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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Can casinos change slot machines in real time?

Ask the Slot Expert: Can casinos change slot machines in real time?

3 April 2019

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: I just read the report on stopping the spin, rubbing and pounding on a slot machine. This is irritating and I move away.

My question... The casino in Yonkers N.Y. Empire was recently bought by MGM. Does the RNG apply only to tribal casinos?

I may have misunderstood what was written but I was under the impression that all slot machines at all casinos were random.

Also, does the casino have the option to change its payouts more or less based on their average daily percentage gain?

Answer: I get a kick out of the rituals some slot players have. But I have no right to be critical because my "ritual" is that I tend to go back to machines I have won on in the past.

I was recently playing near a lady who was pounding on the Spin button like she was in a slot tournament. After a few minutes, the noise of her playing became part of the background noise and I didn't notice anymore.

On the other hand, I once played video poker two machines away from a guy who wanted to get to his next hand as quickly as possible, so he would hit the Draw button a few times in quick succession until the next hand appeared. He was like a Jeopardy contestant frantically hitting the buzzer at the end of a clue. He was worse than the "slot tournament" lady because he was so close. His short bursts of frantic button pressing made me tense.

Neither of these people were doing anything wrong. You either ignore it or, as you said, move away.

Slot machine results are always determined at random, but the method differs based on the type of casino. There's a random number generator somewhere in the system.

Machines in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Mississippi, many other jurisdictions, and tribal casinos that have compacts with their states, have the RNG in the slot machines themselves. When the player starts a spin, the program running the slot machine polls the RNG in the software to get numbers that tell the program where to stop the reels. In a tribal casino, these are called Class III slot machines, but almost everywhere else they're just called slot machines. (Sort of like the scene in Now You See Me 2 where the Four Horsemen wake up in a Chinese restaurant in Macau, and one of them says something about Chinese food, and the Woody Harrelson character says that he thinks they just call it food here.)

If a tribal casino does not have a compact, its machines are bingo drawings under the hood. In this case, the RNG is in a central server that conducts the bingo drawings. It uses the RNG to determine the numbers drawn in the bingo drawing. It then sends the numbers drawn down to each machine, which determines where to stop its reels based on the pattern covered on its electronic bingo card. These are known as Class II machines. (The Class terminology is defined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.)

The results on the machines at Empire are determined using yet another method. The machines are like scratch-off lottery tickets under the hood. When a player starts a spin, the central server conceptually tears off the next scratcher card in the stack, scratches off the coating with its electronic coin to reveal the results, and sends the results down to the machine. More technically, the central server maintains a pool of results (the scratch-off tickets). When a machine needs a result, the central server chooses one from the pool and removes it from the pool (just like the tickets you buy are removed from the population of available tickets). When the server uses up all of the results in a pool, it creates a new pool. In this case, the RNG in the central server is used to determine which "ticket" from the pool you get. This method is referred to as Finite Outcome.

Casinos don't need to adjust payouts if results are determined using Finite Outcome. There's no telling what order the outcomes will occur in, but once the server reaches the end of the pool, the payback experienced by the players will match that of the pool. Things might be a little rocky for the players or the casino in the beginning of the pool, but everything will be fine in the end.

It might seem like altering the paybacks on Class II machines could be done by changing the bingo drawing, but the payback on a machine is determined by which patterns are winning patterns on a machine's bingo card (and how much they pay). A set of numbers that maps to the jackpot spin on one machine maps to a losing spin on another.

On machines with internal RNGs, the payback is determined by the paytable and how many times each symbol appears on the reels. There's no such thing as a loose or tight RNG. To change payback you have to either change the paytable or the number of times the symbols appear.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, in addition to the casino, there's usually some government authority that wants to ensure each machine is working properly and that the amount of money it has held falls within the range expected for the number of plays it has received. If casinos could change the payback at whim, it would be very difficult to perform this check.

Regulators moreover want it to be difficult to change the payback on a machine. They don't want casino employees to be able to goose the paybacks on machines for their relatives or friends (otherwise known as accomplices in this situation).

Finally, here in Nevada at least but probably also in many other jurisdictions, when a machine's payback is changed it is considered a new asset. The casino has to close out the books on the machine with its old payback, and then start anew with the new payback. This is so the performance data with the different paybacks isn't commingled.

To sum up, all the results are determined at random, but we have to dig a little deeper to find out where the randomness is located. And if you win money one day and lose it back the next, it's not because the casino has tightened up its machines. It's just luck.

Question: I reside in Oklahoma. I would like to know if casinos can in real time adjust a slot machine to prevent a player from getting bonus free spins and/or are they able to reduce or increase the amount won on a bonus?

I have had several suspicious things occur while playing slot machines, some good and some bad. I have gone for almost six months without being able to win any substantial amount of money (>$100). This happened after I gave an unfavorable review of the casino. I have also spent about $600 two times in about a week and all of a sudden won back about $600 in each of those two sittings. It was as if they purposely gave me back that money.

I have also played on four identical machines side by side and it seemed that no matter which machine I played, I couldn't get any significant bonuses. Yet when someone else sat down and played it they did get significant bonuses. This occurred several times at this sitting.

Is all of the above just total coincidences?

Answer: I love it when I have two letters that address the same concept from different angles.

As humans, we want reasons for why things happen. We're uncomfortable with randomness.

It's tempting to look for a cause for what you experienced. You wrote a bad review, so the casino made it impossible for you to win. You were losing, so the machine let you win back some of your money.

The explanation for everything you experienced is the random determination of outcomes. The randomly determined results on the machines you played, either determined by a bingo drawing or the machine's RNG, were sometimes good for you and sometimes bad. Nothing else had any effect. Not your bad review, not how much you were losing.

Similarly, randomness is also the reason why other players got the bonuses you didn't get. It certainly is frustrating when you play a machine for a while without getting a good bonus, and then someone else plays it and hits multiple good bonuses right away.

To answer your first questions, casinos can't alter machines in real time. See my previous answer for the reasons.

Coincidences are a result of randomness. Don't take it personally. Neither the machine nor the casino has anything against you.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
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. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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