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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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More on slot cycles and randomness

2 October 2006

Dear John,

In your recent letter explaining the hit frequency on a machine you say that the only way to change this is to change the layout of the symbols on the reels.

I thought the layout of the symbols was just a visual gratification for the player. It has nothing to do with the payout he selects by pushing the button at a particular time when the random number generator says to pay or not to pay and how much.

Thanks,
Jay

Dear Jay,

The random number generator (RNG) does not in and of itself determine how much, if anything, is won on a spin. But you're right that the layout of the symbols on the physical reels is meaningless.

The slot machine uses numbers from the RNG to select stops on the virtual reels. The symbols on those stops determine how much the player is paid.

What I wrote was this:

The only way to change the hit frequency on a machine is to change the layout of the symbols on the virtual reels.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

Thank you for honest answers on 7/17/06. I must say, your site is very popular in our country. Slovenia is btw. one of the most gambling-developed areas in Europe.

So, there are many players and we always discuss all your answers.

Still I must say, practically no one is ready to believe in complete randomness of the machines.

First, I found your phrase "selective mind" very appropriate. I wrote "first spin is always a win" or "machine always hits two (out of three) bonus symbols on the last spin." Yes, probably I remembered only those times when it happens. I don't remember those when it doesn't. Sounds reasonable. I will try to convince myself about it.

Next – near misses. Are you familiar with the story about an IGT computer programmer who was fired and admitted there ARE deliberate near misses? Some friends told me that there must be an interview with this guy on the Internet.

I think your writings are very honest, so, you write what you know. Is there a possibility, that you don't know everything? Maybe some things remain hidden deeply behind the walls of IGT, Bally, Atronic, Novomatic…?

If so, PLEASE in the name of all players, DO help us. Try to provide some new, so far unknown information. This forum could become a great place to gain some real info and help about slots. Not the ones we all know long ago (the best machines are on most visible places, control your bankroll etc…).

So let's try to find out all the secrets about RNG and Telnaes maps. I believe RELATIONS between these two are the key issue.

And do we bother you, when you point out at least 1,000 times, that everything is random?

Because we are only humans. We learn from our lives. We know what random is. From school and from life.

I wrote you about this and I just can't take it for random: a machine Dolphin's Pearl (Novomatic) takes usually around 1,000 – 2,000 spins to give 15 bonus free spins (three pearls hit). And almost always your spins are being retriggered (again three pearls). Not once, several times (my records – 210 games – 13 times retriggered). Sorry, if this would happen once in 20 or 30 bonus games, I would take it for random but not otherwise.

O.K. I will accept if you would at least say "Telnaes map changes during free spins." But wouldn't really convince me. Why? Here's the next example.

Machine Sharky (Novomatic). Few days ago I friend of mine lost 1.000 EURO on that machine. All bonus games (10 free spins) were poor. There must have been at least 10 bonus games. She was frustrated. A day after I was playing the same machine, which literally exploded at one point. ALL bonus games (again - at least 10) were incredible (retriggered up to 7 times!).

And the best part – I earned exactly around 1.000 EURO, before I noticed the machine started to give worse bonus games and less winnings.

However, next day I was a bit greedy and I wanted to prove myself that you, John, are right (previous results have no influence) and I played further, even though I knew I shouldn't have. Guess what – I quickly lost 500 EURO. Bonuses were the same as two days ago – poor, all of them.

Now, till today, this cycle already happened twice again (just today I recovered 500 EURO and this time didn't play further). Can't wait tomorrow to see what happens.

And this isn't the first time. I observe machines for about two years now and such cycles happen all the time. Sometimes these cycles are long, sometimes short. That's why it's so tough to know when exactly the give cycle would end.

These observations lead me to only one reasonable conclusion – the machine takes a certain amount of money in certain number of spins. Then it gives it back in certain number of spins. I believe the machine can choose how much in how many spins.

Now, I know that over time the RNG could level up every possible event on a machine to reach its preset percentage. I know your theory is right. But still, maybe there are other reasons why machines work like my examples showed.

Maybe IGT and others want these cycles? Why? So no one could get ruined very quickly. So no one would hate a certain machine for giving out nothing.

OR MAYBE because we (players) always want to get into a good cycle and sometimes are ready to give out 1,000 of EUROS just to fall into a good cycle. It has psychological effects. Guess what, the toughest machine in our casino (Dolphin's pearl) is the most played one. Everyone wants to win its fantastic bonus.

And the most played machines will also be the best-selling ones in future. It's all down to business at the end.

Maybe you could try thinking this way a little bit.

I will write more, as I have tons of events to write about. But at this time – can't wait to see your answers. It's great we have you.

Ales, Slovenia, Europe

Dear Ales,

Thank you for the kind words about my columns.

You may be justified in not believing in the complete randomness of slot machines. My statements about how machines operate are based on U.S. regulations. European-built slots may not have the same restrictions.

I am familiar with someone who claimed there are deliberate near misses. His name is Ron Harris, and he was not an IGT employee but an employee of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Today he is an ex-convict, having been caught rigging slot machines and using his knowledge of how a keno system operated to try to win keno jackpots in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

What he claimed was nothing new. Of course there are near misses on slot machines and a near miss on the jackpot occurs much more frequently than a hit on the jackpot. But the machine does not decide when it's time to show a near miss. The frequency of near misses is determined solely by the layout of the symbols on the virtual reels.

I don't know everything and I don't claim that I do. But do you really think that it is possible that there are some deep, dark secrets at the slot manufacturers and some disgruntled employees over the past 20 years didn't reveal them?

The slot manufacturers build a product that in most cases is among the worst bets in the casino and there's no shortage of players willing to lose their money playing the machines. The manufacturers don't need to lie about how their machines operate. The regulations allow them to build machines that win plenty of money legally. The problem with conspiracies is that they can only be proven. They can't be disproved.

The only secret about the RNG is the actual algorithm used. And there is no relationship between the RNG and the Telnaes map except for the fact that the program running the slot machine uses numbers from the RNG to select stops from the map.

I find your "reasonable" conclusion completely unreasonable. You said that the machine takes a certain amount of money and then gives back some money. Sometimes these cycles are long, and sometimes they're short. "That's why it's so tough to know when exactly the give cycle would end."

Your conclusion is that the machine "can choose how much in how many spins" to give back. But your observations of varying lengths of cycles are exactly what you would observe on a machine on which the outcome of each spin is chosen totally at random and without regard for what has happened in the past. There is nothing in your observations that is inconsistent with this method of operation.

You guess that IGT wants these cycles so "no one could get ruined very quickly." The problem with that statement is that players get ruined quickly every day. I don't know how many times I've sat down at a machine and just couldn't win anything and quickly lost my session stake.

Finally, I disagree with your statement that people know what random is. On the contrary, I'd say that most people have no idea what random means. They use coincidence and events that are a natural outcome of randomness to claim that machines are not random. The presence of cycles on slot machines, for example, does not disprove randomness.

Human beings are uncomfortable with randomness. We want cause and effect. You want to find some explanation other than randomness for what you've observed.

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