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Q and A Session with the Casino Answer Man4 March 2003
One thing I've found when I've given seminars over the last decade is that a packed room always means plenty of questions. So it was when I was invited to speak to a seniors' fair recently in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. With every seat taken, I left half my allotted hour for a Q-and-A session.
Wouldn't you know it? I could have used another hour. I ran about five minutes overtime, until I was told I had to wrap it up, and the questions kept coming.
Naturally, the majority were on slot machines. Here are some of the things we discussed:
Can casinos change the payback percentages on slot machines?
Yes, they can. Slot manufacturers produce chips programmed for a number of different potential payback percentages. Change the chip and you change the average return.
However, this is not done on a whim. Casinos don't just decide that a given machine has been paying out too much and change the chip. They know that there is room for short-term variations in payback, but that in the long run, the percentages will hold up. And in most states, changing the chip requires the presence of a gaming board agent. Chips are sealed with evidence tape, and when a chip is changed, the evidence tape must be broken, the chip changed and new evidence tape placed, all witnessed by a gaming board agent.
Does anyone check to see that the slots are random, or do we just have to trust the casinos?
The regulatory body in charge of casinos in each state is responsible for making sure the games are random. Chips must by licensed by the gaming board before they are placed in slot machines. Many states work with Gaming Laboratories International, headquartered in New Jersey, to certify chips.
I find that when I play at night I win, but when I play in the daytime I can't hit anything. Are you more likely to win at night, or is it just coincidence?
It's just coincidence. There's nothing in the programming of slot machines that would make them any more likely to pay off at one time of the day than at any other.
One thing that slot players have to understand and accept is that there will be more losing sessions than winning sessions. When the winning session comes, it's all the more memorable, and that leads to some selective memory. A few big wins at night can lead a player to think that must be the time to play, but it's just a matter of random chance.
When I play video poker at one local casino, I can never seem to catch four of a kind. Is it possible to program the machines so certain hands don't come up?
It's possible, but it's also illegal. A casino that managed to bypass the process for chip approval and replacement and tampered with the odds of the game could lose its license.
When asked this kind of question, I always like to bring up a Nevada case where a route operator, who ran slot machines and video poker games in convenience stores, laundromats and the like, had programmed a subroutine into his video poker chips so that whenever a royal flush was supposed to hit, it substituted a card.
A woman who played a lot of video poker reported to regulators that she was receiving no royals. It took two tries on her part, but the second time regulators listened, pulled a chip and found the subroutine. The operator not only lost his route, he was convicted on felony charges.
Whenever I go to the casino, there are people lined up waiting to play the regular three-reel dollar slots while those nickel video games are sitting empty. Why don't they put in more reel slots?
Your experience runs contrary to what casino statistics show each month. The nickel video games are among the most-played games in the house. Casinos actually make more money per machine on nickel games than on either quarters or dollars. We're going to see more video in the future, not less.
Why do I see less video keno than I used to?
It's a matter of priorities--video keno sometimes is crowded out by more profitable games.
From a casino operator's standpoint, there are two big problems with video keno. One is that a large portion of players bet one coin at a time. The second is that the game takes longer to play than spinning the slot reels. Combine the two, and much less per hour is wagered on keno than on other games, making it less profitable for the casino.
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