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Best of John Robison

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Forget about the RNG. It's all about programming

20 November 2006

If I understand you correctly, the RNG does only one thing, it reads the number at the time you hit the spin button. Then a program takes that number and determines the outcome. If I understand this correctly, you used to have to manually open the machine and change the chip if you wanted to change the program.

Now in 2006, they can change the program with the click of a mouse. These programs have to be approved by the Gaming Commission, but you could have a weekend program, a quarterly program, daily program, etc. — and have them all approved by the gaming commission. Then all you have to do is set these programs into the machines one time and program them just like you would program your SCHEDULED TASK on your personal computer and there you have it. No more having to wait for the machine to be idle for four minutes or whatever.

This really disturbs me and really is borderline robbery. My chances of winning on a slot machine should be the same every time I set foot in the casino, just like blackjack, or any other table game. They shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the payback of the machine. If a machine is a 95% payback machine, it should always be a 95% payback, not a 90% sometimes or even an 80% sometimes. I don't care if it averages out.

My (used to be) favorite casino is offering $1,000 free play in November and December. Well, of course they are. They can just have their machines so tight that nothing will hit. Why is this legal to change the program in a machine? To me, a 95% machine should be a 95% machine 100% of the time.

Forget about the RNG, it's all about programming.

Tim

Dear Tim,

The RNG is a mathematical function in the programming of a slot machine that generates a series of numbers. When you press the Spin button, the program retrieves the most recently generated number to determine the outcome. So, the RNG doesn't read numbers, it generates them.

Now, a casino could license three or more payback programs (which are really just virtual reel layouts) for each machine. But these programs aren't free. I don't know the pricing model for downloadable games — and each casino company probably strikes its own deal — but new chipsets were about $1,500 each a few years ago. The machines have to be able to earn enough additional money to pay for the additional programs.

Another cost of changing a machine's payback is reporting the change to the state. All of the states want to ensure that they are getting their fair share of casino profits, so they want to know the long-term paybacks of all the machines on the casino's floor.

The requirement in Nevada is that a machine be idle for four minutes before and after a configuration change and that it display a message while its configuration is being changed. The requirement exists to prevent a machine from being changed while it is being played. Even if multiple payback programs could be sent to a machine once and scheduled to take effect at certain times, the machines would still have to be idle before and after the change.

Casinos can change the paybacks on their machines, so your chances of winning on a slot machine are not necessarily the same every time you set foot in the casino. A 95% payback machine is a 95% payback machine 100% of the time. If you change the virtual reel layout, and thus the long-term payback, it is no longer a 95% payback machine.

Downloadable games has made it much easier for casinos to reprogram their next generation slot machines. The fact remains, however, that it still does not make economic sense for a casino to license additional payback programs just for use on a few days a month.

I agree with you, however, that it is not about the RNG, it's about the programming, i.e., the virtual reel layout. Players put too much emphasis on the RNG, even though the numbers from it are just raw material. What the machine does with the numbers is the interesting part.

It's not about the canvas and the paints. It's about what the painter does with them.

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