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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Biased machines and a damned system

5 January 2004

Dear Mark,
I gamble in one of three places: The South where I live, Biloxi and Shreveport, and where my daughter resides, Reno, Nevada. I limit my play to only video poker. Though my playing style stays consistent, it seems I am luckier in Reno than the casinos here in the South. My question is this. Is it possible that the video poker machines are not truly random here in the South, but instead, biased that high cards come up less often than expected? Marty C.

A few quick thoughts, Marty, before I answer your question regarding biased machines.
First, because you most likely play less often in Reno, your gambling timeline is shorter. Shorten your exposure in front of any machine, anything can happen, including winning more.
Also, you did not mention that the pay tables were the same in all three gaming jurisdictions. Quite possibly, you are playing on machines that have a better pay table in Reno. Get back to me, Marty, on that one.
As for machines being set so high cards appear less frequently, you might find those kind of shenanigans in foreign casinos, cruise ships, online, etc, but where you play, Mississippi, Louisiana and Nevada, regulations mandate that every unseen card in video poker must have an equal probability of appearing just as if the cards were being dealt by a well-shuffled deck.

Dear Mark,
A slot attendant told me that a particular video poker machine has not hit in over six months. You have stated in the past that the chances of hitting a royal are about 40,000 to one. My guess is that this machine has probably seen more than 40,000 plays over that period. Wouldn't it be logical to assume that the machine is now due to hit a royal? Karen K.

True, Karen, I did state that the odds of a royal flush occurring are once per 40,000 plays, but I never said that a machine will hit once every 40,000 hands. No matter how long it has been since that machine has paid a jackpot, the random number generator used to shuffle the cards has no memory. It does not know Karen needs a quick score to pay the rent. So, the probability of a royal flush on each and every hand remains the same; ALWAYS 40,000 to one.
Like all slots, video poker machines do run hot and cold, but there is no way you, me, a slot attendant, or even the casino owner knows when a royal will appear next.

Dear Mark,
I received some e-mail for a slot system based on cycling. Do you know anything about it? Is it worth the money? Jan F.


The seller hawking this stygian system believes that slot machine combinations are programmed to go through a cycle. At the end of each cycle, combinations will repeat themselves in the exact same order. SAVE YOUR MONEY, Jan. Each combination is random and independent of past ones.
Speaking of combinations, some progressive machines can have 16,777,216 possible outcomes. I recommend bringing a sack lunch to any ninny who plans to record every one of them.

Gambling quote of the week: Gambling on football has never been really good for you; but on some days, it can be serious fun. That is how it works for some people; and on Monday night, I was one of them. I won big on Indianapolis, and came dangerously close to winning a mysterious woman from a visiting gambler. She almost went crazy when he said he would leave her here as collateral until he could pay off his losses in cash, which has been standard gambling procedure out here in the sporting West for 200 years, and nobody has ever called it White Slavery. -Hunter S. Thompson

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.