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Best of John Grochowski

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A Shuffle through the Gaming Mailbag

27 January 2004

Q. During several recent visits to casinos, I have observed a behavior in video slot machines that makes me wonder whether there is a random number generator override mechanism that periodically alters the machine's take in order to maximize its profit.

What I have observed is that the machine will occasionally lock up for about two seconds, after which it will appear to keep a greater or lesser fraction of the money bet. This happens on the machines produced by one manufacturer, WMS Gaming. The machines include Leprechaun's Gold, Cash Crop and Yukon Gold, among others.

Are you aware of this behavior? Everything I have read or heard says that the take of any machine is fixed by its payout ratios and a random number generator. It seems to me, however, that a casino would want to keep the maximum legal percentage of the money played in every machine and would love to have a control such as I have observed (or imagined).

R.W., via e-mail

A. I know the delay you're talking about, but it has nothing to do with game play, results or percentages. It's strictly an internal accounting measure. On WMS video games currently in casinos, the computer chip on the machine stores the results of the last 100 plays. After 100 plays, the information must be transferred from the machine to the casino's central data system. That's what's happening during the timeout.

The delay seems more pronounced on WMS, but it happens with other manufacturers, too. It will be happening less with some of the new advanced game platforms that companies are introducing. WMS is just starting to roll out its new CPU-NXT system, with sharp graphics and animation. The more advanced computer system will lessen the accounting delays.

As for casinos wanting machines to hold up to the legal maximum, that's not usually the case, at least not in competitive markets. The need to attract players and keep them from crossing over to competing casinos overrides any desire to short the players on payback percentages. In Illinois, the legal minimum payback percentage is 80 percent, and no casino in the state is anywhere near that low in its actual return. The average payback percentage in Illinois in September was 93.5 percent, ranging from the 91.4 percent at Harrah's in Downstate Metropolis to the 94.8 percent at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

Q. My feeling as an advantage player (card counter) is that in your report to the general gaming community the discussion regarding penetration was not necessary. (You reported that the game is good for card counters because Grand Victoria deals out all but one of the six decks, that's the best penetration in the area.)

Card counters in the area have a great underground network and know where the best games are, and the basic strategy player couldn't care less about penetration.

Advantage player, via e-mail

A. I heard from several people who said card counters were upset when I mentioned the Grand Victoria penetration, and were even more upset when Grand Victoria shortly thereafter moved to cut two decks out of play instead of just one.

I told all who asked that my job is to share information, not to conceal it. And I'm certainly not going to decide that one class of players - those with a private network - should have information while my readers are denied access to it.

I also doubt the Grand Victoria changes were directly related to my column. There were other blackjack changes afoot. Grand Vic also has recently added some eight-deck games, and goodness knows I've written plenty of times that their six-deckers with the dealer hitting soft 17 is one of the toughest games in the area on average players.

I have written about specific advantage plays in the past, and mostly the casinos ignore me. In some cases, they don't believe they have a beatable game, and in some cases they figure any publicity is good publicity. An example of the former is a video blackjack game several years ago that gave a mathematical edge to players who knew basic strategy for single-deck blackjack with early surrender. The game stayed on floors for months after I wrote about it, until pros tying up machines on triple-point days ate up too much of the bottom line.

At times over the years, advantage players have offered me information about opportunities in the Chicago area on the condition that I not put it in print. I have always honored that condition but put a statute of limitations on it. In the case of the appearance of a favorable video poker game about six years ago, I promised the tipster 30 days before I wrote about it. Given my deadlines, I usually can't get something into print until two weeks after I learn about it, anyway. The extra couple of weeks I considered the price of the information.

That is the most I would do as far as holding back data. I get paid to share information with the public, not to withhold it.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski