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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Slot Machine Short-Pays Player

10 October 2004

Hi, John,

I stumbled across you on a web site while searching for information about slot machines in Vegas. I am totally blind and have not been to Vegas for about 4 years. I understand that most slot machines now have gone to a coinless system. When I heard this, I was very upset as I always felt like the machines in Vegas were fairly accessible for blind people. First of all, they let you physically put in the coins, made lots of noise, and spit the coins out when you won. To me, this was great and I had a great time doing it.

Now with the ticket system, I am wondering if the machines are as accessible as before. Could you shed some light on if the machines still make noise to let you know that you have won a certain number of coins? Also, how easy would this ticket system be for a blind person to use? I am going to Vegas in a few weeks and was really looking forward to it. Now that I have heard about the slot machines changing, I am not so excited.

Please let me know what you can about this. Thanks.

Sincerely,
Brent

Dear Brent,

Thanks for your letter. I never considered how the switch to ticket systems would affect blind players.

I think you and other blind players will benefit from coinless gaming too. It's true that you won't be able to feed the machine coins anymore, but the machines still make noise when you hit a winning combination and it awards the credits to your meter. And when you cash out, you'll have just one piece of paper to deal with, not multiple buckets of coins. And you won't accidentally leave a coin or two in the coin tray.

The only real downside I can think of is that you won't be able to tell the value of a printed ticket.

One last thing. Most casinos are still transitioning to coinless machines, so they still have many machines that still accept coins. Also, some casinos are keeping a few machines that accept coins for those players who prefer them.

Please write back to tell us how you dealt with coinless machines.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

I was recently at the Rio in Las Vegas when an interesting situation occurred. I was playing a Triple Lucky 7 machine by IGT and hit 2 yellow 7s and a triple. The payout should have been 150 coins (3 yellow 7s=50, 2 yellow 7s with a triple=150), but the machine only paid 10 coins. Had I not been very familiar with this machine I doubt I would have said anything because the machines are always correct, right? So being 100% sure the machine had a malfunction, I called for an attendant and from there I ended up in all out war with not only him, but 2 casino supervisors, 2 slot technicians and my casino host thrown in for good measure.

The "war" continued for over an hour. One of the slot techs actually slammed the door of the machine, told his cohorts to "deal with it" and stormed off. It was NOT a pleasant experience and was especially frustrating to hear all of them attempt to justify why 2 matching 7s and a triple was NOT a winning combination. They eventually paid me the 150 coins but never admitted the machine was giving faulty payouts. A crowd had gathered and I suspect they just wanted the ordeal to be over with.

At any rate, one of the supervisors tracked me down about an hour later and apologized. Apparently they checked the machine with an identical machine and saw that it was in fact wrong. But I still don't understand how this happened. The supervisor offered a vague explanation about the "reels being backwards" and the "programming being incorrect". I gamble often in many different casinos and have never seen this happen before. Can you elaborate on this vague explanation? How often does this occur? Needless to say, that will be my last trip to the Rio as they have zero credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks in advance, AJ

Dear AJ,

Wow, what an ordeal. It's always a bad situation when a machine is set up incorrectly. The player sees a winning combination or thinks he's won a certain amount, yet the programming of the machine says differently.

Here's what I think happened. Remember that the reels on the machine are just window dressing. The program running the slot polls the RNG to get a number that it will use to determine which stops on the reels should land on the payline. The program instructs the motors spinning the reels to spin and then it stops them on the appropriate stops.

The symbols themselves are printed on a piece of paper called a reel strip. The reel strip is wrapped around the reels. It is critical that the reel strip be affixed to the reel in the proper position such that the symbol in the first position is actually on the first stop on the reel.

Some machine use the same reel strip on all reels; others use two or three different reel strips. It is also critical that the proper reel strip be placed on each reel.

I don't know what the supervisor meant about incorrect programming, but "reels being backward" could have meant that one or more reels had the wrong reel strip. I once saw a machine on which the reel strip that should have been on reel 1 was on reel 3 and vice versa. It was obvious on this machine because reel 1 was supposed to have only single bar symbols, reel 2 double bar symbols, and reel 3 triple bar symbols.

Now, here's an interesting question. When a machine is set up incorrectly, what should take precedence: what the player sees or what the programming of the machine says?

Another example of a machine with a set up mistake: A few years ago, Trump Plaza in Atlantic City had a 2-coin $5 Pink Panther slot machine. The glass said the jackpot paid $4,000 with one coin played and 10,000 coins with two coins played. Note the switch between dollars and coins.

