Random game?

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Some assert machines no longer fair

This past week I received an e-mail from a reader who took me to task for being more a mathematician than a player. I couldn’t totally argue with this point. I’m certainly not a ‘professional’ video poker player. I’ve never claimed to be. I do play when I’m in Las Vegas but that’s for about 1-2 weeks out of the year.

As I continued to read the e-mail, I was expecting the beating because perhaps I wasn’t aware that some paytable I had recently discussed no longer existed. Or, perhaps I wasn’t aware of the latest trends in comps and cashbacks at some of the local casinos in Las Vegas. But this wasn’t the case. I was taken to task for being naïve and believing that the video poker machines in Las Vegas are random. On this point, I have NO DOUBT. This isn’t to say that a machine doesn’t on rare occasion malfunction or that somewhere along the line, some small locale has tried to bring in an unapproved video poker machine. It just means that on the whole, especially in the big casinos, the video poker machines are as random as they are supposed to be.

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So, once again, I’ll lay out my argument for why I believe the video poker machines are legit. The first reason may actually be the weakest, but it is still part of the equation. NO ONE has ever proved that they are anything but random. I will not be swayed by anecdotal stories of how somebody went hours without hitting quads as proof that the machine is rigged. You can tell me how you were dealt trips on a 100-play machine and didn’t improve a single one and still it doesn’t mean the machine is rigged. There are tens of thousands of video poker machines in the U.S. playing billions of hands a year. This means that something could be a 10 million to one chance and it will STILL HAPPEN 100 times this year!

The next reason is that as a programmer, I know that it would only take a few lines of code to rig a machine. I also know that in any software shop, there are going to be at least a handful of people who will know that this code was requested and implemented. Whoever these people are would be paid MILLIONS (as expert witnesses) by the attorney who files the class-action fraud lawsuit against the casinos. To date, I have never heard of a verified case of a programmer (or related IT person) who has ever claimed that such code was implemented. Gaming Labs Incorporated (GLI) and Nevada Gaming Control Board are responsible for testing such hardware and software. They don’t need to go out into the field weekly to see if the code hasn’t changed. The code was verified when the machine was put out into the field, and until someone has proof that it is being modified, I’m good with it.

Lastly, WHY would the casinos need/want to do this? For years, I have heard people swear that the casinos pull 10’s out of the shoe on blackjack tables on weekends (to profit more heavily from the weekend players). While, again I’ve never heard of any proof of this, at least this made some sense. Once you offer Blackjack, there is little the casino can do to increase the house advantage. They can play with bigger shoes or they can alter some of the house rules, but these make only minor modifications to the payback. With video poker, the casinos can simply lower the paytables. They are allowed to do this when they want and there is an infinite number of possibilities they can choose to meet their needs. This will also be in accordance with Nevada Gaming Law. Why would the casinos risk being sued for billions when they can chose to lower the paytables by 1% and make that much more money from the masses.

So, the question goes out to any of you who believe that the games are rigged: WHY do you play them? If the game is rigged so that the card you are randomly supposed to be dealt that gives you a Royal Flush is somehow discarded and replaced with garbage – then video poker would be nothing more than a slot machine. And by now, you all know how I feel about slot machines. If the games are rigged, then strategy is meaningless, paytables are meaningless and I guess the gambling laws are meaningless. In Nevada (and in many other jurisdictions), any video game that utilizes virtual real life objects (dice or cards, etc..) MUST have them play as they would in the real world – in other words, RANDOMLY. Until someone brings me absolute proof of anything but, I’m going to believe this is the case. Otherwise, why bother with any of it?

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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