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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Reader asks if the anti-gimmickry gimmick is gimmicked

4 January 2008

Dear Mark: As an avid slot player, I have a theory which I would like you to evaluate. We all know that slot symbols are picked by a RNG and that each spin is independent of the previous one, but what if the RNG is not always playing with a "full deck" so to speak. Is it possible that at certain times the computer can remove certain winning combinations from the mix, thus not permitting the RNG to select them? The pick that it does make would still be random but somewhat limited. Stan S.

Let's be flat-footed about this, Stan: Can a one-armed bandit be programmed to cheat players? Yes, you bet! It's a mere matter of programming skills. And are the casinos willing to do it? Here's where brains come into play. For a moment, Stan, stare at these letters: HET, LVS, WYNN. They are the stock market symbols of such companies as Harrah's Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands Corp., and Wynn Resorts that trade on the NYSE. Since most casinos are publicly traded companies, be reasonably certain that they are not interested in exposing their gaming license to loss through any faintest whiff of a semi-inkling that they're fixing the slot machines so that Stan cannot strike it rich.

The main reason why casinos don't play the game of deception is that they already legally have a license to print money. Huh? Yup, it's how they reap their profits — paying players less than the true odds. Every game offered to the player is set up mathematically in the casino's favor. For instance, when you flip a silver dollar there is a 50/50 chance of your winning, but not with casino games. Instead of getting even money for every dollar you win on a wager, you are paid 94¢, or 83¢ or maybe even 75¢, which, by the way, are the typical payoffs on different denomination slot machines.

Finally, gaming regulations at places where you're likely to play — Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois, Mississippi and other gaming jurisdictions that pattern after those states — require that all slot machines have random outcomes.

Dear Mark: This question has been on my mind for a while. The game "Battleship" was hugely popular and then it disappeared from the casino where I play. It was fun and offered a variety of bonus rounds. Why do games suddenly disappear? I asked at Greektown awhile back and they said it had to do with licensing agreements. Debra G.

Debra, there can be a whole host of reasons why a slot machine like Battleship was swapped out. The answer you got from Greektown Casino-Hotel (Detroit) could very well be legit. Games are moved in and out of casinos often, especially if they were placed there on a lease arrangement.

Another possibility, although highly unlikely, is that Mikohn Gaming's Battleship slot machine, which is loosely based on the Hasbro Inc. board game of the same name that kids play, was viewed as a violation of a state regulation that prohibits the distribution of gambling devices that might attract children.

Awhile back, I read that a one state's gaming commission prohibited the placing of Battleship in gambling establishments where children may be present, such as convenience stores and supermarkets, but again, in an adult-only environment like Greektown, where children are not allowed, I doubt this is the reason for its disappearance.

Finally, and generally the number one reason machines are replaced, is that from the casino's point of view, Battleship was taking on water and listing to port.

As with any gambling device, Debra, slot machines need to show reasonable results or their replacement is inevitable. A gaming machine's performance is measured by two factors: the total value of coins wagered daily ("coin in") and the resulting value collected daily by the casino ("win"). If a machine's performance falters ever so slightly, a slot manager could decide a change is needed in the slot mix, as to both the placement and positioning of machines on the casino floor, and "Bon Voyage" and for some like Battleship.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week:

"Why people think they can beat a computer chip really blows my mind." --Thomas Grey
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.