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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Zig Zag Method, Wheel of Fortune, Reprogramming Slots

14 March 2004

Dear John,

I play the slots in Shreveport, Louisiana and in the Indian casino in Oklahoma and not having much luck at either. I heard about a technique called Zig Zag. Could you tell me this technique works on multimedia machines?

Thanks,
Kathy

Dear Kathy,

This is the second time someone has asked me about the Zig Zag Method of playing slots. It's been a while since I've purchased a slot system, so I tracked this one down on the Internet and bought a copy of it ($19.95).

The author makes a number of contradictory statements. For example, near the start of one paragraph, she says, "...the casino always has the edge." A few sentences later in the same paragraph, she says, "The key to winning is in knowing how to blunt the house edge and get the odds in your favor." How can one get the odds in one's favor if the house always has the edge?

Most of the advice she gives is accurate. She advises to play within your means, to not give your winnings back to the casino, and to be in control while you play. I take exception, however, to her method for testing a machine. She says that if you get several hits in a test of five to ten pulls on a machine, "you've got a loose machine." She has confused hit frequency with payback. Furthermore, ten spins aren't enough to tell you anything about the hit frequency of a machine.

How about the Zig Zag Method itself? To tell you the truth, I can't figure out what it is exactly. As near as I can tell, you're supposed to zig-zag your way from machine to machine jumping from cold machines to hot machines.

The bottom line, Kathy, is that your money will be much better spent buying books like Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete, The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski, and my own The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots. These books are larger, have better advice, and are cheaper to boot!

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Really enjoy reading your information. Look forward to it. Can you advise on which casino in Biloxi has the best pay outs? Am planning a trip to that area and could use some extra gas money.

Thank again,
Dennis

Dear Dennis,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

Mississippi does not release payback information by casino, so I can only guess who has better-paying machines by their video poker inventories.

Going by the video poker machines they offer, I'd guess that Casino Magic, The President, and Treasure Bay pay the best. Beau Rivage, Imperial Palace, and Isle of Capri are also very good.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Dear John,

I have seen you on Travel Channel and found your website very informative.

Question: In a bank of slots where there is a progressive pot, like Wheel of Fortune (6 figures), or a car, etc., does someone ever win those jackpots or is it a gimmick by the casinos?

Are there any public records on who wins these jackpots?

I get the feeling they're just for show.

Thank you,
Randy

Dear Randy,

Thanks for the compliments about the website and Travel Channel appearances.

People definitely do win on those progressive slots. The Wheel of Fortune progressive is a wide-area-progressive run by IGT and it has a list of winners on its website (www.igt.com).

Progressive banks that award cars, motorcycles, houses, or tractors sometimes have a board listing the winners near the bank. I remember seeing a winner's board at a carousel that gave away a car at Caesars Palace. There was one period in which they gave away three cards in two days.

Now, you asked about a "public record." I don't believe there is any requirement in any jurisdiction that a casino or wide-area-progressive operator release a list of winners the way that you can request a list of winners in a sweepstakes drawing.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Hi, John,

I enjoy reading your articles.

Over the past few months, my wife and myself have observed what appears to be some huge, flat-out sheering of people's money at a fairly new casino. This is an Indian casino. They have 1500+ machines, but yet seem to fill all of them to where people wait in line to play. It just seems, however, that with all the action going on, you rarely see a jackpot. We have walked out of there, just totally disgusted, several times. We feel that we can go to Reno and gamble all we want over a few days, but a similar amount is always gone in a matter of a few hours here. By the way, the Indian casino I speak of is in California.

As an example, when we go to Reno, we take $1000 - $1500 between the two of us. We gamble, eat, drink all we want and normally come home having spent no more than $500 for the three days, or sometimes we are plus $500 - $1000. I just have a really sinister feeling when we go into this Indian casino. We have three small wins out of 35 visits, and obviously there's been a lot of action.

Okay, now comes the real question: Do you think if possible for machines to be reprogrammed "on the fly?"

Here is what I observed:

A gentleman was playing in a row of nickel machines right next to me. A casino employee came over and started talking to him. The two were obviously friends who live in the same neighborhood. They talked for a few minutes about their homes, kids, etc. I heard the casino employee tell this gentleman that he was in for a good night. Shortly after, the machine he was on got very hot and it stayed that way for quite some time. I felt this odd, considering that everyone around was feeding, feeding and feeding their machines, hitting nothing bigger than an occasional single bar. I'm not the first person who has seen this phenomenon. Other friends and co-workers have observed similar things, while they too lose. We are starting to believe casinos are using "plants." The results are just too poor to believe anything else.

Anyway, I welcome your thoughts.

Steve

Dear Steve,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

First, let's answer your question. At this time, no jurisdiction in the United States allows a machine to reprogrammed on the fly. Allowing the paybacks on machines to be changed in this way makes it very difficult for the state to verify that a machine is operating properly and that the amount of money it has paid out falls in the range predicted by the number of spins played on the machine.

Here's what I think is going on. The employee's statement to his friend that he was in for a good night was just wishful thinking and not a prophecy. The fact that his machine got hot while others remained cold was just a coincidence.

And I think I can explain why your money tends to last longer in Reno. Reno has some of the best-paying machines in Nevada. Reno is very competitive because it has to get people to go out of their way (so to speak) to get there, plus the casinos there are competing with each other.

The casinos in California do not have the same competitive pressures, so the machines in those casinos probably have lower paybacks on the whole.

Another thing that's going on is that you're comparing your results of three-day visits to Reno with what are probably partial-day visits to the Indian casino. Your results will be more volatile on the shorter visits.

It does seem unusual that you don't see many jackpots, but I might be able to explain that too. If this casino has a ticket system, machines have to lock up and ring a bell or play annoying music only when a win is $1200 or more. Wins of lesser amounts are just added to the credit meter. You also have no handpays and hopper fills when machines use tickets, and some people mistake these events for jackpots, especially when the slot attendant puts a "Jackpot Winner" "swizzle stick" or card on the machine.

Finally, if people are lining up to play the machines, the casino doesn't need to use shills. Why would it pay a shill to play a machine when there's a real customer waiting behind him?

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