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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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The RNG is crap!

11 September 2006

Dear John:

In reference to your response to Steve about slots, I think you are out of sorts!! In several past articles, you claim that the payback percentages are higher, the higher you go up in denomination. Well, now you're telling Steve, who wants to go up from quarters to dollars, that "you are not likely to win at a higher denomination." You need to make up your mind exactly what you are advising players to do!

Concerning the RNG; I think that's crap! I have sat for literally hours on end, at the very same machine, and have seen the same combination of symbols pop up over and over. It goes through a series of symbols, and then starts over with the same series of symbols; then starts over with the same series of symbols; THEN STARTS OVER, WITH THE SAME SERIES OF NUMBERS!!

Don't underestimate me; I've played the casinos for over seven years now, and not just played, but studied the slots as well. You tell people that the RNG makes them random...that's is just plain untrue. You may fool the beginners with this talk, but do you really think that us "professionals" believe this? Yes, I call myself a professional, because I've played the casinos way too long, and have lost way too much to be considered a novice.

I don't care whether you print this or not; and I really don't care whether you respond to this or not. I just want to get my point across. You really need to be honest with these people and tell them how it really is. That's all I have to say.

Thank you for your time!

Jeff

Dear Jeff,

I think you need to read more carefully. Steve said that he planned to move up in denomination after losing at quarters because "I'll be so due for a jackpot that I KNOW I'll hit sometime soon."

In my reply, I said, "you are not more likely to win at the higher denomination because of whatever happened at the lower denomination." You seem to have missed the part about the results on the lower denomination not affecting the results at the higher denomination.

Your letter reminds me of an ambiguity that frequently arises. We have to define exactly what we mean by "win." Does it mean hit a winning combination on a spin? Does it mean showing a profit for a session? Does it mean showing a profit overall?

In my reply to Steve, "win" meant hitting a winning combination. Steve is not more likely to hit at the higher denomination, not only because losing at the lower denomination has no effect on future results, but also because there is no correlation between long-term payback and hit frequency. Higher-denomination machines may have higher long-term paybacks, but they don't necessarily also have higher hit frequencies. You can have a machine with a very high long-term payback that doesn't hit very frequently.

I think your statements about the RNG are, well, crap. Many symbols appear on the reel strips more than once, so are you sure that these are the same physical stops landing on the payline in your series?

Furthermore, most physical stops appear more than once on the virtual reels. The same series of symbols can be generated with multiple series of numbers from the RNG. You can't say that two series of symbols were the result of two identical series of numbers from the RNG.

Finally, I'm highly skeptical that the pattern you think exists really does exist. Show me a piece of paper on which you've tracked the results of, say, 1,000 spins. If you've never kept written track, all you have are your impressions of what has happened and those impressions are extremely unreliable. I know because I've proven my impressions wrong many times once I've kept written track of my results.

I'm always honest in my answers and I do tell players how it really is. In fact, many people at the slot manufacturers and in the gambling publishing field have told me that I'm one of the few writers who tell the truth about how slot machines operate.

You might want to read the next letter.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

As a Slot Manager at a large Midwest casino I enjoy reading your column every chance I get. There are many "slot experts" out there but you are by far the most accurate I have seen on the internet. I especially like your analogies using coins and dice to explain the randomness of Random Number Generators and the predictability of overall game outcome.

I thought I would write to weigh in on one of your columns: Common Experiences with Random Events. Your response to Gamblin Flatlander was right on the money. If a coin toss was used as the RNG for a game, there are two possible outcomes: heads or tails; yes or no; win or lose. The randomness comes from not being able to accurately predict the outcome of the coin toss. The predictability comes from knowing in advance what the results will be once the coin toss is complete. The coin doesn't care if 'heads' is a winning or losing outcome; it's just a coin.

This is an oversimplification of a true RNG, but the end result is the same; a random event is determined with no regard to the ramifications of what that event means. The RNG doesn't care; it's just a random number generator.

Tom's question about leaving a machine after winning a Royal Flush reminded me of when I was a young slot tech in Laughlin, NV during the mid-eighties. Back then, fully electronic games were still a fairly new technology. Slot Managers in the early to mid-eighties that 'came up' during the sixties and seventies when all slot machines were mechanical or electro-mechanical in nature didn't fully trust these "new-fangled contraptions."

