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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Next Generation Video Slots, Black Jack Video Poker, Playing off Jackpots

20 March 2004

Where do you see the next generation video going? What features would the cabinet have?

Hmm. As high-powered processors and memory keep getting cheaper and cheaper and therefore used in slot machines, the platform will be able to do more and more. Graphics and sound will continue to improve.

I was about to say that the bonus rounds would get more intricate, but the more I thought about it, the less I thought that would happen. A bonus round can't be so complicated that someone has to read a help screen to know how to play it.

As for the cabinet itself, I think we'll see more attention paid to ergonomics in future designs. I find playing uprights uncomfortable. I much prefer playing slant-tops. But slant-tops take up more floor space than uprights. I would be more comfortable playing uprights if the button deck were lower.

But I know some people who are more comfortable playing uprights than slant-tops. Ideally, the buttons would be on some sort of device that could be moved up and down and in and out.

Or, for a totally off-the-wall idea, how about adding a connector to the front of the machine and then selling touchscreen panels that players would take with them from machine to machine. When a player attaches his panel to a machine, the machine downloads to the panel the button deck configuration so the panel can duplicate the buttons on the deck. The player holds the panel in his lap and presses the buttons on the touchscreen instead of on the button deck. Casinos can sell branded panels and manufacturers could also sell panels branded to particular games--though, of course, there will be a standard and any panel will work with any machine in any casino.

Not so off-the-wall is switching from slot machines to slot workstations, on which you can play any game that casino has in its game server, sort of like video on demand. From what I understand, there are some casinos in Europe that are experimented with some aspects of games on demand.

Two other problems that may be addressed by future cabinets (and already are in some, I believe) are glare and sound spillage. Glare is a problem that probably has to be addressed more by the casino than the manufacturer because the casino created the glare problem through their choices in overhead lighting and machine placement.

Sound spillage, though, has to be addressed in the cabinet. It's a shame to spend so much time and effort (and money) on great sounds for a game only to have the casino turn down the volume so low that even the player can't hear it. Maybe the easiest solution is to add a headphone jack to the machines and let players plug in their own headphones.

WMS Gaming's new Bluebird cabinet, which should start appearing in casinos later this year, addresses the problem of the location of the buttons. I'm not sure if the Bose Free Field speaker technology will help with sound spillage.

John


I hope you can get back to me asap. I am doing a project for school about slot machines and have been reading about RNG, which I understand, and the payout percentage. What I don't understand is that if every spin has an equal chance of winning due to RNG, how can the casino ensure it gets 8% or so of every dollar spent?

I would also like some information or sites to get information on popular cheating techniques on slots. Not extensive details, but basic info on how they do it.

Thanks,
Sonya

Dear Sonya,

Let's say I have 100 index cards. Each card has an amount from 0 to 9 written on it. If you add up the amounts on the cards, the total is 92. We're going to play a game with the cards. You pay me $1 to be able to draw a card at random. I'll pay you the amount written on the card.

The cards are in box, so you can't see the amounts on them when you draw. After we settle a drawing, the card is returned to the box and you have the option to play again.

Each card is equally likely to be drawn. We can calculate the payback on the game by dividing the total amount of money returned ($92) by the product of the number of outcomes (100) times the cost to play ($1). That gives us a payback of 92% for this game.

I don't know which card you're going to pick on any particular play, but because each card is equally likely to be drawn, I know that in the long run the number of times a particular card has been drawn divided by the total number of drawings will get closer and closer to 1/100. And my hold on the game will get closer and closer to 8% of the money you've paid me to play.

A slot machine works in the same way, but it has tens of thousands of possible outcomes (the product of the number of virtual stops on each reel) instead of 100. We don't know which outcome will occur next. But because we're drawing an outcome from a population of outcomes that pays back 92%, the actual pay back on the machine will tend to get closer and closer to 92% the more the machine is played.

As for cheating slots, if you search for the names Ron Harris and Dennis Nikrasch in conjunction with "slot machine" you'll find enough articles and sites to get you started.

