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Ask the Slot Expert: Why Nevada allows the wheel on Wheel of Fortune

18 January 2017

Question: I've heard that Nevada has a rule that says an electronic version of a game must have the same odds as the live game. If that's the case, why do they allow things like the picking bonus on 88 Fortunes and the non-random wheel on Wheel of Fortune?

Answer: Regulation 14.040 Minimum standards for gaming devices subsection 5 states:

For gaming devices that are representative of live gambling games, the mathematical probability of a symbol or other element appearing in a game outcome must be equal to the mathematical probability of that symbol or element occurring in the live gambling game.

This regulation is the reason why you can trust video poker machines in Nevada. The probability of being dealt a particular card at a particular time on a video poker machine must be the same as the probability of being dealt that card under the same circumstances at a poker table. The chances of the ace of spades being the first card dealt from the deck are 1 out of 52 and the chances of getting the ace of spades as your first card on a video poker deal is also 1 out of 52.

I think live gambling game is the key phrase in the regulation. The odds on video poker must be the same as the odds on live poker. The odds on video keno and video or electronic blackjack, roulette, and craps likewise must be the same as those at the keno lounge and gaming tables.

What about the wheel on Wheel of Fortune? Doesn't it represent the Big Wheel game, so shouldn't the probabilities of stopping on a wedge be the same for all wedges?

Wheel's wheel differs from the Big Wheel in one crucial aspect. The player has no money at risk when Wheel's wheel spins. There's no way to lose on Wheel's wheel; every place where the wheel can stop is a win for the player.

Not so with the Big Wheel. The player has to make a bet to spin the Big Wheel and the player can lose depending upon where the wheel stops.

On Wheel of Fortune, the player isn't betting on the wheel. The wager is against the spinning reels. The wheel is used just to figure out what one winning combination is worth.

In short, the wheel is not the game; it's a bonus. The regulation does not apply to the wheel for this reason.

The regulation doesn't apply to the picking bonus on 88 Fortunes for the same reason. The bonus is misleading on this machine and others because the progressive you will win has already been determined by the software running the machine. Your picks are irrelevant. They do not determine the progressive you win. There's no way to win some of the progressives because they don't have three coins assigned to them.

Again, the picking bonus is not what the player is betting on. There's no way to lose when the player goes to the picking bonus. The player can only win.

Another reason the regulation doesn't apply to the picking bonus is because there is no live gambling game that is similar. Maybe one of the wacky table games at the cheapo casino in Vegas Vacation, but not at any of the casinos that I've visited.

The kiosk games at some of the locals casinos in Las Vegas are similarly misleading as the picking bonus on 88 Fortunes. At one chain, you pick one of six cards to reveal your multipliers for the day. Asking my friends and eavesdropping at the video poker machines, it seems that everyone gets 6x. There's the occasional 5x and 7x, and I think I even got 10x once, but 6x seems to be the most common.

Let's look at the chances if the values are truly random. If I get 6x, the chances are 1 out of 6. My friend also gets 6x, 1 out of 36. Another friend 6x, 1 out of 216. I overhear two people talking about both getting 6x and the chances of all of us getting 6x are 1 out of 7776. It sure doesn't look like the card we pick has any effect on the multiplier we get.

There are many entertaining ways to reveal a predetermined outcome, so I don't think sham picking games should be allowed. But again, the player has nothing at risk, the player can only win, so is there any harm done?

Finally, the wedge that stops under the pointer on Wheel of Fortune is determined at random. Each wedge is not equally likely to be selected, but the result is random.


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