thought about whether I should share any algorithms I was able to figure out. I didn't want to give anyone who might want to cheat a casino the formula for creating a ticket ID. But then I remembered that the formula for checking if a credit card number is valid is readily available on the Internet. Furthermore, just because a credit card number is valid, that doesn't mean that it also active (an open account at some bank).

So if I did work out how to make a valid ticket ID, the procedure wouldn't help cheats because the ticket ID still has to be in the ticket database with unredeemed status.

Ticket cheat method 1: The slot floorpeople in some casinos can cash tickets. The slot floorpeople are equipped with portable ticket scanners in all of the casinos I've been in that do this. The floorperson scans the ticket to ensure that it is valid before paying the player. In researching this answer, I found an article that said that some casinos did not have portable scanners. The cheat would photocopy a valid ticket onto paper stock similar to the ticket stock and present the photocopied ticket to a slot floorperson. The cheat would then redeem the original ticket at a redemption kiosk.

In addition to the ticket ID, each ticket has the amount, of course, in both numbers and words (Here's a factoid for trivia night: On a check, the amount written in numbers is called the courtesy amount and the amount written in words is called the legal amount.), the date and time of issuance, a voucher number, a machine (or asset) number and an expiration date. Some tickets also have the floor location of the machine that issued the ticket.

I didn't find any obvious relationships between the data listed above and the digits in the ticket ID. I have to admit though that I wouldn't have contributed much at Bletchley Park. If the data is somehow represented in the ticket ID, it's not obvious.

The only conclusion I was able to draw is that it looks like the first two digits in the ticket ID are a casino identifier. All of the tickets I received from a casino had the same first two digits — except one. So even this conclusion may be wrong.

Ticket cheat method 2: The crucial part in ticket cheating is getting a valid ticket ID. But it's not hard to get a valid ticket ID. Put $1 in a machine, hit cash out and — voila — you have a valid ticket ID. Now, scan the ticket and use your Photoshop skills to turn that $1 ticket into a $1,000 ticket. You can't redeem your fraudulent ticket at a redemption machine because it retrieves the value of the ticket from the ticket database. You have to redeem your ticket at the cage or with a slot floorperson, but that's risky now because their procedure is to scan the ticket, verify that the system says the ticket can be redeemed, and check the value on the ticket with the value from the ticket database displayed on their screen. The value from the database is the official value of the ticket.

So what really matters is the data in the ticket database. Tickets may have a long lifetime — e.g., 60 days, 180 days — but they have very short biographies. Birth, death and that's about it.

The ticket database stores all of the data printed on a ticket — date and time issued, amount, machine, ID — and, in many cases, the players card number if there is a players card in the reader when the ticket is issued. When you're leaving a machine, always cash out before removing your players card. When a ticket is redeemed, the date, time and location of redemption are captured in the ticket database.

A ticket has two events in its life: birth (printing) and death (redemption). There might also be a third event, reprinting. This capability might have been disabled because of — you guessed it....

Ticket cheat method 3: Some casino employees checked the ticket database for tickets that were near their expiration dates. They figured (hoped?) that these players were never going to come back to redeem their tickets. The employees reprinted the tickets and gave them to their friends to redeem. Unfortunately for the cheating employees, many players tried to redeem their nearly expired tickets and found that they had already been redeemed. Oops.

I don't know why there's any need to reprint a ticket. Casino employees should always just redeem and not reprint. They can verify the identity of a person when the employees redeem an illegible or lost ticket, but they may not know who redeemed a reprinted ticket until after the fact. If the player wants another ticket instead of cash, the cashier may be able to use the ticket system to print a new ticket for the player. One of the casinos at which I have a credit line gives me a ticket instead of cash when I take out a marker. This ticket says "Purchase Voucher" instead of "Cashout Voucher" on it.

This article from The Las Vegas Sun is mainly about what happens to the money from unclaimed tickets (75% goes to Nevada's general fund and 25% is kept by the casinos), but it also describes the steps some casinos take to reunite players and their tickets and money.

If the player used a players card when the ticket was printed, the database connects the player with the ticket. If the player did not use a players card, the casino may review machine and ticket records and surveillance footage for high-value tickets. If a ticket is so mangled that it can't be read, the casino can find the correct amount using players club, machine and ticket database records. If someone turns in a ticket, it's easy to figure out whom it belongs to if a players club number is attached to it. If not, the casino is back to reviewing databse records to try to determine the owner. That's a lot of work, so casinos do it for high-value tickets only.

I wonder what really happened in the five days before the owner of the ticket you turned in was "found". Maybe the casino knew who it belonged to right away, but that person didn't claim it for a few days. Maybe the casino did have to review surveillance footage and it took that long for an employee to identify the owner. Unlike a land-based casino, at least there's a limited and static clientele using the cruise ship's casino to make the job easier.

One final item about tickets. Some older machines are not able to run a dollars-and-cents credit meter. A five-dollar machine of my acquaintance has no problem with any dollar amount on a ticket, but it really doesn't like cents. When I put in a ticket that has cents on it, the machine credits me with the dollar amount of the ticket and immediately prints a new ticket for the cents.

Ticket cheat method 4: Some players don't realize that their ticket has just been split with some of its value on the credit meter and the balance in the newly printed ticket. They think there's something wrong with the machine and leave. A cheat can see this happen or just find any machine with a significant amount of money left on it and set up the slot ticket equivalent of shell corporations to try to hide origin of the money. He cashes out from the first machine and then inserts the ticket into another. He might play a spin or two and then cash out and go to a different machine. He repeats this procedure a number of times to try to make the trail so complicated that the casino can't follow it.

All of the issuance and redemption data is in the ticket database. One company has developed software that can track the money on a ticket through all of the tickets in its lineage all the way back to the original machine.

I hope you got some good kharma for turning in that ticket. I was playing a video poker machine a few weeks ago when I noticed that Grandpa had left his cell phone on the machine next to mine. Grandpa was already gone when I sat down at my machine, but I knew it was his phone because it wasn't locked and there was a picture of him with his grandson on the home screen. When I was finished playing, I turned in the phone at security. Later that night I was the first player drawn in that night's drawing.


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