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Deal Me In: Who watches them? Them being the casino

21 November 2014

Dear Mark: I know that you have clearly stated multiple times in your column that casinos do not cheat. I am still leery of your belief. I guess my question is, who monitors the casino that their slot machines are on the up-and-up? Jared J.

Every state that offers land-based casinos has some form of gaming regulatory agency that provides you, the casino patron, with protection from playing on a rigged machine.

Let’s begin with the machine itself. Each new slot machine goes through roughly a six-month process to be approved before it hits the casino floor.

A state’s gaming regulatory agency tests the machine to make sure that it operates randomly by scrutinizing how it selects the reel stops on a slot machine, does a thorough inspection of its source code for any possible problems, and then peeks at the principles behind how the random generation occurs. Only then is the machine placed out in the field (casino) for more testing before final approval.

After the proverbial two thumbs up, the manufacturer can then sell that configuration of that slot machine to the casino. Testing then continues once the machine is placed into operation.

For starters, the machine will run self-tests to make sure it hasn't been tampered with, plus make sure it runs within certain parameters, meaning it doesn’t pay out too little or too much. These internal tests also look out for the casino’s best interest in that they make sure the slot machine isn’t susceptible to cheating.

In most (if not all) states, machines are also subject to random spot checks in which someone from gaming verifies that a machine is identical to the approved configuration and has not been tampered with, and that the chips in the machine match the reference chips approved by the agency.

Agents in the field show up unannounced and armed with a laptop computer with a database of all the chip signatures. Each chip has a code number that contains all its attributes, including its return percentages. Agents will know on the spot if the chip is legit by inserting the chip into their specialized laptop; it reads the chip and all its contents to certify that it is an approved value chip. Any hanky-panky (Tommy James and the Shondells, 1966), and we’re talking the possible loss of a gaming license. Besides, most casinos today are publicly-traded companies not interested in exposing their gaming license to loss with any suspicion of monkey business going on.

Furthermore, in some states, casinos can't even access the logic boards in their machines. Only the gaming authority can either make the change or to witness the swap.

Some states do allow casinos to make variations to slot machines under that state’s regulations. By variations, I mean either a paytable modification or a chip swap inside a machine to make it return more or less. As long as “approved” chips are used and the payback is within the minimum limit set by each state’s law, it is legit.

Another reason the slot machine is on the up-and-up is that every machine offered is mathematically in the casino's favor. It is the way they make their moolah, by paying you less than the true odds on every machine on the casino floor. Why cheat? There isn’t any need to swindle you beyond what the state already allows them via the casino hold. They don’t call them One-Armed Bandits for nothin’.

Please take into account, Jared, that my above answer is to some degree generalized. Each gaming jurisdiction may use a slightly different approach, but you can rest assured that who’s watching is watching out for you.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Slot machines are the cotton candy and the McDonald's of the casino. Everyone knows that they're bad for you, but few can resist their junk-food appeal.” – Andrew Brisman
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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.