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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Posting Odds, Slot Systems

20 November 2003

Dear John,

Is there a way to determine the odds of hitting a specific slot jackpot? Do you have any idea of the chance a player has of hitting the Betty Boop Progressive quarter machine? I assume it is easier to hit the Payday progressive, which has a smaller jackpot, but would like to know the true odds.

The people of New Jersey are informed of the odds of winning the lottery games run by the state. It is unjust that the largest competition to the state run lottery, the casinos, do not inform us of the odds of winning their slot machine Jackpots.

As a lottery player, I know the exact odds of winning the Pick 6. Yet how can we determine the odds of hitting a slot machine jackpot? How do we know if the odds of winning the Blondie progressive is 1 in 2 million or 1 in 3 million? So we can do comparison shopping with other slots or versus playing the Jersey Cash Five lottery, which has odds of 1 in 650,000.

Players should have access to this information. We need to have access to these facts in order to make informed decisions on where to invest our bankrolls.

Let's put pressure on the casinos and slot manufactures to follow the same rules and regulations we demand of the State Lottery. The odds of winning should be made available for all gambling devices authorized by the State. Consumers should be informed of the risks we are taking with our gambling dollars. We need to know the true odds to make informed decisions.

Sincerely,
John

Dear John,

I don't have any idea what the odds are for hitting the Betty Boop or Payday progressives. I do know that Bally's philosophy is to offer wide-area progressives that hit more frequently than other companies' wide-area progressives, and that the higher the denomination, the greater your chances of hitting the progressive when there are multiple denominations on the link.

People have proposed requiring casinos to provide odds information similar to that provided by the lotteries, but these proposals have never gotten much support--either from the casinos (no surprise there!) or from the players.

The bottom line, I'm sorry to say, is that the cost/benefit ratio for requiring casinos to provide this information is nearly infinite--that is, posting this information provides almost no benefit to the vast majority of players regardless of the cost to the casino.

Why do I say this?

First, how many lottery players do you know who look at the published odds for the games and decide which games they're going to play based on the data? How many players even bother to look at the odds? And of those who do, how many understand what the odds mean?

Lottery players are drawn by the big prize or the relatively small investment, not on how good a bet the lottery is.

Second, some casinos have signs indicating which of their machines have high paybacks. You'd think that these machines would constantly be in use, yet I frequently see players playing unmarked machines while the machines marked as high payback sit idle.

Finally, I frequently see high-payback video poker machines sit idle, while lower-paying machines are in use. Sometimes the machine with the high-payback is right next to the lower-paying machine.

I think most slot players play for entertainment and the chance to hit a big prize--and I don't think they really care how good their chances of hitting the big one are, just having the chance is good enough.

Casinos could post payback information on their machines, but most players would ignore it, it would confuse most of the players who tried to read it, and it would provide valuable information to a only very small number of players.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


It takes me anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to answer questions. I received this follow-up e-mail from John (Jack) before I had a chance to reply to the first e-mail.

Dear John,

Do you find it disconcerting that the states, which regulate gaming, do not require the casinos to disclose the odds of winning their games?

As a gaming consumer I have access to the odds of winning the various state lotteries available. Thus I am able to make an informed decision when deciding which lottery games offer the best opportunities.

But I lack access to information that would enable me to determine the best slot machine for my dollars.

I know that playing Jack or Better video poker, my odds of winning the royal flush is one in 40,000 and it pays 4,000 credits. Many slot machines have a top prize of 4,000 credits, yet it is impossible to determine the true odds and compare different slots.

Do you know of anyway to determine the odds of winning a top prize of 4,000 credits? Do you know of any slot machine in which the odds of winning $1,000 is better than one in 40,000 spins?

I would be most interested in playing slots which have a top price of $1200, but I would not play it unless the game offers a better chance of winning the jackpot than video poker. Do such machines exist?

While I know that slot machines generally payback 92% of money in, I am most interested in the odds of hitting the jackpots. I would rather play a machine that has a 1/5,000 chance of winning $1,000 with a payback of 92%, than play a game that has 1/45,000 of winning $1,000 even if it pays back 98%, because I don't have the time to play 45,000 rounds of video poker and get bored winning 25 credits.

I mostly play craps and video poker. But I would try my luck with slot machines if I knew the odds of winning the top prizes. But until they disclose the odds of winning, I will refuse to play these games and use my leftover cash for the lottery, which seems to offer better odds of winning $1000 than the slots.

Sincerely,
Jack

Dear Jack,

No, I don't find it disconcerting that states do not require casinos to post payback information on slot machines, but I do find it funny that there are double standards for the lottery and the casinos. Here in New Jersey, for example, the odds of hitting various combinations in the lotteries is available on the back of bet slips and in brochures--even though anyone who took a course in probability can figure them out--and the lottery's slogan is "It pays to dream." The casinos do not have to reveal the odds on their games and they're prohibited from using such blatant come-ons.

There are two ways to determine the odds on any slot machine. The easiest is to get a copy of the par sheet for the machine. This sheet tells you everything you need to know about the probabilities of hitting the winning combinations on the machine. Most casinos will not show you the par sheet for a game, no matter how nicely you ask.

The other way is to play a few thousand spins on the machine and not how many times each symbol lands on the payline on each reel. Depending on how many stops there are on each virtual reel and how many times each symbol appears on each virtual reel, you should have a fairly good estimate of the probability of landing each symbol on each reel. With that info, you can calculate the odds on the machine.

