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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Manipulating slot machines

15 May 2006

Hi, John,

I work in the casino industry as a floor person — underpaid and overworked, compared to some dealers' paychecks.

I read you, FRANK, Barney and your featured writers each and every day.

Since I am considered "management," I am NOT allowed to receive "zooks," "tokes," and "tips." I can ASSURE you, service industry people survive on your tips. MANY casino workers earn nothing more than minimum wage.

They may not always show it, but they do appreciate generous-hearted players very much.

Oh, by the way, people who work for tips are the "BEST TIPPERS." They know the ups and downs of a service-related industry.

Best Regards,
Bill

Dear Bill,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

John


Hello, John,

I read your articles with great interest. One recurring theme is the belief that machines can be manipulated electronically. Despite being illegal, you say that to do so would not be possible. Let me share some info gained by careful observation and a bit of knowledge. To gain access to the "innards" of the machine where all of the chips, RNG and others determining payouts are located, requires more than one person. A board change or chip change requires a representative of the Gaming Control Board or other oversight entity. In order to "monkey" with things, collusion on a broad scale is required. While not impossible, it is highly unlikely.

Consider this. On 3-reel machines there is a plastic strip showing each of the symbols. This strip is placed around the drum and precisely aligned in order to register correctly winning and losing combinations of symbols. I have seen machines opened and these strips replaced by technicians — many times just one and sometimes two, but never with a "suit" in sight. I've seen some machines with worn or damaged strips that needed to be replaced and probably were at some point. What is to prevent the replacement of these strips with one or several of the symbols misaligned? What is to prevent the operator from replacing them with strips of a different combination of symbols?

We're not there 24/7 to see if the payouts are consistent. When we lose, we move on and chalk it up to a bad run of luck. Who knows if that machine has ever paid a jackpot, or has even come close? No reprogamming of a chip is required. Nothing electronic need be involved. Yet payouts can be significantly altered and who is the wiser? Your thoughts, please.

Gene

Dear Gene,

I too have seen machines with misaligned reel strips and even the wrong reel strips. But the reels strips have nothing to do with determining the results of a spin. One or more numbers from the RNG determines the result. The reels just display the result from the RNG. It really doesn't matter what the reels display.

Moving on to your second point, there's no such thing as coming close to paying a jackpot. It's just like being pregnant — either you are or you aren't. A spin is either a jackpot or it isn't. Close doesn't count.

I don't understand the scenario you described in your last paragraph. I think you're saying that we don't play or watch a machine for a great period of time, therefore we don't know if a machine has ever hit a jackpot if we don't hit one ourselves. Moreover, we don't know if it's even possible to hit a jackpot on a machine.

In this case, we have to trust the casino and the regulators. I haven't seen every jurisdiction's regulations, but I would be shocked if every jurisdiction did not have a regulation stating that every winning combination on a pay table must be possible.

Now, I have to ask this question. If someone believes that the results on the machines are manipulated and it may not be possible to hit a combination listed on a pay table — in short, that the machines are not honest — why do they play the slot machines?

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John:

Last year, I was playing slots at Showboat in Atlantic City and when I pressed the cashout button, the $20 ticket got stuck with just a tiny bit visible. I tried to coax it out with a pen but it was hopeless. It was 2 a.m. so, of course, there were no casino employees in sight; and I spent 20 minutes looking for one. By the time I got someone to accompany me back to the machine, someone (probably the guy who was playing the machine next to that one) had somehow wrestled the ticket from the machine and cashed it in. The employee told me tough luck, nothing they can do about it. I was furious, partly from being out the $20 and partly from the frustration of running around, looking for an employee to help me at that time of night. (I have no one to go with me on my trips so there's no one to watch the machine while I endeavor to track someone down.)

On my next trip, I was playing in The Taj Mahal when the machine malfunctioned (reels wouldn't stop spinning). I spotted a house phone on a wall within eyeshot of the machine. I called the operator, told her my problem and she very nicely transferred my call to the appropriate department. I told them the problem and my location in the casino. In 5 minutes, a technician showed up, fixed the machine, and I cashed out my ticket. (I wouldn't want to keep playing a machine that had already malfunctioned.)

I will NEVER leave a machine unwatched again when I have a problem. I've had stuck ticket/machine out of paper problems on numerous occasions in several casinos; sometimes I can catch a security guard walking nearby and ask him to please tell the proper personnel about my problem/location (Harrah's is very good in that respect.)

Nancy

Dear Nancy,

One of the (dis)advantages of ticket systems is that casino's need fewer slot floorpeople because there aren't any hopper fills. My cousin once waited 45 minutes for a hopper fill at about the same time of night. And that was before tickets. I'm afraid that the problem of finding help in the wee hours is not going to get better.

The best thing to do when you have a problem is to press the Attendant Call button on the machine and stay with it. Pressing the button will light the candle on the top of the machine, which alerts the floorpeople that you need assistance.

Unfortunately, you just can't leave a machine unattended. Not even for a second, it seems. One time at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, I had to get up from a machine to get a coin bucket from a stack of buckets in a carousel about 20 feet away. In the five seconds I was out of the chair, someone tried to sit down in it.

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