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Best of Mark Pilarski

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How those gambling gizmos work

9 June 2003

Dear Mark,
I am hoping you will elaborate a bit on the slot machine RNG (random number generator). I am very familiar with how it works. I know those people that say, "I JUST got up from that machine, and that lady sat down, and BAAM! She hits the jackpot! I could have won that if I stayed a bit longer!" I know this is a totally false statement (well, not totally as it COULD have randomly happened to him had he been there) but the fact that the one lady hit it and he didn't is because the RNG came up with the winning jackpot combo at that precise moment in time.

The thing that I was always confused about is WHEN the RNG stops and displays the predetermined outcome. Meaning: If I put 1 coin in a 3-coin machine, then wait a second and put in 2 more coins, THEN hit "spin" ...was the RNG continuously changing until I hit the "Spin" button? Did it stop the second the first coin was plopped in? Did it stop changing when the third and final coin was plopped in but before the "Spin" button was hit? I have always been curious at what point does the RNG stop...with the coins being dropped (if so, which one? first or third?) or with the pressing of the "Spin" button. Tim H.

Tim, meet Tom.

Dear Mark,
Something I have wondered about: When is the result of a spin on a machine determined? Is it when the first, second or third coin is inserted or when the "maximum bet" button is pushed? Tom M.

Tom meet Tim - oh, you've met.

North America quarters (talk about your puns!) some 700,000 plus slot machines. More than two-thirds of the market for these one-armed bandits is under the control of International Gaming Technology (NYSE: IGT) In view of their dominance, I will have their machines in mind as I answer your questions.
(Taking a lesson about full disclosure from current events, I did once weasel my way into an IGT party at a gaming convention, where I drank my fair share and hit the chow middling hard. But you see, judge, it's just a wash my mentioning them.) But also note, Tim and Tom, IGT is not the only manufacturer of slot machines. Other manufacturers could have their thingamajigs designed to operate differently.

Back to the main question: The RGN is constantly — well, every millisecond — spitting out random numbers, literally thousands of random number sets per second.

The particular set selected by the RGN determines the outcome of each spin. It does this at the precise moment when the first coin taps the whoozis inside the slot. (Forgive the technical language.) This is not dependent on any factors of game play, such as how many coins are bet, whether the player is winning too much money, or using Cajon voodoo or psychic trembles to decide when to hit the draw button.

With all IGT games, when the "start deal" or "bet" button is pushed while playing credits, or the FIRST coin is inserted, the randomly selected outcome has already been determined, and the machine just sits around for the next bunch of milliseconds waiting for you, Tim and Tom, to decide what you'll do next.

Regarding the boom-or-bust aftermath, it's all the same whether you deposit one coin or the maximum number of coins. I get a letter a week touting the notion that the number of coins slotted somehow influences the result. Tain't so, friends. The outcome has been established before that first coin stops jingling. If you put in one coin and get a royal flush or a mega-jackpot, you would have gotten that same royal flush or those three centerline treasure chests if you had put in three or five coins.

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

But be aware — there are casinos operating in places that do not have such high-minded gaming regulations. Some Indian casinos and cruise ships operating in international waters are examples of casinos not bound by stateside regulations.

Gambling quote of the week: A wise player ought to accept his throws and score them, not bewail his luck. — Sophocles (496-406 B.C.)

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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.