John


What's your advice in the game of Black Jack video poker? Is it advisable to hold the black Jack with any pair or 3 of a kind OR to trash the black Jack, knowing there's another one still out there and go for the big payday?

Thanks,
Stu

Stu sent some additional information about this game. A black Jack acts a kicker with quads. Four aces normally pay 2000 coins, but if you have four aces and a black Jack, they pay 4000.

My gut reaction is that you don't want to hold onto the kicker because it limits the number of ways you can complete the quad. Let's look at whether we should hold a black Jack with three Aces to see if I'm right.

Consider the hand AsAhAcJs3s. Of course, we're going to hold onto the three Aces. But should we also hold the Jack of spades.

We can use programs like Frugal Video Poker and WinPoker to help us with the calculations. Pick a paytable that breaks out the payouts for different quads. Change the paytable to pay 800/4000 for four Aces and then analyze our example hand.

We can read the results for holding the Jack along with Aces right off the screen. There is only one way to make four Aces, and they pay 4000 because we're already holding the kicker. There are three ways to draw another Jack and get a full house. The other 43 cards do not improve our hand. The expected value (EV) of that combination is 101.383, assuming the full house pays 40 coins.

We have to do our own calculations to get the EV of holding only the three Aces. Still our analysis programs can do the hard work of counting the combinations for us. There are 46 ways to draw to four Aces, but one of those ways is with the other black Jack. Thus, there is one way to win 4000 coins and 45 to win 2000. We can copy the rest of the numbers right off the screen. There are 66 ways to get a full house, and the remaining 969 ways to not improve our hand. The EV of this option is 102.845.

We'd have to repeat the calculations for holding only the pair, but I'm fairly sure that we'll find that it's better to discard the kicker than to hold it in that situation too.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

I have a question of protocol regarding slot machines after they hit a jackpot. I have been playing the slots for many years (in Illinois) and had my share of jackpots in various casions. After hitting a jackpot, the casino host requests that you spin off the win in order to clear the machine. (I assume this to mean that the casino does not want a jackpot win showing on that particular machine so that it does not deter any potential customers from play on that machine.) Anyway, some casinos pay for this clearing spin up to the amount of my last play. Some casinos only put in one coin and request me to spin it off. Other casinos make this request but do not front any coins to do so. One casino demanded that I spin off the jackpot and refused to front a coin to do it with.

Are some casino personnel that naive to think that I (or anybody else) will frequent their establishment after requesting/forcing me to spin off a win on a machine with my own money. In regards to tipping, I now wait to see what the slot host requests of me after a jackpot win. Obviously, if I have to use my own money, she/he receives a substantially lower tip. I sort of feel bad because I assume that the casino regulates this policy.

Is there any simple way to spread the word to all casinos on how to treat their customers? Do they not realize that their one or more coin guesture will probably result in a 100% or better return?

Please help.

Tom

Dear Tom,

You're right. The casino wants you to play off a jackpot because some people will not play a machine that has just hit a big win.

It can only be a request, though. They can't force you to do it. That would be forcing you to gamble and no jurisdiction would allow a casino to force a patron to gamble.

I can imagine the complaint one could write. "I just hit a jackpot on this machine. I didn't want to play it anymore, but the casino said I had to play it one more time to clear the jackpot. The casino forced me to play a machine against my will."

I've had slot floorpeople ask me if I was going to continue playing a machine after a handpay, but I've never had anyone require me to play off a jackpot.

Now, should the casino pay you to play it off? If I remember correctly, a casino in Las Vegas did just that a number of years ago. Video Poker pros figured out they could make some money playing high-denomination machines because the casino would front the money to play off handpays and those machines had many, many handpays.

The casino could front the money for the spin as a public relations measure. You said some casinos in your area do that. Play at those casinos and not at ones that don't. That's one way to spread the word.

Another is to write to the slot director or president of the casino and tell him or her that you hit a jackpot on a machine but were not given some coins with which to play off the jackpot. Tell them that Casino B does give players the money, so you'll be playing there in the future.

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