There are a series of payback programs for IGT's Haywire slot machine that have a 4,000 top jackpot and your odds for hitting the top jackpot are 1 out of 32,768.

John


Hi, John,

Thanks for all the slot and VP education.

I've asked before about Game King VP machines in Ontario Racetrack Slot locations and I usually get the same answer from you... It's a terrible game!

We have a game on it called Shockwave Poker. It pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush, which sounds like a full pay but I know they are getting us somehow. (Maybe with the 1 coin pay for 2 pair.)

The Shockwave feature comes up when you hit 4 of a kind. You get a bonus payout of 500 for 4 of a kind if it is hit again within 10 hands. I'll give you the pay table to compare. 1 coin pays: Jacks or better 1, 2 pair 1, 3 of kind 3, straight 5, flush 6, full house 9, 4 of a kind 25, straight flush 100, royal 250. The payout on the royal for the 10 coin maximum bet is 8000.

We play it because it's all we have, but don't get the same play time that we get on full pay VP at Kewadin Casinos.

Help,
Stu

Dear Stu,

You're right that the push on two pair can be a problem. We hit a lot more of those hands than quads.

You're experiencing the volatility of the paytable. Your money tends not to last as long on the Shockwave machine as on the ones at Kewadin, but every once in a while you'll hit that Shockwave bonus and your money will last longer than you want to play!

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi,

Are these people who ask for money to tell how to win on slots scam artist? Is there really such ways to play on a slot and win big? Have you ever heard of such things as zig zag and triangle?

Thank you,
Debbie

Dear Debbie,

As I say in my book The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots, there are two rules to slot play:

1) Over time, a slot machine will pay back to its players an amount of money very close to the amount predicted my multiplying its payback percentage by the amount of money played through the machine.

2) There's nothing slot players can do legally to change rule 1.

Some of these system sellers are scam artists; some just believe that they've found some flaw in probability theory or the programming of the machines and that they can exploit these flaws to win money. I've ordered a few of these systems over the years, and I've found the vast majority of them to be worthless.

I know of a website selling a booklet called The Zig Zag Method of Winning at Slot Machines for $30, but I've never read the book. I'm fairly sure, though, that you'd get far more content of far better quality by spending the $30 on any of the good slot books available.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


I truly enjoy your newsletter and all the advice you give. I have practiced many of your suggestions and find that the best one ever is "Don't gamble more then you can afford to lose".

Anyway, my question to you is: I notice that each and every machine play seems to have what I call a "hang time" or hiccup, where the machine seems to lock up for a few seconds. It seems that after I start to win a few good pots this happens and all of a sudden it dries up.

Does this have to with the RNG you talk about, or the chip resetting, or are the hamsters that make the reels spin just tired?

Any insight as to why this happens would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and keep up the great advice,
Jerry

Dear Jerry,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

Each machine maintains some bookkeeping information (such as total coins in, total coins out, number of games played, etc.) on an EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read only memory) chip that will retain the values even if the machine loses power. It takes a few seconds to store the bookkeeping data, and that's the pause you're experiencing. The machine doesn't do anything else while these values are being stored.

These pauses have no effect on the results from the machine. Your odds of hitting any combination are the same on every spin.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

I've just discovered your great question/answer forum!

I'd like to take your advice regarding writing a casino a "nice" letter to let them know I'm unhappy about something they've done.

We've made 3 trips to Vegas in the past 12 months, and have always spent a great deal of time in the Barbary Coast Casino. I just found out they've removed all their Full Pay Deuces Wild and Double Bonus VP machines. Until I find out they've brought at least some of them back, I won't be returning to their casino.

How do I put this nicely? (Or have I just done it in the above paragraph?) With something like this, is it more correct to just state what I don't like? Or should I also write the part about not going back?

Also, to whom should I address the letter?

Thanks for any help you can give me, and keep up the good work!

Best of luck,
Annette

Dear Annette,

You're right. You just put it nicely.

You can send your letter to the attention of the Director of Slot Operations. If you'd like to find out his or any other executive's name, you can call the casino or send an e-mail to barbaryinfo@coastcasinos.net.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

Is it true there is a computer room in the casinos where they can see what is going on with the machines? Can they tell who is winning? Also does using your casino card make a difference if you win or lose?

Thanks,
Margie

Dear Margie,

Yes, the casino can monitor what is going on with the machines.

The slot data systems in use in casinos today can provide a great deal information to the slot department. They can identify winning and losing players, in addition to finding players who have given a lot of action and don't have a players club card inserted (presumably because they don't have cards). In addition, the surveillance room can watch what is going on among the slots.

Using your players club card has no effect on whether you win or lose. The RNG in the machine doesn't care--or even know--whether you've inserted a card.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John,

We're heading for Vegas. Can you tell me which casinos offer the biggest variety of slot machines? And which ones have the newest slots?

Barb

Dear Barb, The competition is so strong in Las Vegas that all the casinos have a wide variety of slot machines. With so many casinos having so many slot machines, it's almost impossible for any casino not to have a wide variety of machines. I don't have any hard data to back this up, but my impression is that the locals casinos tend to get new machines first and the strip casinos tend to be more conservative and wait for the machines to build a track record. That said, I'm sure we can find plenty of instances in which new machines were installed on the strip before or at the same time as they were installed in the locals casinos.

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