Management at the casino that I worked for at the time had a policy that required us to thoroughly check any video poker machine that had hit a Royal Flush jackpot more than twice in a month. It was explained to me at the time that the odds of hitting more than one or two of these large jackpots in a 30-day period was so remote that surely "either something is wrong with the machine or someone has gaffed it." Of course, we never found anything wrong. Even on machines that had hit two or three Royal Flush jackpots in a 24-hour period we found no problems.

After several months this practice was discontinued. Management finally came to accept that these electronic machines worked like they were supposed to. The frequency of Royal Flush jackpots is not determined by an arbitrary number of days, but rather by the volume of play they get. A game that is played more often will, on average, hit more jackpots.

As in the example you gave in your response, players have an equal chance of hitting a Royal Flush on any given hand. I once saw a player, after being paid $4,000 for a Royal Flush on a dollar poker game, get a Straight Flush on the very next hand! It can and does happen. There's nothing wrong with the game when this happens, it's just one of the many possible outcomes due to the randomness of the RNG.

In response to Gene's comments about 'resets' of the RNG causing a hesitation in the game: if the RNG seed value is changed from time to time, (and this would be dependent upon the way the RNG programming code was written) it would have no visual impact on the operation of the game. What I mean by this is, if or when 're-seeding of the RNG' is happening, it is going on 'behind the scenes' with respect to the operation of the game - you wouldn't notice it.

There are other factors that can cause an apparent hesitation in the game play, one of which is a built in pause. Sometimes a pause is programmed in to slow the game down a bit. Why? If the game takes your money too quickly, your perceived value (enjoyment) of that game is reduced. The win/lose outcome won't be affected, just the speed at which the game takes your money.

This isn't done by the casino, it's done by the manufacturer. Here's why: you take your $$$ to your favorite casino and get a better overall playing experience (more playing time) when you play brand X slot machine than when you play brand Y slot machine - you will be more likely to play brand X slot machines when you visit the casino. Later, when I am making my slot machine purchase decisions, I look at which games are the most popular, i.e., profitable. Brand X is likely to get more space on my gaming floor!

Lastly, I like your analogy about Sammy and Sally Slotdirector. Some slot managers are still making their payout percentage decisions based on denominations. However, the more enlightened among us make those decisions based on the average wager of a game. If the average wager on a two-cent slot machine is around 50 cents, then it makes sense to use a payback percentage in the same range as a 3-coin quarter game.

To me it makes sense to give today's two-cent player the same payback as yesterday's quarter player so long as the average two-cent player is wagering the same amount as a quarter player on a 3-coin game. If my games take your money too fast, why would you continue to play my games? As a Slot Manager, it's part of my responsibility to give my players a reasonable value for their gambling dollar. If I don't, they'll take their money elsewhere.

Sorry for being so long-winded.

Rick the Slot Guy

Dear Rick,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Please feel free to be as "long-winded" as you like.

Your story about people not really understanding how machines work reminds me of an experience I had many years ago. I was looking through the materials in the Special Collection (I think that is what it is called) at UNLV. I came across a document that described the situation with Universal and secondary decisions.

For those who aren't aware of the details, this situation occurred in the early days of computer-controlled slots. The Universal machines choose an outcome from a pool that consisted of all the possible winning combinations and loser, all properly weighted to appear with desired frequency.

The key point is that the pool consisted of specific winning combinations of symbols and a general loser. If loser was chosen, the machine used another process to choose the combination of losing symbols to display. This is the secondary decision.

Some people claimed these machines weren't random. That's nonsense. They just didn't understand the way the machines worked.

As a result, the secondary decision was outlawed and machines had to use virtual reels that mimicked the physical reels of an old slot machine. Regulators understood how mechanical machines worked, so computer-controlled slots had to work in a similar fashion.

Thanks for pointing out that manufacturers sometimes program in a pause in play. In addition to increasing a player's time on device, it also gives a player a moment to reflect on what is happening. For most players it's just an annoyance. But for some, it might give them an opportunity to think twice about using their buffet money or rent to chase their losses and try to get even.

Thanks again for writing,
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