Walking the aisles at a busy casino, I saw the lights flash and heard the music change to celebration mode -- surefire signs that someone had just hit the jackpot.
I walked toward the winner to see what was going on, and it turned out that a woman who appeared to be in her 40s had just lined up the three doubler symbols on a Double Diamond reel-spinning game. She looked stunned as the attendant took her information for a $2,500 jackpot.
Someone else looked stunned, too. Another woman, maybe a little older, looked right at me and said, “That should have been MINE! I just left that machine!”
Over the years a number of readers have relayed tales of jackpots hit on machines they just left, but this was the first time I’d actually seen it happen. Second time, if you want to count the time I was the culprit in the eyes of another player.
That incident was in Las Vegas about 15 years ago, when I sat down at a Deuces Wild video poker machine and drew four 2s on my first hand. It was a dollar machine, so it was a $1,000 jackpot. The bank of games was packed, and I got a seat only by being there when another fellow left. He didn’t seem pleased at my good fortune.
“You stole my jackpot!” he yelled.
I just shrugged and waited for my payoff -- it was a hand pay in those days before ticket payoffs were common. I don’t think he’d have been much consoled by an explanation of random number generators. He did answer my shrug with, “I guess it’s my own damn fault for leaving the machine,” and he walked away before the attendant arrived with my cash.
A woman to my left looked amused at the whole exchange.
“He was a real sourpuss anyway,” she said. “He was grumbling the whole time he was here. He had a wild royal, and was complaining that it wasn’t a natural royal and saying that these machines never paid out the big ones. I looked over and mentioned that he’d held two deuces along with a King and a 10, so he never really had a shot at a natural royal. It was a nice draw to get the wild one. He told me to mind my own business, that he’d moan about what he wanted to moan about.
“So I’m glad you’re the one who got the deuces.”
Should you ever be on either side of the debate -- winning a quick jackpot or watching a big win on a machine you just left -- my best advice is not to worry about who woulda, shoulda, coulda been the winner.
Random number generators on electronic gaming devices that include slots, video poker, video keno and other games run continuously, even when the game is not in use. They also run very fast. By the time one player leaves a game and another starts to play, the RNG has moved several thousand potential outcomes down the road.
Even if the original player had stayed put, he or she probably wouldn’t have won that same jackpot. Timing would have to be the same down to a small fraction of a second. Some of the most sophisticated RNGs have variable entry points to the algorithm that calculates the random numbers. Whether you hit “max bet,” “repeat bet,” or “bet one,” whether you push buttons or pull handles, and on video games where you touch the screen all can result in different outcomes.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a better outcome or a worse outcome. It just means that the set of random numbers another player gets will be different than yours, and that your set of random numbers will be different if you change your pattern even by a millisecond. If you stop to order a drink, or to check the time, or to say “Nice one!” after a win by a nearby player, your set of random numbers will be different than if you’d just played through.
And at jackpot time, there’s no question of should haves. Neither Ms. “That should have been mine!” and Mr. “You stole my jackpot” were likely to have hit the big payoff had they stayed. And the jackpot is yours only if you’re the one making the bet.
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