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Best of John Robison

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Common experiences with random events

26 June 2006

OK. You say there aren't any "pay cycles" or "take cycles." I hear what you are saying there.

But why do so many people (almost every slot player) experience the same things? The machine has a series of payouts for like 3 minutes and then pays nothing for about 20 minutes. I know for a fact that almost everyone reading this right now (if you post it) will agree with me.

For example, I hit a secondary jackpot on a dollar machine in Milwaukee. It was a dollar slot. I was playing 1 dollar at a time. The secondary jackpot was double-double-7. I was hand-paid 400 dollars. Then, 4 spins later I hit the double-double-double jackpot for 800. Sometimes it's hard to believe that it is coincidence.

I'm sure you are right when you say it is "random." It's just that most slot players experiences aren't "random." They are all similar, if not the same.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

And "good luck" to you, in and out of the casinos.

the gamblin flatlander

Dear flatlander,

Why shouldn't people have similar experiences with random events?

If we both flipped fair coins and tracked our results for a while, both of our ratios of heads over total flips would be very close to 0.5. Same for the ratio of tails over total flips.

If we did the same experiment with throwing pairs of fair dice and graphed our results, we would both have graphs that look very much like the pyramid of craps. We'd have different results for any individual throw, but our overall results are nearly identical.

Random does not mean completely unpredictable. We can know quite a bit about random events, as my two experiments above show.

The only thing that is random on a slot machine is what combination is going to land on the payline next.

Thanks for the good luck wish. My luck in the casinos has not been very good lately. Fortunately, my luck outside has made up for it.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


After reading your response concerning whether machines have "cycles," the following question came to mind that has been plaguing me for some time: If you win a jackpot on a machine (Royal Flush), is it smart to keep playing that same machine? Does the machine record the jackpot payout and reprogram itself, so to speak, so that it doesn't hit the jackpot again for another 44,000 spins?

Thanks, in advance, for your response. I really enjoy reading your columns!

Tom

Dear Tom,

It's neither smart nor foolish to keep playing a machine after hitting a royal flush on it.

Suppose you're sitting at your kitchen table with a deck of cards and you're going to imitate a video poker machine. You shuffle the cards, deal five cards and play out the hand. When you're done, you put the cards back in the deck and shuffle them thoroughly.

Now, say the hand you just played resulted in a royal. You put the cards back in the deck and do another thorough shuffle. Is your next hand more, less, or just as likely to end in a royal as your previous hand?

I hope you said it was just as likely. Nothing has changed about your deck. It has the same 52 cards. It has been thoroughly shuffled so the cards in your prior royal could be back at the top of the deck. The probability of getting a royal is the same as before.

The same thing is true on a video poker machine. The deck doesn't change between hands and each card in the deck is equally likely to be drawn. The probability of hitting a royal is the same on every hand, regardless of how recently a machine has hit one. Any sort of reprogramming would be illegal.

I think you're leaving out a very important phrase in your statement about the frequency of royal flushes. We don't say that we hit royals every 44,000 hands while playing a particular video poker pay table. We say that we hit royals every 44,000 hands on the average.

If we broke our video poker play into 44,000-hand blocks, we might find zero, one, two, or even three or more royals in any individual block. But if we played enough hands (I don't how many enough is — maybe 750,000 or a million or more hands), our ratio of hands played over royals hit would be very close to 44,000 — or, in other words, we hit a royal every 44,000 hands on the average.

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

I check each day to see when you've posted a new column. Today you replied to Wanda. She inquired about the hesitation she encounters on machines, and asked if this might be the triggering of "pay" or "take" cycles. You said:

"The hesitation you occasionally see on machines occurs when the machine is doing some internal housekeeping required by regulators. It might be reporting activity on the machine since its last report to the slot accounting system; it might be burning that information to its internal non-volatile memory. The hesitation has absolutely nothing to do with changing cycles on a machine."

First, let me say that this is not an "occasional" event if you spend more than a few minutes at any one machine. We used to play 5-line, 3-reel nickel machines, before they were replaced by video, for as much as 5 hrs. straight. We used to remark to each other when each of these "resets," as we called them, happened. We did not take notes of which were "take" or "pay", but there were payoff similarities that we could remember from day to day. We were told that these were resets of the RNG, and see no reason to doubt the veracity of the people who told us.

Alas, we don't have the bankroll to duplicate this activity today — some 4 years later. None of the video versions seem to pay as well as those mechanical machines.

Thanks for the continuing "good reads."

Gene

Dear Gene,

I also don't doubt the veracity of the people who told you that the RNG is being "reset" during the pauses. It is very possible that the RNG is being reset during the pauses, but that possibility does not contradict anything I wrote.

Resetting the RNG is more properly known as reseeding the RNG. What would have been the seed value (or values) for the next call of the RNG function is discarded and a new value is used instead. The RNG is reseeded at various times during play to make it more difficult for RNG cheats to cheat a machine.

Remember that the RNG function has no idea whether any particular number is favorable for the player. Only the game program knows this after it uses the output from the RNG to determine what symbols were chosen.

You bring up a good point about the video slots. Slot directors may be ordering payback percentages for them based on denomination and not average bet per spin. The maximum bet on an old mechanical nickel machine was usually between $0.15 and $0.25. As a result of the relatively small amount of money that can be played through these machines, slot directors ordered payback programs with high house edges, 10% or more.

Today, Sammy Slotdirector may order 90% paybacks or less for his nickel video slots. He sees nickel, he thinks low action, therefore high house edge.

His sister Sally Slotdirector, on the other hand, sees that the maximum bet on this machine is $4.50 or more. She sees relatively high average bet, she thinks good action, therefore she orders a higher long-term payback.

I have only limited anecdotal evidence and my gut feel to back me up, but I fear that more slot directors follow Sammy's philosophy than Sally's. And I don't blame them.

Why should slot directors offer us higher paybacks on video slots when the machines are getting plenty of play at the lower paybacks and players are having a ball playing them?

I think this is just further evidence that most slot players today are playing primarily for entertainment. Winning is still nice, but it's secondary now.

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 send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take several months for your question to appear in my column.

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