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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Video Poker, Slot Tournament RNG

27 October 2003

Hi John,

I'm curious about the odds of hitting a jackpot on a slot; this information seems to be well hidden. Some slot machine panels indicate a $25,000 jackpot payout with maximum coins played. In Massuchusetts we have no slot machines but Massachusetts's lottery commission posts all odds for all games including instant tickets.

For instance, it's about 1 in a million to hit $20k on a $2 instant ticket and about 1 in 3 million to hit the $1 million top prize on a $5 instant ticket. Posting this information allows me to make an intelligent decision on whether I choose to play or not.

I would imagine that the odds of hitting a top prize on a slot machine are outrageously astronomical and might deter some players.

I have written a gaming reform proposal regarding gambling which can be reviewed at gamingreform.topcities.com, the gaming reform official web site. If you have time, take a peek, your feedback is welcome.

Thanks,
Jim

Dear Jim,

As a rule, slot machines are much better bets than lottery tickets. There's no state lottery that I know of that returns 85% or more of the money wagered to its players.

It's also generally more likely that you'll hit the top jackpot on a slot machine than win the top prize in a lottery. Megabucks has the worst odds at about 50,000,000 to 1. The odds against hitting a $20,000 jackpot on a two-coin dollar slot may be as low as 40,000 to 1.

Of course, the big difference between lotteries and slot machines is the time factor. One hundred dollars can give you almost a year's worth of action if you buy two one-dollar tickets a week, while $100 in a casino can be lost in under an hour.

Every once in a while, there's a movement to require casinos to post odds or payback information on their slot machines. These movements never gain much support.

And frankly, I don't know if posting paybacks would do much good. Some casinos identify their high-paying machines with big signs saying "98% payback" or the like, yet many times I see these machines idle and players at the other machines. I've even seen two video poker machines with different paytables next to each other, and someone was playing the lower-paying machine even though there was no one at the higher-paying machine.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hello John,

Thanks for having this column. It is great to have a place to get some questions answered.

My question is regarding multi-denominational machines. I understand that the higher denomination machines have a higher percentage payback. My wife and I like to play the nickel VP machines, so if we switched from a nickel to a quarter or dollar, would we be increasing our chances of winning? (The machines we play have a screen where you pick which denomination, so this is all on the same machine.)

Thanks!
Rick

Dear Rick,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

Because you're playing video poker, you can check very easily whether you're getting a higher payback when you switch denomination--just compare the paytables.

Keep one thing in mind, though. Going from 96% payback for nickels to 98% payback for quarters, say, may not be a good deal. While it's true that you've cut the house advantage in half, from 4% to 2%, your risk per hand is 5 times higher ($0.25 versus $1.25).

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Which video poker game pays the best?

Wanda

Dear Wanda,

I believe the highest-paying video poker paytable that is still available in large numbers would be Full-Pay Deuces Wild (payoffs per coin based on 5-coin play: 800, 200, 25, 15, 9, 5, 3, 2, 2, 1) at 100.76%.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

Have you heard about the Zig Zag method of winning at slots and does it work?

Georgean

Dear Georgean,

I'm very skeptical of anything that claims to "reveal the secrets of winning big jackpots at the slots."

The result of each spin is chosen at random using the Random Number Generator. There is no system or method that can predict when machines will hit. Even though I've never seen the The Zig Zag Method of Winning at Slot Machines, I can be very certain that it doesn't work.

Don't waste your money. For the $30 they want for this product, you can buy all the good books about slot machines (Break the One-Armed Bandits!, The Slot Machine Answer Book, and The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots).

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

I live in Mississippi and we have a couple of smalltime casinos in my area. I usually frequent them on a regular basis.

They have some progressive machines that I play every time I go. I noticed that every time the progressive hits while I'm there, a particular man or his wife has been the lucky winner.

If everything about slots is supposed to be so random and there is nothing that playing on a player's card changes, why do you think one of them would win most every time? This is something that has been going on for a very long time.

Patricia

Dear Patricia,

First you say that this couple wins "every time" and then you say they win "most every time."

I think there may be a little selective memory here. The times that this couple has won stands out in your mind and it seems like they win the progressive most of the time.

I suggest that you keep a written record of each time the progressive hits and who hit it. I think you'll find that other people hit the progressive more than you realize.

Even if this couple does seem to be getting more than their fair share of progressives, that doesn't necessarily mean that something nefarious is going on. As you said, the results are random. So not only does the RNG not favor this couple, it also doesn't disfavor them because they've hit so many progressives. Their chances of hitting the progressive are the same as anyone else's. They just happen to be extraordinarily lucky.

If you still suspect something is going on, send a copy of your records to the Mississippi Gaming Commission and ask them to investigate.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


John,

I was at the Harrahs in Cherokee, North Carolina, last weekend playing 50-cent Deuces Wild. After playing one and two coins for half an hour and still being just about even, I got brave and started playing five credits and bingo! In the next half hour, I hit five wild royals and several 4 and 5-of-a-kinds.

Is this just dumb luck or do you have a better chance with more coins?

I know about the RNG in theory, but I have a slot machine at my house and I can change the hit frequency to at least four different settings. Can the casinos do the same thing?

Thanks,
Rodger

Dear Rodger,

It was just a matter of luck that hit those good hands when you were playing more coins. The only time a slot or video poker machine cares about how many coins you've played is when it's making a payout. The number of coins you play does not influence which cards you're dealt or which symbols land on the payline.

The only way casinos can change hit frequencies and paybacks on their machines is by replacing chips in the machine.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Mr. Robison,

Stumbled across the website that features your works and have been reading many of your articles. Found them to be interesting. I have noticed many questions such as "How can they loosen or tighten the slots?" As well as questions about the RNG function(s).

One of your answers was: "The only way a casino can loosen or tighten a slot machine is by replacing one or more of the chips in the machine. Depending on the jurisdiction, the casino may be able to perform this procedure itself or it may have to call the casino control commission in."

Ok, I understand that. I don't believe it (from both personal experience as well as knowledge of the computer chips and boards that were once used - which may no longer be available), but I think you believe it to be true and that's fine.

But my question is this: When a bank of slots are being used for a casino's "free tournament," a tech resets the machines to eliminate the white spaces presumably to speed play (players only get X minutes to bang the button) and rack up points quickly. So, how does the RNG now work? Specifically, if the RNG has picked 3 white spaces to stop on and they are eliminated what [specifically] happens?

Thanks,
Arnie

Dear Arnie,

The RNG works exactly the same way when a machine is running a tournament program as when it is running a normal game program.

The slot's operating system uses the number from the RNG to choose a virtual stop on each virtual reel. The high-paying symbols appear many more times on the virtual reels in a tournament payback chip than they appear on the virtual reels in a regular payback chip.

In short, the RNG is the same. The virtual reels are different.

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.

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