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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Charting the RNG

22 January 2007

Dear John,

I agree with what you have written about randomness in slots and video poker. I have, however, one serious reservation. It is based on a real-life occurrence which hasn't, to my knowledge, been repeated since.

Approximately ten years ago a player of electronic keno (where the results are RNG-generated) at the Montreal Casino built himself a database of consecutive keno game results. Lo and behold, he discovered that after approximately 4,000 games, 19 out of 20 numbers were repeated. He proceeded to place three $5 bets on three consecutive keno games, winning $200,000 per ticket. After the third draw the game was closed down, and electronic keno was halted world-wide. Afterwards, the casino reverted to using the bingo-like balls-in-a-cage method of drawing winning keno numbers.

Perhaps the same type of database could not be compiled at slots or video poker, or could it? Possibly, casinos would not allow a player to record spin results over a lengthy period of time. Perhaps no player would have the means or the patience to do so.

Having used an RNG myself in computer programming about 20 years ago, I found that with the software and hardware I was using RNG-generated results were random but not infinitely random. Possibly, not all RNGs are made equal. Certainly, one that uses time (seconds or fractions of seconds) when a button is pressed as part of its algorithm would be very difficult to track in a database. I say difficult, but with good diagnostic tools and a powerful computer, probably not impossible.

Patience and perseverance certainly paid off handsomely for that Canadian keno player! He collected $600,000 plus interest, interest because the casino first had to establish whether he had cheated or simply found a weakness in the system.

Thanks for listening, and rest assured that I am not questioning the validity of your advice to players.

Darryl

Dear Darryl,

I haven't heard your story before, but I have heard a similar one.

A cab driver regularly had breakfast at a coffee shop in a casino in Canada. For fun, he used to write down on a napkin the keno numbers drawn. After a few days, he realized that the same sets of numbers were being drawn.

Eventually he bought some tickets and won quite a bit of money. As I recall, there was also an investigation into whether he had cheated and he was awarded the money.

This keno game was run by an old IBM PC, old enough that it required a separate real-time clock card. (This is an old story.) Either the battery was dead on the card, or they forgot to put in the statement to set the computer's clock to the card's time, or they forgot to install the card. The flaw in the system was that the RNG was seeded with the current time and the computer's time was never set to the real time. Every morning when they turned on the computer, the time was set to the default and the same sets of numbers were drawn each day.

In my experience, a casino will let you record spin results for as long as you want — casinos love players with systems — but there would be no value in helping you predict future results. Modern slots can vary the pace at which numbers are generated and they can reseed the RNG to jump to a different point in the cycle. Another problem is that multiple numbers yield the same symbol on a reel? For example, the triple bar symbol at physical stop 12 might be at virtual stops 20 through 25 on a reel. When the triple bar symbol lands on the payline, you can't tell whether the virtual stop chosen was 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 or 25.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John,

I have two video poker questions for you.

I actually saw a woman dealt a king-high straight flush on a progressive machine. (Argosy Casino, Lawrenceburg, Indiana) Is proper play to take the straight flush or discard the 9?

The Jacks or Better machines at Mountaineer Gaming (Chester, WV) only pay one credit for one pair or two pair. What is the correct strategy for pair of Jacks and pair of 2s? I discard the 2s.

Thanks,
Duke

Dear Duke,

There are so many pay table variations, I won't make any specific recommendations without knowing the complete pay table. As a general rule, you wouldn't break a straight flush to go for the royal and you would hold both pairs. But you really have to get a strategy chart for the specific pay tables to know for sure that these are the best moves in these situations.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Some casinos have a non-smoking area. Could you please tell me if the payouts on the non-smoking area slots are the same or different than those on the smoking area slots?

Thanks,
Earl

Dear Earl,

As a non-smoker, I'm always pleased to find a non-smoking area with many popular slots and high-paying video poker machines.

My experience in the past, however, is that I've rarely been pleased. Some casinos put their worst slots and low-paying video pokers in the non-smoking area.

I believe the casinos have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Casino management believes that few of their customers are non-smokers, so management places few desirable games in the non-smoking area. Why waste good machines? Sure enough, the machines in the non-smoking area don't get much play, but it's not because no one wants to play in the non-smoking area. It's because there's nothing worth playing there.

That said, you can tell whether the video poker machines in the non-smoking area pay as well as those in the smoking area by comparing the pay tables. As for the slots, most casinos order roughly the same long-term payback percentage for all of their machines in a particular denomination, so I don't believe there's any significant difference between the paybacks in the smoking and non-smoking areas.

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