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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Inside a cybernetic one-armed bandit

21 May 1999

Dear Mark,
On the weekends, do casinos make adjustments on their video poker machines to make more money? Sam K.

Do you mean do casinos take a screwdriver to their slots on the weekends to tighten them up? No way. It is not cost effective for the casino to continually alter the payouts on their machines. To alter the percentage return in their favor on a video game, the casino must, by law, make a hardware change. You do this by swapping out an internal component, the ROM portion of the microprocessor chip. ROM, or read only memory, is a chip the slot manufacturer provides the casino. This is the chip that tells the video poker machine to pay 9 coins for a full house, 6 coins for a flush. Additionally, they would have to physically change the glass payout schedule on their machines.

What you could see is a seasonal wholesale change to improve their theoretical hold by making all 9/6 machines to 8/5 bandits. By changing to all 8/5 machines, the house holds an additional 3% edge on each and every machine.

Dear Mark,
Is there a way that the casino can program a video poker machine so that a royal flush never appears? Shanon B.

Can, yes. Would? Never!
What you have described is called secondary decision programming. A good programmer could write code that allows the computer within to stop a hand that is about to be dealt in favor of a different hand. This would prevent big winning hands like royal flushes from appearing their theoretical number of times.

In a highly regulated industry like casinos, it is safe to assume honesty in programming.

Dear Mark,
When I am dealt the first five cards on a video poker machine, are the draw cards already sitting behind the cards I want to discard, or are they dealt from the top of the deck? Ed. P.

It depends, Ed, on the company who produced the slot or how old the machine is. In the past, the majority of video poker machines operated using parallel dealing. This is where all 10 cards are dealt simultaneously, meaning, you are dealt both the display cards and their draw replacements. Discard that dreadful four of clubs and the seven of diamonds, which you didn't need, was sitting behind it all along. Today, the new machines employ serial dealing. Here replacement cards are dealt right from the top of the deck-similar to a live poker game.

Because the cards are shuffled and displayed randomly, neither way has any effect on the outcome.

Dear Mark,
What are the chances of hitting the lottery twice in one lifetime. Has it ever happened? Milton G.

In a perfect world we all would win the lottery once, shoot scratch golf and drive a Mercedes. But that wasn't perfect enough for divorced convenience-store manager Evelyn Marie Adams of New Jersey when she won her state's lottery twice within a four-month span in 1985. The odds against Ms. Adams winning the double bonanza were 15 trillion to one. Fifteen trillion, Milton, is three thousand times the number of people on this planet. Since then, seven others have joined the elite fraternity of repeat lottery winners.

Dear Mark,
How much edge does the casino have in blackjack? Bert B.

It strictly depends on the skill level of each individual player. Against the average Joe the casino has about a two percent edge. A hunch or superstitious player can easily give back eight percent.
Depending on the rules of a particular casino, a Deal Me In reader who uses perfect basic strategy has only a half of a percent disadvantage. They also get rated and work the casino over for comps. Because many casinos give back between 20 to 40 percent of the expected win-not the actual win-in player gratuities, the Deal Me In player actually shows a positive expectation when playing blackjack.

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.