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Is it illegal to program near misses?

19 January 2009

John,

Enjoy reading your articles and now I have a question. Is it illegal to programme near misses?

I was playing at Casino Niagara Niagara Falls Ontario, Canada. The machine was an IGT Double Double Diamond, quarter machine and maximum play three coins. I was hitting a number of Double Double Diamonds on payline and nothing was happening, then bang two Double Double Diamonds came down on the payline and my heart got ready for a jackpot, no two symbols above and below which if on the line would have paid a jackpot. I looked at my watch and it was 12:50 p.m. I continued to play and several minutes later the same thing happened, now I am getting angry. I played for maybe ten minutes and bang again it happened Double Double Diamond and symbols that would have paid a jackpot, I looked at my watch and it was now 1:10 p.m., I have never had this happen before and believe the Casino has programmed these near misses, I thought they were illegal. I sent a letter to OLG governing body of casino, gave them timeframes this happened, type of machine and also gave the number of the actual machine I was playing. They sent a courtesy e-mail saying that it was sent to Casino Niagara. I know the answer it will be the RNG does it, but I read articles that this was outlawed years ago, has IGT gone back to doing this? (Near misses).

They just recently (Casino Niagara) put a label on all machines stating that whatever the last play symbols showed has no bearing on your next play, this is saying don't get excited if you get a close call for jackpot it means nothing, to me it does if you believe you're close to something, this is why it was outlawed years ago (near misses) players kept playing to achieve that jackpot, people are the same today.

The casinos have a big edge, and in Ontario they refuse to tell what payoff percentages machines pay because they say it gives Atlantic City and Las Vegas an unfair advantage, even taken to court for that and they won. What do they have to hide?

Thank you for any input.

Bill

Dear Bill,

Just about every losing spin can be converted into a winner by shifting one or more reels up or down a stop. Just about every losing spin is a near miss.

Near misses were not outlawed years ago. It's impossible to eliminate them. What was outlawed was a process called a "secondary decision."

Machines that used a secondary decision worked this way. The RNG was used to select from a pool consisting of particular winning combinations and "loser." If "loser" was chosen, the programming running the slot machine would then poll the RNG again to choose from a pool of losing combinations that favored exciting losing combinations over boring ones. An exciting losing combination, for example, is two Double Diamond symbols on the payline on the first two reel and a Double Diamond one stop above or below the payline on the last reel. A boring near miss is something like an any bar combination that doesn't land completely on the payline.

The problem with the secondary decision is that it made it look like the jackpot symbol was more likely to land on the payline that it actually was. Every losing spin, in fact, provided no information about how likely it was for symbols to land on the payline because different processes were used to select the symbols for winning spins and for losing spins.

Slots using a secondary decision were considered to be misleading. The Nevada gaming commission wrote regulations requiring electronic slots to display the result determined by the RNG with no secondary decision or other alteration whatsoever.

Near misses still occur, but now the frequency with which they occur is directly related to how frequently symbols appear on the virtual reels defined in the programming of the machine.

As for your casinos not revealing their paybacks, I suppose what they have to hide is how low their payouts are — especially if they're so concerned about casinos so far away.

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