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Best of John Robison

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Casino Insider Writes, Slot Cycles, Tipping

22 January 2004

Greetings.

I would like to know who regulates the Indian casino in Eagle Pass Texas called the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino?

Thanks,
Al

Dear Al,

According to documents I found at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us, the Kickapoo tribe operates Class II gaming devices. That means the casino is regulated by the tribe itself, plus the federal government through a law known as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

Just a comment on your 12/4/03 column. Sometimes we in the casino business shoot ourselves in the foot by using internal jargon when speaking to the public. For instance, we are required by NIGC (in Indian Gaming) to reset our expected hold percentage periodically in the computer software based upon actual figures derived from our computer tracking systems (give thanks that someone in Indian gaming knew what the real world is). If we were dumb enough to mention that in public (and apparently, sometimes we are), it would seem that we were capable of having changed the payback percent.

We have not! What we have done is adjust theoretical to real world actuality to make our reports looks better. We have to explain variances between what THEY (whoever they may be) expect and reality!

I know it sounds silly but I (as comptroller) have directed that this be done numerous times because we report to management our anticipated revenues versus our actual (which is another joke). Management simply doesn't understand statistics or probability.

We have par sheets from each manufacturer on each machine on the floor. Suppose that sheet shows that the machine is supposed to have a 95% payback. Knowing statistics, you understand that that is "over a period of time", which the general public doesn't understand and neither does management, therefore, we change the expected payback to agree with the actual.

We had a machine that for a three month period showed a 178% payback percentage - the luck of the draw - yes, casinos can lose, but not over the long haul! The statistical curve for that new machine showed a +/- 28% expectation - that means we could expect to win 28% or lose 28% in the short term (less than 100K games) but over time, several hundred thousand games, we should be showing a 5% edge over the players - which did come to be.

I personally speak two different languages - in-house and public. It would seem that most of the controversy occurs because of what we say is taken literally - it's our own fault and one I've hectored my various staffs about - loose lips sink ships and casinos too.

I guess the point is, don't believe very much of what you hear from casino employees (or family) - they really don't know what they're talking about much of the time or how the public is going to perceive it (which is a shame and one that should be corrected by management).

You've got a great column (I've recommended it to several of the players that I know) and I just wish that more of our customers read it - an informed public is necessary to our continuation in business - we're here for entertainment, not to make the public rich.

Thanks for the kind words about my column and thanks especially for providing some insight from the operations side of the casino business.

It's true that sometimes the jargon used in the casino business is misunderstood by the public--and sometimes even by the casino's employees, as you point out.

The column you referred to is one in which a reader questioned a slot tech's statement that there were machines that paid back more than 100% near the casino's door. I replied that one would never find a slot machine that paid back more than 100%. Given enough play, it's a guaranteed loser for the casino and the state. Positive expectation video poker, yes. But a positive expectation slot machine, never.

You brought up a possible explanation that I never thought of for the slot tech's statement. He might have seen a report that showed the percentage those machines paid back for a short period of time. As you pointed out, you had a machine that paid back 178% for a relatively short period of time.

Thanks again,
John


Dear John,

Hope you don't get tired hearing how wonderful and informative your column is, because it is.

Unfortunately, I only had this dilemnia once ($300 hand pay). I asked the slot player next to me if I should tip the attendant. His response was, "Do they tip you when you lose?" Not sure what to do so I did nothing as I had no extra money (literally was down to my last few coins).

Always the optimist, when I do get another hand pay hit: Should I tip? How much? Do I give them something right away (in hopes they can speed things up by bringing the manager-type person and money quicker)?

I never get tired of hearing that people enjoy my column and find it useful. Thanks.

Everybody has their own philosophies about tipping casino personnel. Unfortunately, there's no standard like the 15% tip normally left at a restaurant.

Further complicating the matter is that you might have been down $250 when you hit that $300 handpay. That's not a $300 profit; you're only $50 ahead. Furthermore, you might have been down more than $300 when good fortune finally struck.

Moving on to your questions, whether you tip is up to you. If the personnel have been friendly and attentive and you didn't have to wait forever to get your money, you might want to consider tipping.

How much? That's also up to you. As I said before, there's no standard like there is for service at a restaurant. In any case, I think tipping a percentage is silly. Unlike at a restaurant, where there probably is quite a difference in the level of service between a $30 meal and a $300 meal, there's not much difference between the effort required to make a $300 handpay and a $3,000 handpay. Carrying 30 hundred-dollar bills isn't much more difficult than carrying 3. The only real difference between the two handpays is that the larger one takes a bit longer to count out.

I would suggest a few (two or three) bucks for a $300 handpay, going up to $5-$10 for $1,000. I would give the $10 for stellar service or if I'm in my regular casino where people know me.

