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Cell Phones in Casinos, Video Keno, Video Poker Programs

26 February 2004

By John Robison

What a lot of people don't realize is that cell phones, so I've been told by cardiologists, can interfere with pacemakers, especially old pacemakers.

This reader is referring to a recent question from someone who was told she could not use a cell phone in a casino.

A few months ago, I saw part of a program about middle-school students competing in a science challenge on one of the Discovery channels. One of the participants did a science project about how cell phones affect his mother's pacemaker. Cell phones can interfere with other devices.

Most jurisdictions, however, require slot machines to be immune to radio frequency interference (RFI). Perhaps you've even seen the show with the segment showing IGT bombarding a machine with radio waves in a test chamber. I would think that the very size of a slot's cabinet would allow the machine to have far more shielding than a pacemaker and it should be more impervious to RFI. That said, I know of one casino that purchased a new walkie-talkie system and the mobile units would cause a machine to spit out coins when their mikes were keyed very near a machine.

I suppose the best way to find out why a casino bans cell phone use on the slot floor is to ask.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

My wife really enjoys your column and has asked me to pass along this question.

She enjoys playing the keno machines at one of the Indian Casinos in Washington State. She is curious about the way the machines determine a winner. Is the keno machine similar to a slot in terms of random play or does the selection of numbers have an impact on the results?

One keno player next to her insisted that the keno machine determines a winner the same way a slot machine does. That is, it will show a winner when the machine determines it will pay on the selected numbers no matter what they are.

Also, is it true that keno has the worst payback of all casino machines?

Thanks in advance,

Dear Skeppy,

After you select your numbers and press the draw button, the program running the keno machine uses its RNG to draw numbers for that race. The program then determines how many matches there were and pays off accordingly.

The numbers are drawn at random. Your wife's keno-playing neighbor is incorrect.

Video keno can be one of the lowest-paying machines in a casino, as you can see from the paybacks posted at Because each number is equally likely to be drawn in any drawing, you can calculate whether your paytable is a good bet using the formula at the wizard's site.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

Great site. Great info. I think.

Nothing big has happened to me but you sure sound smart.

Dumb question: On machines such as "Haywire," when a hit causes the reels to start spinning by themselves, are these free spins that are subject to the same odds as a bought spin or is it just more show?


Dear Charlie,

Thanks for the compliment. I think.

On repeat-pay machines such as Haywire, the combination that lands on the payline determines how many times the machine will repeat the pay. Even though they look the same, some symbols have the Haywire attribute set and some don't. So, a combination of three plain single bars may pay 10 coins, but if the first single bar is a Haywire single bar, the combination will pay twice. And if the single bar on the middle reel has the Haywire attribute, the combination will pay four times. On a Haywire machine, these aren't free spins, they're repeat pays. The machine is always stopping on the same combination and the number of repeat pays is determined by which symbols carry the Haywire attribute.

On machines with the Spin 'Til You Win feature, however, the odds on the "free spin" are the same as on a bought spin.

Your comment about nothing big having happened to you yet gives me the opportunity to say that I can't tell readers the secret of hitting jackpots or making big money at the slots. The only things I can do are: dispel the myths about slots by telling how the machines really work and give some tips about stretching one's bankroll, managing one's money, and using the casino comp system.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Dear John,

I really enjoy reading your column and the information it provides.

My question is this (and I apologise for the short notice): I am going to Atlantic City this Super Bowl weekend. Can you tell me where in Atlantic City they have the best paybacks for video poker? We are staying at the Showboat.

Also, can you recommend any good places to eat? I would really appreciate the info.

Thank you!


Dear Dave,

I'm sorry this reply is coming too late for you. I'm usually anywhere from one month to three behind in reading e-mail.

It's been a while since I've been to Atlantic City, so I checked the latest listing of full pay machines in the East at, a fee-based site run by Skip Hughes.

It's difficult to answer your question without knowing the denomination and types of games you play. Bally's has 9/6 Jacks and full-pay Pick 'Em in dollars and Triple Play 8/5 Bonus with a progressive in quarters. Borgata has 9/6 Jacks in many denominations. Caesars used to have a ton of 9/6 Jacks machine in dollars, but I don't see them listed anymore and I did hear a rumor about their paytables being lowered.

Other good choices for dollar 9/6 Jacks are the Sands, Taj Mahal, and Tropicana. Resorts used to have many quarter 8/5 Bonus machines, but I'm not sure they still do. Fortunately, they still have many quarter full-pay Pick 'Em machines.

As for the Showboat, it used to have a good video poker selection many years ago. Now it has nothing good.

Recommending a good place to eat is also difficult without knowing your budget. As for me, I'm strictly a snack bar-coffee shop-buffet guy unless I'm with someone else (translation: someone else's comp account is doing the buying). As for buffets, Trump Plaza's is very good, but the selection is limited. Caesars is okay. Harrah's buffet used to be the best, but Borgata's has raised the bar and, I've heard, the quality and service at Harrah's buffet have gone down. I've also had good meals at the Virginia City Buffet at Bally's Wild Wild West.

As for higher-end dining, I can recommend Arturo's and Mr. Ming's at Bally's and the Brighton Steakhouse and Medici at the Sands.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Good morning, John,

I recently purchased your book, The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots. I plan on taking all your suggestions on my next trip to the Casino. As a rule I do not win when playing the slots, so I am in hopes your book will help.

I also enjoy reading your newsletter. Thanks for sharing!

My question is this: I am interested in video poker. Where can I purchase a computer program that teaches a person how to play these machines?

Thank you,

Dear Lori,

Thanks for the kind words about my column and thanks especially for buying my book. Keep in mind that my advice won't necessarily help you win more money, but it will help you ensure that your money lasts as long as you want to play and, I hope, help you have more fun while playing the slots.

The most comprehensive program for learning video poker today is Jean Scott's Frugal Video Poker. It is available at and It comes pre-programmed with tons of video poker paytables, plus it lets you put in almost any paytable you happen to come across. The program will even generate a strategy to use while playing that paytable. The program runs on PCs and lists for $39.95.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at

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