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How Easy Is It for a Casino to Tighten Slots?

18 May 2009

By John Robison

Dear John,

I'm reading the reply to the question of tightening machines. I thought it took an act of God for a casino to do that. You did not say anything about that. People still think that, in the middle of a Thursday night, casinos tighten machines for the weekend. They swear they've seen the machines open; they must be changing the payback on those machines.

My wins/losses go in spurts. I win for months at a time, then lose for several visits. Overall, I win. (I play video poker.) I feel that there is a better chance of consistent winning playing vp than the basic slots.

Again, remind me and others if a casino CAN tighten slots or video poker (which I understand is more chance as the "computer" is shuffling the deck, right?)

Thank you. Love your column.


Dear Sandy,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

You're right. Casinos cannot easily change the payback on a machine, but it does take considerably less than an act of God. An act of Congress might be a better description.

A disclaimer: I'm specifically talking about Class III games (those that contain their own RNG and determine their results independently). Class II games and machines abroad may operate differently.

Today casinos have to change a chip in a machine to change its long-term payback. Depending on jurisdiction, casinos can either make the change themselves without a witness from the gaming commission, make the change with a witness, or watch as someone from the gaming commission makes the change. The jurisdictions with which I'm familiar all require the casino to file paperwork notifying the gaming commission of the change.

Just opening a machine isn't sufficient to change the long-term payback. The slot technician has to open another section of the machine, known as the logic drawer, in order to change the appropriate chip.

With video poker, the only way the casino can change the long-term payback is by changing the paytable. That change will be obvious to players. With slots, the virtual reel layout is changed and players will never know.

Video poker is no more "chance" than slots or any other casino game. All casino games are random events.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at 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