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Best of John Robison

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Estimating a machine's long-term payback

10 May 2010

A while ago I wrote that you can estimate a machine's long-term payback by estimating how likely each symbol on each reel is to land on the payline. I've done this by noting the outcome of a few hundred spins.

I recently received this e-mail about estimating a machine's long-term payback.

Hi John,

I did something similar to this [keeping track of outcomes on a machine]. One time I went to the casino with a small video camera in my jacket and sat next to a couple machines and video taped the spins. I just sipped on a drink for a while and stuck a dollar in the machine I was sitting at occasionally, then I went home and watched the video back and reverse calculated the payback using the method you described. The reason I did it like that is that I know if I sat there with a pen and paper and took a reel sampling they would probably kick me out.

Is what I did illegal? If they somehow caught me with the camera, what could they do to me?

Thanks.

I don't know that any state has made it illegal to record video in a casino. Casinos however may prohibit photography on the casino floor. The main reason for this prohibition -- at least in the past -- is to protect patrons who didn't want photographic evidence of their casino visit and who they are with. In any case, if casino security didn't want you use your camera, a guard would ask you to put it away and might ask you to erase any video or pictures you took. If you continued to use the camera, security would either confiscate the camera and return it to you at the end of your visit or ask you to leave the casino. I don't think you have to worry about being taken to the back room and having your knuckles broken.

I've always used a pencil and paper to keep my records. I've even taken a clipboard onto the slot floor. Sometimes a floorperson or guard asked me what I was doing, but no one ever asked me to stop. There's no way I can cheat a machine by writing down the results of spins on it. I always told the truth about what I was doing and they thought I was working on some sort of system. And casinos love systems players.

The only time I was hassled about taking notes in a casino was in a Native American casino in San Diego. I don't remember which one. Ironically, I was making notes about the machines in the casino for an article in Strictly Slots.

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