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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Programmed Near Misses and Randomness

21 February 2005

John,

I have been reading your articles for about a week now and enjoy them.

I am writing you in regards to the question you answered from Jeff on February 14, 2005. The subject was about the book Insider Slot Secrets. My wife wanted to purchase it in December but didn't know if it would be worth it. I told her it was no different than putting a $50 bill in a machine and losing; everything is a gamble.

To make a long story short, we have been to Vegas, Foxwoods, and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut over the past five weeks and we are up a total of $19,000. The author of the book gives you patterns to look for on certain machines. These patterns usually mean that the machine is in a winning mode but not always. I know you're going to say that the RNG is what decides the outcome of the reels, not the pattern on the reels. You can say it was a run of good luck, but we have been visiting casinos for six years and have never left a casino a winner, ever.

Thank you,
Tom

P.S. I'm no English major. but the grammar in the book is very bad.

Dear Tom,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with Insider Slot Secrets.

People sometimes ask me why I don't put these slot systems to the test by using them in the casinos and reporting my results. The reason I don't test the systems is because, to prove anything, we have to look at long-term results, not short-term results. Even my new, sure-fire system of rubbing my stomach and patting my head after every winning spin will yield some winning sessions.

It's true that the RNG determines the outcome of a spin, but the machine reveals the value of the RNG in the pattern that lands on the payline. It's also true that the RNG in a machine isn't truly random (in the strictest mathematical sense). If you could figure out where the RNG was in its cycle, you might be able to use that information to your advantage (a gang in the Midwest did just that to cheat video poker machines a few years ago). But that would require intimate knowledge of the RNG function and the virtual reel layouts. Plus, there's another randomizing factor: the time at which you press the Spin button.

I'm still skeptical about the merits of using past results to predict future results on a slot machine, but I won't argue with your success. If it's working for you, keep doing it. I think you have had a run of good luck, and I hope it continues for a long, long time.

John


Dear John,

Poker machines (slot machines in your country) are run by a computer chip (Random Number Generator), so the symbols are supposed to come up randomly, as I read it. On other web sites I've read of the "Near Miss," e.g., two 7s will come up on one line, and another 7 will come up above or below the line, to give the punters (players) a false sense of the machine coming good soon. The machines are programmed to do this.

Doesn't that then fly in the face of so-called random numbers? If it is programmed to do this, isn't the whole thing a sham?

I would like to hear your opinion on this.

Marge
Confused from Melbourne

Dear Marge,

I can understand your confusion. Let me start with an analogy.

Consider tossing two dice. You could say that the dice are programmed to show boxcars occasionally (actually, 1 out of 36 rolls, on the average). What we don't know is when boxcars will appear. That's the randomness of the roll.

Similarly, a slot machine will show near misses sometimes. The random part is when a near miss will appear. The machine is not programmed to show a near miss at a certain time.

There's really two levels of programming in a slot machine. At the lowest level, the machine is programmed to use the output from the RNG to choose virtual stops from the virtual reels, check which physical stops were placed at those virtual stops, check which symbols appear at those physical stops, and then check to see if those symbols are a winning combination and payoff accordingly. The virtual reels and the paytable are just data to the program at this level.

We can also consider the designer who lays out the virtual reels and devises the paytable to be programming the machine. He controls how often a symbol lands on or near the payline through the number of times he places each physical stop on the virtual reel.

Here's a PC analogy for levels of programming: At one level are the people who wrote Windows, the operating system, which provides a set of useful functions, like reading and writing to disks, displaying things on the screen, accepting input from the keyboard and the mouse, etc.

At another level are the people who wrote, say, a spreadsheet program. They use the functions provided by the operating system to do something a user might find useful.

Finally, there's you, the user, who programs the spreadsheet through the formulas you enter.

Maybe it's misleading for me and others to say that machines are programmed to show near misses because some people infer that the machine will decide to show a near miss at a particular time. Near misses appear with the frequency with which they appear because of the layout of the virtual reels, not because there's an insidious little function to make a near miss appear at a certain time.

The outcome of each spin is chosen at random using the output of the RNG. Some of those outcomes just happen to be near misses.

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