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Slots in Washington State

15 January 2007

By John Robison

In Washington State there are several casinos that have a version of Video Poker that has a "match card" feature. After each hand, a card appears and if it matches the last card in your hand, you get a bonus of anywhere from the minimum payoff or highest payoff on the paytable.

It appears there is no skill in playing these particular video poker machines. I was told some time ago by another player that if you get dealt 2 pair (which gives a payout of 10) and you keep only one of the pair (going for 3 or 4 of a kind), that you always at least get paid 10. If you don't get another pair then the match card pays you 5 (if the pair you keep is Jacks or better) or 10 (if you kept a low pair). I noticed that if you get dealt a winning hand, you win at least that amount no matter what cards you keep. Another example is if you get dealt a straight which pays 25 and don't keep any cards, then you still get paid at least 25 with the match card.

So it seems to me that these video poker machines are just like slots in that when you hit the play button to start a hand, the win, if there is one, is pre-determined no matter what cards you hold.

My last example is of a woman who was playing beside me who held a 10, J, Q, K (not suited) going for a straight. She received another K on the draw for a pair which would normally pay 5. However, on the match card she received 3995, total of 4000, which is what the royal flush would pay for the same coin in. This appears to me like the win was pre-determined at the start of the game and therefore there is nothing random about which cards are given on the draw.

Have you heard of video poker machines like these?

Thank you,
Chuck

Dear Chuck,

Writing about slots was so much easier when only Nevada, New Jersey, and a few riverboats in a few states had slot machines. It's much more difficult today because some machines operate differently than Vegas-style machines.

The slot and video poker machines in Washington State are modeled on scratch-off ticket games. In essence, when you spin the reels or press the Deal button, you are given a scratch-off ticket from the pool of tickets remaining in the scratch-off game, just like you get a scratch-off ticket from your lottery agent. The ticket you are given determines the amount you won on that spin or hand.

Now, I don't know how the video poker machines determine which cards to display. It sounds like they take the amount you have won and display a hand worth that amount, but then you would never be able to improve your hand on the draw. You can't win more than what your scratch-off ticket is worth.

There has to be some mechanism to, shall we say, protect people from their own stupidity. In your first examples, the mistakes that people make breaking pat hands are corrected by the match card feature, which pays the difference between what your video poker hand and scratch-off ticket are worth.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is nothing random about the cards you are dealt. I would say, however, that the cards are not dealt with the same probabilities as if you were dealing from a fair deck at your kitchen table. I say that because you can't be able to achieve a hand that is worth more than the value of your scratch-off ticket.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John:

I just came across an article that you had written a couple of years ago and saw that you are very knowledgeable on slot machines.

So I have a question for you. Here in Washington the casinos use the paper tickets. I have been told by many people that the ticket is what determines what you will win. What I'm talking about is the bar code has already set what you will win when you put it in the machine. So that when I buy the ticket and put it in the machine, it is already decided if I will win or not. Is this true?

Barney

Dear Barney,

Yes, it is true. As I said in my reply to the previous question, the slots in Washington State are modeled on a scratch-off lotter game. Just as the different scratch-off games make revealing how much you have won more interesting than just scratching off one box that reveals an amount, the slot game is just a fun way to reveal the amount.

I have to admit that I find slot machines that are really bingo drawings or instant lottery games under the hood rather bizarre. These games are no less gambling than a Vegas-style slot that uses an RNG, a methodology that is very easy to implement, understand, and verify.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


In reference to slot machines and their chips and the factory, you mention time and time again to those writing to you...."this or that" can't be done. It would be illegal.

Ok let's get real here, since when does being illegal stop any person or company from doing what they want to make money.I am not saying your wrong about the chips in the machines or the RNG, but your getting your information from the factory? and the casinos?

We know who polices the casinos, but when the chips are written and we are talking potentially A LOT of CHIPS who checks every one of those chips and RNGs at the factory? Are they checked at random?

Is there a conspiracy between the casinos and the factory to misinform the public? Wow , what a movie THAT would be.!

Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Okay. Let's get real.

The casino industry is one of the most heavily regulated and inspected industries in the United States. In Nevada and other jurisdictions, gaming regulators make random inspections of machines to ensure that the programs in them match the approved programs.

The perceived chances of being caught and the consequences of misdeeds affect our actions. A casino knowingly operating a slot machine with an unapproved program could very well lost its license.

The manufacturers can easily test all of their chips. In 2006, IGT sold 112,000 slot machines. In fiscal 2006, Dell shipped 37.3 million PCs. All of the chips in the Dell machines and all of the assembled systems Dell shipped underwent some sort of test to ensure they worked properly. IGT, WMS, et al., can easily test the chips in their machines and the fully assembled machine.

If there were a conspiracy between the casinos and the manufacturers to misinform the public, the various state gaming control organizations would also have to be in on it.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


I was wondering if the payback percentages are related to the jackpot amount. For example, does a Double Diamond with a 1600 jackpot have a higher payback than, say, a 5x Pay with a 10,000 jackpot amount?

On another note about the multi-denominational slots, are the percentages also changed as you select the amount or is it one payback amount no matter if you select dollars or quarters?

Thanks for your time. Your columns are very interesting.

Steve

Dear Steve,

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

There is no correlation between jackpot amount and long-term payback. Double Diamond machines and 5x Pay machines are both available in a wide range (about 82% to 99%) of long-term payback percentages.

It's possible that the long-term payback doesn't change when you switch denominations on a multi-denomination machine. It's also possible that it does. There's no way to tell on a slot game, but on video poker you can see if the paytable changes.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John,

Just read your answer about Class 2, bingo machines. While I do not pretend to understand them, I can tell you from experience that I think the denominations are separate. In a small Indian casino in Southwest Florida on a quiet afternoon playing a 25-cent machine. Never a "wait for other players" message.

Switch to dollars and you can wait 60 seconds for the machine to function. You are "waiting for other players". I guess there is a minimum number of players to initiate a spin or "game".

Thanks for your column.

Thank you for sharing your observations about the Class II machines. There definitely does appear to be a minimum number of players needed. Makes me wonder what would happen if there aren't enough players to get a "quorum." Would players be made to wait indefinitely for the game to begin?

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 reply to every question.

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