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HOME > Gaming > Ask the Slot Expert: How video poker machines deal

Ask the Slot Expert: How video poker machines deal

3 September 2014

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

On the IGT video poker machines I play in Atlantic City, they used to deal you 10 cards, five you could see and five cards behind them (I've heard them called shadow cards). Now they deal you five cards on the initial hand, and the next five are continuously being shuffled by the RNG.

I've talked to some players who say it doesn't matter how they're dealt. Most, like myself, haven't hit a royal or a wild royal in Jacks-or-Better or Double Joker Poker since the casinos made the change on how they deal the cards. I would always hit one or two wild royals in Double Joker or four deuces for $1,000 each trip to the casino. I would hold four to the royal and have a 1 in 47 chance to hit that royal, and a lot of times the royal was there.

If it doesn't matter dealing five or 10 cards, why did the casinos want it changed? Also when I discard the cards I don't want in the hand, how do I receive one of the same cards on the draw I discarded?

Video poker machines used to select the 10 cards that might be needed to complete a hand when you pressed the Draw button. The five cards not displayed as part of the dealt hand were used to replace any cards you discarded.

The dealing method was changed to make it more difficult to cheat the machines. There's a principle in slot machine programming: Any time a machine is sitting with a result locked in, it is vulnerable to being cheated.

And that's exactly what happened. A group of cheats figured out the RNG function in a video poker machine and they were able to determine what the five hidden cards were. As a result, they were able to do things like throw away a dealt flush because they knew a four-of-a-kind was in the hidden cards. By changing the programming to continue shuffling the electronic deck between deal and draw, the manufacturers made this kind of cheating impossible.

When do you think this programming change was made? I infer that you think it was just a few years ago. This change was actually made over a decade ago. It's possible that you've been playing machines that deal this way for many, many years.

It doesn't matter how the cards are dealt. Each card is equally likely to be chosen for the dealt hand, and each remaining card is equally likely to be chosen to replace a discard.

And speaking of discards, it's very unlikely that you got back a card you discarded on the draw. If you're sure that you did get a card back, that's a machine malfunction. Immediately call a slot floorperson and ask him to review the machine's log to see what cards you were dealt and what cards you received on the draw to verify the malfunction. If he verifies the malfunction, he should then take the machine out of service pending further investigation.

I have noticed that when most of the Indian casinos in California add new penny slots, the machines are require a minimum of 40 or 50 cents bet per spin. This is particularly true of Pechanga Casino. I am one that likes to bet 1-3 cents per spin of the reels.

I know the casinos are doing this to increase their revenue, but they will drive me away from gambling and I will find another casino to play lesser amounts per spin. I have talked to a lot of other people and they feel the same as I do.

I might as well play the nickel or dollar machines where you can still bet one coin per spin. Why are the casinos doing this?

The casinos are installing penny machines with high minimum bets for the exact reason you said — to increase revenue. If everyone bet just a few pennies per spin on a machine, it can't pay for the space it's occupying on the slot floor or its share of the casino overhead or even its lease cost.

Most of the machines I've seen with high minimum bets usually require that you play all lines on every spin. I don't find this a problem because I almost always play at least one coin per line, but I know many players want more betting flexibility. Fortunately, there are plenty of penny machines that still let you choose the number of lines to play and the number of coins to bet per line.

Finally, you probably will get a higher long-term payback playing one dollar per spin on a dollar machine than one dollar per spin on a penny slot. The dollar slot will be a traditional reel-spinning slot, but the penny slot will have high-resolution graphics and sound and bonus rounds and, overall, just be more entertaining — at least to me.

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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