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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Do not believe in scheming RNGs

26 August 2011

Dear Mark: Do the odds on a slot machine change based on past performance? Let’s say I am winning smaller jackpots spin after spin, does the machine get to point where it stops paying knowing I have won such-and-such amount? This has been happening to me lately. Luke C.

Slot machines, Luke, do not operate by artificial intelligence but are preprogrammed to pay out a certain percentage on a random basis with streaks — both good and bad — appearing. In your most recent gambling timeline, the machine didn’t reckon “Luke’s won his fair share, so now AVENGER ME, the cyber one-armed bandit, will snag its money back.”

So, as the saying goes, Luke, past performance is no guarantee of future results, winning as you may have been. When you won those smaller jackpots spin after spin, sure, you could consider it a bit of a hot cycle, but that just becomes anecdotal observation on your part, changing with each additional spin. All symbols are selected by the random number generator (RNG), which knows nothing about cycles or your past performance. What the programming does tell the casino operators is that after millions and millions of payout-yes-or-no decisions, “X” amount of money will be earned by the casino and lost by the players. Moreover, no one, Luke, not even the machine, knows what the actual sequence of wins and losses will be.

Dear Mark: On a slot machine, is the RNG constantly running and generating combinations for possible outcomes, 24/7, 365 days a year? Chris B.

Yes, but… and by “but” I mean, every slot machine has a starting point when it is first put into operation. Once the machine is placed in service, it runs a few self-checks, fires up the RNG, and then waits for Chris to sit front and center. Also, while a machine is out of service for reasons like a power outage, slot placement changes or maintenance, the random number generator wouldn’t be running, but once the machine is turned back on, it would, like your laptop, do a prescribed power-up cycle, run its internal tests, activate the RNG, and then quietly wait with an electronic smile for you to insert your hard-earned cash.

Dear Mark: Your being a gambling expert, I was wondering if 50-50 raffles are legal. Our organization is considering a couple 50-50 raffles through the night of an upcoming event for some additional revenue, but I have heard it might not be legal. We would appreciate your opinion before we move forward. John K.

Suitably named for the way the collected money is distributed; 50-50 raffles are a simple way for a charity or organization to raise funds at a minimal effort and cost.

That’s the good news, John, but unfortunately you happen to live in the Golden State, and California prohibits 50-50 raffles because the state requires a minimum of 90 percent of the money collected in any fundraiser to go to the charity or organization in whose name the funds were raised.

I recommend that anyone considering holding a 50-50 raffle check with state and local governments to make certain that it is legal. Find out what you must do to comply with any state and local regulations, for instance, getting a special license or permit, or registering as a nonprofit charity, church or school.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “A pure honest gamble, heads or tails with an equally weighted two-sided coin, is as close to democratic fairness as humanity is likely to get.” --Pat Lyons, The Quotable Gambler
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.