Be skeptical of casino the advertisements

Jul 5, 2011 3:00 AM

People are skeptical by nature and it’s no wonder. From the moment we learn the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus we begin to become doubtful of what we’re led to believe until we see some sort proof with our own two eyes. As time passes, additional examples of stretched truths and outright lies add up, further increasing our cynicism.

This might be even truer of gamblers than it is with any other demographic. People who enjoy gambling often find themselves skeptical of casinos. Few gamblers have an in-depth understanding of how machines operate – and casinos don’t exactly offer classes on the subject – so there is little opportunity for players to see any proof with their own eyes.

The proof casinos ask you to believe is usually in their advertising. They tell you they love you. They claim their slots are "looser." Some even promise 100%-plus payback machines. The problem is they don’t say what their slots are looser than, how many machines are set at 100%-plus or where in the casino they are, and I don’t think anyone even knows what difference a casino’s feelings of affection has on their paybacks or jackpots.

Nevertheless, casinos promise the world to get you in their doors. Once inside, you are left to your own devices to determine if their claims are true.

For slot players, you have no way of knowing how true their claims are because you can’t tell how loose or tight the machines are. The paytables are too complex and there are too many other factors that can differ between settings. The only thing a slot player can be sure of is none of the machines are set at above 100%, because 100%-plus slot machines aren’t made.

The good news is most other players, with a little work, can get some idea of how one casino stacks up against the rest. For video poker players, looking at the payouts for full houses, flushes and straights and comparing them between the exact same game and denomination at a different casino can tell you which has video poker machines set looser. Comparisons of these payouts within the same casino can even tell you where the 100%-plus video poker machines are.

With keno, the paytables are a little more complex, but the 5-out-of-5 payout on traditional video keno always varies between settings. Other payouts vary between most settings, but not all, so a quick glance at about four or five mid-level payouts should be used when comparing odd varieties of video keno, like Caveman or Triple Trouble, etc.

The reason video poker and video keno players can compare paytables and determine which machine is set looser is because the play of the machine can’t be altered by the casino. Only the paytable can. This is the proof video poker and keno players have that machines aren’t being set to hit around their numbers, make certain patterns, or deal four to the royal without ever giving you the fifth.

If casinos could hard-set hit frequencies or force these machines to dole out a jackpot (or not) at certain times, the paytables would all be the same. There would be no need to adjust them and show the players which is a better payback, so no casino in their right mind would knowingly choose to do so.

But thanks to gaming regulations, video poker and video keno machines must be designed to operate as close to the live version of the games as possible. The random number generator used to shuffle the virtual cards and mix the virtual balls is just that – random. No matter how much you might want to believe the machine has been rigged to fill in your pattern after you’ve changed numbers or deal out the card you needed to complete the royal on the very next hand, it’s just not the case.

If you’re still not satisfied, the best proof of casino honesty is logic. Rigging machines is illegal. To do so would put the casino’s gambling license in jeopardy. Now take a look at the fancy buildings, the bright lights, the beautiful swimming pools, the lush gardens and the stunning fountains. All of it is paid for by gambling revenues. Do you honestly think any casino would risk their gaming license just to cheat you out of a $20 bill, especially when in all likelihood they would get it out of you eventually anyway?

Be skeptical of the advertisements. Often they are carefully worded to avoid being untrue, but they remain misleading and are designed to make you think the advertiser is better than the rest. You can tell for yourself if it’s true if you know where to look and take a little time to do so.

Just don’t be too skeptical of the casinos. While they might use creative advertising, they all stop well short of fixing payouts, rigging machines or tampering with the randomness of results. Random results often have circumstantial outcomes that might make you think as you play: "Where was that card last hand?" or "Why did that fill in only after I moved my pattern?" Rest assured there is nobody in some control room risking their business license just to watch you squirm as they force results. Annoying stuff just happens, and taking it in stride is simply part of being a gambler.

(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nev.)