I would not tip right away. Unless you hit for tens of thousands of dollars, I don't think you'll be tipping enough to make a difference.

One thing you might consider is tipping people who don't normally get tipped. I've gotten the widest smiles from the people in the change booth after I've tipped them a buck or two.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

I look forward to reading your responses to all the questions you get, always a good read. I was checking out a site I found http://www.slot-machine-games.net and found some interresting facts (or fiction).

They say:

"Pay Cycle: A pay cycle is defined as a period of time following a minimum number of bets (or coin 'takes') during which the machine pays out coins in larger percentages. This cycle is usually programmed into the slot machine's software to meet the minimum payout schedule as per state law.

"Take Cycle: The take cycle is the opposite of the pay cycle. If you follow the pay/take theory, then you might be inclined to assume that a pay cycle is followed by a take cycle, whereby you may get the odd small return. But ultimately I believe that slots end up taking for the great majority of the time. But hey, it's great fun and you could get lucky and hit it big time one day."

This sounds reasonable to me because machines seem to give and take and take and take.

Under myths they say:

"Myth #4 - A machine that just 'hit' won't 'hit' again anytime soon..... I'm sure you've found yourself saying as I have at times - "That machine just hit. I'd better find another machine, because this one isn't going to pay again anytime soon." Although the laws of probability dictate that the longer a machine is played, the closer it gets to paying off a jackpot, it is equally likely that a jackpot could hit at any time, including the next spin."

It seems to me that a jackpot is most likely to hit on a 'pay cycle' so it might be best, statistically, to keep away from a machine that has just hit because there is a good chance the pay cycle has passed. I know the chances are equal on any spin but only under the parameters that the computer program is allowing; hence the chances that a pay cycle has past are quite good and another jackpot can hit, but you are likely in a 'take cycle' so you are more likely to get taken.

Your comments, John?

Thanks,
Stu

Dear Stu,

This pay cycle/take cycle stuff is complete nonsense. Any machine that has these sorts of cycles programmed into it would be illegal in every jurisdiction whose regulations I'm familiar with.

There are two reasons that machines give and take and take. First, slot machines are negative expectation games. And second, on most machines you're more likely to have a losing spin than a winning spin.

As for the myth, the only thing right is that the myth is a myth. The chances of hitting a jackpot are the same on each and every spin, regardless of the results of the last spin or the last 1,000 spins.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John:

I have another comment re: article from http://www.slot-machine-games.net.

They are talking about the workings of the RNG within the program of a slot machine. Just like to get your comments on this explanation because I've never heard it quite this way.

Site says:

"Here's how the complete process plays out in a typical three-reel machine.

"You pull the handle, and the computer records the next three numbers from the random number generator. The first number is used to determine the position of the first reel, the second number is used for the second reel and the third number is used for the third reel. For this example, let's say the first number is 123,456,789.

"To determine the position of the first reel, the computer divides the first random number by a set value. Typically, slot machines divide by 32, 64, 128, 256 or 512. In this example, we'll say the computer divides by 64.

"When the computer divides the random number by the set value, it records the remainder of the quotient. In our example, it finds that 64 goes into 123,456,789 a total of 1,929,012 times with a remainder of 21.

"Obviously, the remainder can't be more than 64 or less than 0, so there are only 64 possible end results of this calculation. The 64 possible values act as stops on a large virtual reel.

"Slot Machine Odds: In a modern slot machine, the odds of hitting a particular symbol or combination of symbols depends on how the virtual reel is set up. As we saw in the last section, each stop on the actual reel may correspond to more than one stop on the virtual reel. Simply put, the odds of hitting a particular image on the actual reel depend on how many virtual stops correspond to the actual stop.

"In a typical weighted slot machine, the top jackpot stop (the one with the highest-paying jackpot image) for each reel corresponds to only one virtual stop. This means that the chance of hitting the jackpot image on one reel is 1 in 64. If all of the reels are set up the same way, the chances of hitting the jackpot image on all three reels is 1 in 643, or 262,144. For machines with a bigger jackpot, the virtual reel may have many more stops. This decreases the odds of winning that jackpot considerably.

"The losing blank stops above and below the jackpot image may correspond to more virtual stops than other images. Consequently, a player is most likely to hit the blank stops right next to the winning stop. This creates the impression that they "just missed" the jackpot, which encourages them to keep gambling, even though the proximity of the actual stops is inconsequential."

Is this how it actually works?

Stu

Dear Stu,

That description is fairly accurate. I have only two comments.

First, the slot could use one number from the RNG to determine the results or one number per reel. Either way, it makes no difference to the player.

Second, it is untrue that the top jackpot symbol appears only once on a virtual reel. On many machines, it appears two or more times.

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.

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