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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Slot Machine Payback and Hit Frequency

21 November 2002

Dear John,

I have been going to the casino for three months, so I am new at this. I have been playing at the same place all of this time. I have noticed, mainly in the last month, that the machines are not paying out. Now this is not only my observation, but that of a lot of the regular players who go there. They say that the casino has tightened up the machines, but from reading what you have said it is all in the way the RNGs are set. I do not know if I I am wording this correctly, so please forgive me if I sound like a nut.

My first question is this: If they were paying out way more often than they have been, then could they have reprogrammed them to stop at the lower end of percentage rate? Or could it be that they have not been played enough for the reels to stop on the pay line?

My second question is: If you're playing a quarter slot, one quarter at a time, and it was hitting a pay line two out of ten, then maybe one out of seven, then hit two or three in a roll, then nothing for maybe seven to fifteen, then a few more, would this not be considered a low paying machine? My cousin said that you may have to feed the machine twenty or more dollars before it will start to pay off.

I just like playing one that lets me play long and enjoy my stay. I think you call these the small jackpot machines. If I hit a jackpot, fine, this has made me happy a couple of times, but I go to enjoy myself. If I come away at a loss, I may feel a little let down, but not too bad, because I went to enjoy myself, and even losing I had fun. But listening to all the other players who are diamond players saying that something has been done to drastically change the wins, well, I thought I would ask you.

I would also like to thank you ahead of time for your answers, and for being here for myself and others.

Margaret

Dear Margaret,

When a casino wants to change the payback of a machine, it doesn't change the RNG. It changes the virtual reels stored in the programming of the machine. The RNG stays the same. What changes are the symbols that the numbers from the RNG stand for.

A month is really not long enough to judge whether or not a casino has altered the paybacks on their machines. It takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of spins for a change in the payback of a machine to have a greater effect on your results than randomness. Your group as a whole probably hasn't played that much, let alone any individual person.

It's hard to argue when so many people report the same thing, but this sort of anecdotal evidence is not very reliable. You might however be able to get some concrete evidence as to whether or not the casino has tightened its machines. If your state reports machine paybacks by casino, you can check the slot payback reports published in magazines like Casino Player and Strictly Slots to see if the paybacks on the machines in your casino have indeed fallen.

There are two statistics of interest in slot machines. The first is the payback, how much of the money played through the machine will be returned to the players in the long run. The other is the hit frequency. This number just says how likely it is to get a payout of any size on any spin.

Contrary to what you might think, the two statistics aren't related. One can be high and the other low, they can both be high, and they can both be low.

Now, to answer your first question. The machines are not programmed to pay out on pre-programmed stops of the reels. What the program in the machines does, conceptually, is ask the RNG for a random number after a player initiates a game. The program then checks to see what symbols correspond to that number and it spins the reels to those symbols and makes any payout necessary.

It's possible that the casino could have changed the virtual reels in the machines to make them hit less frequently. It's too late to do this experiment now, but you can get a good idea of the hit frequency of a machine after about 1,000-3,000 spins. Unfortunately, we can't go back in time and check out the hit frequencies on the machines a few months ago.

It doesn't matter how much the machines have been played. The chances of getting a hit are the same on every spin regardless of how much the machine has been played.

As for your second question, there's no way to tell whether a machine has a high or low payback based on its hit frequency. And as for your cousin's comment, slot machines choose their outcomes randomly. They could pay off on your first spin, after $10, after $20, or maybe not until after you've played $200 or more. I once fed $700 into a machine (at $3 per spin) without hitting anything really good. It's all random and there's no way to know when they'll hit.

Like you, I like machines that give a lot of small hits that keep me playing without having to continually feed the machines. These machines have high hit frequencies. The hits tend to be small, but they're frequent.

Finally, I think you've got the best plan for playing the slots. You're playing machines that have the characteristics you're looking for, and therefore you're able to enjoy yourself even if you do happen to lose on any particular visit. It's great when we win, but if we can say we had a good time even when our wallets are a little lighter, we've still come away with something.

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.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots by John Robison
Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
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