Someone hit the jackpot and the machine said that he had just won 2,000 credits. The glass said he should have won $50,000 and the machine said he won $10,000. A $40,000 difference.

I think that, when there is no malfunction, what the player sees should take precedence over what the machine says. Trump Plaza advertised a $50,000 jackpot on the machine. That may have been a mistake, but it should have been caught when the casinos QC'ed the game before putting it on the floor.

The same rule applies in your case if the reels were switched as I suspect they were. You put in your money and you didn't attempt to cheat the machine. The reels stopped on 7-7-Triple and there's no way for you to know that the reels were switched and the result should have been mixed perhaps mixed 7s.

Playing a slot machine--or any casino game--requires trust from the players. We trust that the casino is running a fair game, albeit one with a built-in advantage for the house. When the casino is allowed to say that the combination that landed on the payline on a properly functioning machine isn't right or that the jackpot amount advertised on the glass isn't correct, that breaks the trust between player and casino.

When a machine is set up incorrectly, I think the casino should be required to make good on whatever the outcome appeared to have been, and then it should immediately take the game out of service and correct the set up error.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


You say that slots pay out at random and just because one hits doesn't mean that it will go into a "take cycle." How then does the percentage figure into the payout? Doesn't a slot that is programmed to pay out a certain percentage have to consider that in the number of wins that it allows? What are the normal percentages for each denomination of machine?

Also, I have seen casinos advertise that they have the "Loosest" slots in the area. Is there a place where I can find the rankings of casinos or riverboats so that I can go to the places that really have the loosest slots or are they all pretty much the same?

First, any slot that takes into account past results in determining future results would be illegal in most, if not all, jurisdictions in the United States.

The reason that a machine that is "programmed" to pay back 95% pays back 95% in the long run is due to the magic of Random Sampling with Replacement.

Saying that a machine is programmed to pay back a certain percentage isn't really correct and it causes many people to infer that the program does things it doesn't do. What I should say instead is that if you looked at all the possible combinations that could land on the reels and their frequencies, that population pays back 95%.

The machines chooses one of those outcomes at random each spin. Over time, the frequencies with which players see the different outcomes gets closer and closer to the frequencies of those outcomes in the population, and the amount paid back gets closer and closer to the amount paid back by the population.

Choosing outcomes at random from that population is all that is needed to have a machine pay back an amount close to its "programmed" percentage in the long run. Randomness actually makes it happen. Randomness is not something that must be defeated in order for it to happen.

There are no normal payback percentages for each denomination. Competition and the casino's financial philosophy determine what machines in a particular casino pay back. The best source for paybacks are the listings in the back of magazines like Casino Player and Strictly Slots. You can also sometimes find the information on the websites of the different states' gaming commissions.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


I believe you are asked to clear the jackpot off the payoff so the next person walking up won't argue that they just hit the jackpot and no money came out. I'd love to see a candid camera approach to this. We could start a pool on how many minutes go by before someone tries that stunt. Although as you said many gamblers might shy away from a machine that just hit, let's just change that to telling people it hit the jackpot 3 times already today. Any takers on the line that would form to put their coins in?

Love your column.

Al

No one would get very far trying to claim that they didn't get paid off on a "found" jackpot. First, every machine locks up when it requires a hand-pay or a W-2G. Unlocking the machine is one of the last things the slot floorperson does after handling a jackpot.

Second, many jurisdictions require one or more witnesses to a hand-pay. There will be one or more people in the casino who know that the jackpot has already been paid.

Finally, the slot floorperson frequently uses the keypad on the card reader to send a message to the slot accounting system confirming the hand-pay. More evidence that the jackpot has been paid.

Even though no one would be successful trying to claim an already-paid jackpot, you're right that playing off the jackpot prevents the casino from having to deal with a scammer.

You make a great point at the end of your letter. Leave a jackpot displayed on a machine and players avoid it. Say that a machine has a frequently hitting jackpot and they'll line up to play it.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi,

Love your column. Very informative. My question is on the Reel'em In Fishing Machine slots. When you go into the bonus round for fishing, does it really matter which fisherman you choose? Also, when you are on a winning streak on a slot machine, does your upping the amount you bet have any effect on the outcome? Does it change the odds of winning in any way?

Thanks so much!
Regina

Dear Regina,

According to the manufacturers, the choices you make in the "choose one or more" bonus rounds do make a difference. The computer assigns values to your choices and the items you choose determine how much your bonus is. The computer does not predetermine what your bonus will be.

Upping the amoung to bet has no effect on your outcomes. The RNG does not know or care how many coins you have bet.

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 two or more 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