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Best of John Grochowski

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Casinos can't change slot paybacks easily

18 October 2011

When a casino changes its blackjack rules, or the type of shuffler used, or the number of decks in play, it's right there in the open. Players can evaluate the game by what they see.

Same deal in video poker. When a game is changed, players can look at the new pay table and know exactly what kind of play experience they're getting.

Slot machines are different. Manufacturers make every game available in a variety of payback percentages, and players can't tell by looking at a machine whether they have a high-payer or a coin gobbler.

They also can't tell whether the game chip has been changed, leading to a higher or lower payback percentage. And that worries some players.

"Can a casino change the percentage of a slot machine payback at random, whether daily, weekly, etc., or is this regulated by the gaming commission?" one reader asked in a September email. "Who sets and resets the payback percentage?"

Changing payback percentages on slot machines is not an everyday matter. It's not done routinely. And when a game is underperforming, casinos don't try to make more money by lowering the payback percentage. They remove the game and bring in a new one.

That said, if a casino does want to change a percentage, the switch must be approved by the state gaming board, and procedures must be followed. Procedures differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but typically the operation must be overseen by a gaming board agent.

On most slot machines, it's a process that takes hours, and can take all day before the gaming board agent gives the OK to bring the machine back up and running. Upon approval from the gaming board, a casino slot supervisor and a gaming board agent go to a machine, unlock and open the door, break evidence tape, remove the central processing unit, close and lock the machine, take the central processing unit into the back shop, remove the payback chip, put a new chip in, take the CPU back to the game, re-install it, re-seal it in new evidence tape, close and lock the machine.

A test program is run, and when the gaming board agent is satisfied the machine is operating normally, the game is brought back up.

It's such a long process that it's not done to change percentages day to day, or day to night, or weekday to weekend, as some players think.

With the advent of server-based slots, the technology is there to do that whole process in minutes. However, it still must be done with the permission of the gaming board under direction of a gaming board agent. A double-lock system is used, so that both a casino employee and a gaming board agent must be logged into the system to change a game. I asked a casino operator specifically if that was going to allow him to change games from day to night or big-crowd times to small-crowd times, and he said, no, the gaming board wouldn't allow it, and besides, he wants to see how a game performs before making a change. Once a change is made, he told me, it would be days or even weeks before the gaming board would approve changing the game again.

The first time I looked at server-based slots a half a dozen years ago, a manufacturer told me that one thing that would be possible for casinos to put games on a timer. If they needed more video poker games to attract players during the day, but could fill the seats with video slot games on nights and weekends, the system could be set to automatically make that change.

That's not something that's actually being done in the early days of server-based slot machines. It might be something we see in the future. I could see a gaming board buying a change like that, after everyone from players to regulators is used to the idea of server-based gaming. But quick a change of payback percentages, as opposed to quick change of games, is something else. I don't expect regulators ever will buy into that idea.

I expect we'll see a similar situation with server-based that we see with most of the slots today. If a game is underperforming, the casino won't change the payback percentage. It'll install a new game instead. It might be quicker to install a new game than it is now, because it'll be easier and faster to do it. But under gaming board supervision, capricious changes of payback percentages aren't likely to happen.

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