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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Getting Started Playing Video Poker, An RNG Skeptic

18 January 2004

Dear John,

I have enjoyed your replies immensely. The only advice I can give your readers is, you just have to hope you get a slot machine that has not paid for the last one or two players (maybe more) and have it loosened up for you.

I like the 3 quarter slots and have lost as much as $80 on one machine. I have put in $20 and played for an hour--sometimes winning, sometimes not.

Several weeks ago I was at the Choctaw Indian reservation in Miss. I generally put in a $20 and if I get no results, leave. I finally sat down at a Triple 5 machine. Got a lot of playing time (and credits) so I put in another $20. Again got playing time. It was getting late and I was ready to pack it in, but my partner still had some credits. So I dropped in the third $20. After several spins, I hit a $5,000 jackpot. Great!!!! However, after figuring how much I have spent since the beginning of the year, I figure I am just about even but I've had a good time.

Keep it coming. I get many chuckles.

Si

Dear Si,

I'm glad you've enjoyed my replies. Congratulations on your jackpot.

I have to disagree with your advice. Just because a machine has paid well for the last few players, that does not mean that it has been loosened up for the next player. The odds for hitting a winning combination on a machine are the same on every spin, regardless of how well or poorly the machine has paid in the past.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


I am planning on going to Las Vegas. I want to try the video poker machines. What do I look for to get the best odds?

Unlike slot machines, video poker machines are an open book. We can calculate the long-term payback of a video poker machine from the paytable.

Your first step is to know which paytables are high-paying paytables. Two excellent books that list the paybacks of different paytables are Victory at Video Poker by Frank Scoblete and The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski.

Your next step is to find out which video poker paytables are available at the casinos you plan to visit. I use Skip Hughes' Video Poker Homepage to find out the high-paying machines at casinos. Skip's site is a subscription site. You might be able to find the high-paying machines in casinos by searching the Internet. You can certainly call the casino to find out which machines it has.

Now, you want to learn the strategy for one or two of the high-paying machines at the casinos you want to visit. The two books I mentioned above contain strategies. I recommend Frugal Video Poker to practice playing on your PC. You can also bring Frugal Video Poker strategy cards into the casino with you to refer to while you play.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

I've read your column for quite sometime now and there is one question I would like to ask.

Will all legal slot machines hit for their top jackpots? Or would the slot machine only need to return the programmed percentage payback to meet New Jersey legal requirement to be in compliance.

Thanks.

A great question.

In all jurisdictions with which I'm familiar, if a combination is listed on the paytable, the machine must be able to hit it. Some jurisdictions even regulate how unlikely a combination can be.

That said, being able to hit a jackpot is not the same as actually having hit it. For example, every Megabucks machine is capable of hitting the big one, but most do not.

We can calculate the range in which we expect the actual payback from to fall after a certain number of spins on the machine. The calculations assume that the winning combinations hit with their expected frequencies, and then we add a little wiggle room on either side to make a range because we're really dealing with random events and the combinations won't hit with their expected frequencies.

I don't think it's possible for a machine to get a lot of play and stay within the range without hitting its jackpot once in a while. In other words, a properly functioning machine cannot return its programmed payback percentage without hitting the jackpot with close to the expected frequency. (Megabucks is a special case because the chances of hitting the big one are about 1 out of 50,000,000, while the chances of hitting the jackpot on most other machines is 1 out of tens of thousands.)

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

I have been a heavy slot player for about five years now. My question is this: If there is truly an RNG, then why is it that if you are playing a multiple-line slot of, say, three lines, and you only play one or two lines, then without fail a heavy hit or even a jackpot will always, and I mean always, show up on a line for which you did not play a coin over the period of a $20 or more bet?

Sign me skeptical about RNG.

Ed

Dear Ed,

I would like you to try an experiment. The next time you play one of these slots, keep track of the number of times one of these hits occurs on an inactive payline. I think you'll find that you're not getting these hits as frequently as you think. We tend to think that things we've missed out on happen more frequently than they really do.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

Are you saying that when a casino has a sign claiming a 98% payback, ALL the slots have that percentage or is it just one marked off area?

Sue

Dear Sue,

I think it depends on exactly what the sign says and where it is--and the local gaming regulations.

If I see a casino's billboard on the highway and that billboard says, "Our slots pay back 98%," I think that would be the average payback of all the machines or the percentage the casino paid back in a particular month. One could also interpret that statement to mean that all slots pay back 98%, but there will be some fine print somewhere saying that is not the case.

More likely, that billboard says, "Our slots pay back up to 98%," that means at least one machine pays back 98%.

Now let's move into the casino. A big sign above a carousel says, "98% Payback." In this case, I think all machines in the area should pay back 98% or more. If the sign says, "Up to 98% payback," then one or more machines in the area pays back 98%.

To find out exactly what the sign means, check the fine print. If you still are not sure, write your local gaming commission to find out under what conditions the casino is allowed to make the claim.

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.

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