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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Who is protecting the slot player?

9 November 2011

Who or what is protecting the gaming consumer against all the possible ways computer systems can be manipulated?

For example, the manufacturer offers a slot machine for sale/lease to the casino. The casino decides on a machine based on the house percentage -- probably in a computer chip, the RNG, programming and mechanical functions provided by the manufacturer. The slot “events” we experience are determined by the RNG in conjunction with complex algorithms and systems that can only be verified by highly specialized equipment and authorized persons. Slight alterations in the processor or even the RNG might give the casino a further edge -– or just the opposite. How does the casino know they got what they paid for and we are getting what we pay for? I’m sure there are better examples of how technology could be manipulated in the gaming industry and I hope my example is in some way accurate and makes sense.

I know there is Gaming Commission / Government oversight, but how could they possibly oversee the thousands of machines in all the casinos? How can I be assured the scales are tipped fairly and my experience is consistent throughout the highly technical gaming industry? With spyware/malware worries, chip malfunctions and backdoor vulnerability –- the use of technology is full of potential threats.

No, I’m not paranoid. I try to be an enlightened consumer. I know that winning at slots has mostly to do with programming, the RNG and the chance I might be at the right place at the right time. Thanks for helping me level the playing field (I hope!!!).

Best wishes, John, and thanks for all you do to help enhance our experience.

Duane

Dear Duane,

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

Every jurisdiction either has its own gaming equipment testing lab (e.g., Nevada, New Jersey) or uses an independent lab (e.g., Gaming Labs International). The labs test each machine to ensure that its results are determined randomly, that it pays back properly and that it is not vulnerable to any of the known cheating techniques. (I really shouldn't say that "each" machine is tested because every machine on the slot floor has not gone to the testing lab. Once a lab approves a machine with a particular cabinet, logic board, pay table, virtual reel layout, etc., the manufacturer can then sell that configuration of the machine to casinos.)

Additional checks occur while the machine is in operation. The machine itself runs self-tests to ensure it hasn't been tampered with. The casino runs reports daily to ensure the machines are operating within parameters, neither paying out too much nor too little. Finally, the local gaming commission performs random spot checks on machines to ensure they're identical to the approved configuration.

As for spyware/malware, keep in mind that slot and video poker machines are not like PCs. They don't run browsers or have e-mail, so it's much more difficult to alter their programming. In addition, they're closed systems. It's impossible to add new programs onto them. As for chip malfunctions, they should be very rare. Slot programming is filled with checks and balances to ensure that if there is a malfunction, the machine will detect it and go into a tilt mode. As for backdoors, they're perhaps the biggest vulnerability today. The lab has to discover the backdoor from inspecting the code -- not necessarily an easy thing to do.

One last thing: The house edge on a machine is determined completely by the virtual reel layout and the pay table. Neither the RNG nor anything else has any effect on the long-term payback.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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