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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: You will never convince me about RNGs in slot machines

15 June 2016

Question: On May 18, 2016, I won $4,715 on a nickel machine. My players card was inserted. After my winnings were building up, I noticed the words ABANDON CARD on the screen, then the screen went back to showing points.

When the attendant came to my machine, I asked what ABANDON CARD meant. She said, "It's nothing. It's OK."

Not the answer I was waiting for. Anyway, I just kept playing. Later I went to another nickel machine. When I inserted my card, the first thing that showed was ABANDON CARD. I won $600 on that machine.

I have been playing at casinos for many years and I always use my players card. This was the first time I saw ABANDON CARD.

Answer: First, congratulations on your good fortune.

Let's look at an overview of what happens when you use your players card. When you insert your card, a message is sent to the slot club server with your player ID and the values of various meters, such as coin-in and coin-out. As you play, additional messages with current values of the meters are sent. These are called Logical Card-Out messages. You haven't actually removed your card yet, but the system is going to store these update messages in case a problem develops communicating with the machine. When you remove your card, the Physical Card-Out message is sent with the ending values of the meters. The slot club software uses the starting and ending values of the meters to determine how much action you gave and how much you won or lost.

What happens if you forget to remove your card when you leave a machine? The software maintains a countdown timer and if it expires before you place another bet, it considers the card to be abandoned and it sends an end of session message as if you had pulled out your card.

It seems like the software in the card readers jumped to the abandoned card processing module, but I don't know for sure. Card readers usually display RE-INSERT CARD after doing the abandoned card processing. Your readers went back to displaying your points, so the software never removed your card.

One more thing. Don't bother pulling out your card if you're in the middle of a large win with the thought that you're going to fool the system into missing the large win. Modern slot software will wait until the spin or hand is completely resolved before sending the end of session values.


Question: Here in Colorado (Black Hawk), they say there is a computer chip in the slot machine for state regulations. What is it used for? If all slots are RNG, why use the chip at all?

I've seen casinos advertise 96% or 98% payout or the highest payout in town. Is this false advertising?

Now we all know that billion-dollar casinos are built on the gamblers' dollar. So, if it's true that random number generator really is factual, then the casino owner is taking a huge gamble that the numbers won't fall his way. I doubt very seriously that he will do that.

Therefore, I believe the theory of RNG is full of it. The computer chip can be built to do anything you want it to do. Rave on all you want to about RNG, you will never convince me.

Answer: I think we have an instance here of a non-technical bureaucrat trying to give a non-technical explanation of a technical situation.

When I was a database administrator, my co-workers would frequently ask what caused a problem they had experienced. I always tried to avoid giving an explanation — not because I was hiding anything, but because this is what almost always happened. I would say something like, "There was a poorly written query doing a table scan on the transactions table and that caused your program to time-out trying to access the same table."

My co-workers would then say, "I don't understand a thing you just said."

And I would say, "Well, you asked what caused the problem. I told you exactly what the cause was."

There's no way to avoid having chips in laptops, cell phones, printers, TVs and slot machines. There are many kinds of chips. There are CPU (central processing unit) chips, memory chips, interface chips, etc. It's kind of silly for someone to say that there is chip in the slot machine because there are so many different chips in the slot machine.

There's a CPU chip in the slot machine that runs the program that makes the computer system that is the slot machine do something interesting. There could also be a memory chip that contains the pay table for the game and a chip that holds the reel layouts, not to mention chips that have the graphic images for the game.

The casino industry is one of the most heavily regulated and scrutinized industries. It is very unlikely that any payout percentage advertisements are false.

A casino owner is not "taking a huge gamble that the numbers won't fall his way." The only gamblers in a casino are sitting at the tables and machines.

Consider craps. The sum of the two fair dice will always be 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12. Given enough throws, 7 will be the total thrown most frequently, 6 and 8 next most frequently, and so on. The casino has an edge on every bet because it pays you less than the true odds of the condition of the bet happening. Individual players win or lose, but the casino backs every bet and is the only player playing in the long run. The casino will win on the game.

Slots are the same. The symbols on the reels determine the possible outcomes. The number of times each symbol appears on each reel determines how likely it is to hit each winning combination. Given enough play, the ratio of the number of times a winning combination has hit over the total number of plays will be very close to the ratio of the number of ways to make that combination divided by the total number of combinations on the reels. In other words, if the math says that this reel layout with this pay table pays back 98% in the long run, the percentage of money returned to players will get closer and closer to 98% as the machine gets more and more play.

Slots are really a license to print money. There's little a player can do to improve his situation. He can't count cards, he can't use a strategy, he can't use dice control. The only thing a player can do is increase his bet when there's a bonus or other advantage for playing more than the minimum — and then, the advantage almost never cancels out the increased risk from the increased bet.

Random number generators in slot machines is not theory, it's fact. There's no modern (Class III) slot machine that doesn't have an RNG. Slot regulations require them. Output from the RNG is used to determine where the reels stop, where the wheel on the top of the machine stops, the layout of the values in a pick-em bonus round, etc. There's no other way to determine results on a Class III slot machine.


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