In order to recognize a “tight” machine from a “loose” one, we need a good understanding of what casinos do to set them up.
Tightening a machine is not just a matter of having an employee open the game, turn a screw, press a few buttons somewhere and lock the game back up. It’s a rather involved process.
In fact, the process is too long and tedious to completely explain in a short article, plus it’s largely irrelevant. What’s important how a machine is affected when tightened and to recognize tight and loose ones.
When a slot tech has to be called to fix your machine, it’s not possible to instantly tighten or loosen it while fooling around in there based on how short your dress is or the size of the tip.
In most cases, there are only a small handful of settings from which the casino can choose to set up each game, usually around five or six different choices. Since most casinos hesitate to set any machine either as tight or as loose as possible, probably better than 90 percent of the games will be set to one of only a few middle-of-the-road settings.
They do not affect how cards are shuffled and dealt or how keno numbers are drawn or anything else. Those processes are always random and therefore impossible to adjust.
Even if it were possible, it would be illegal, and casinos make far too much money on the up-and-up to risk their gaming licenses by illegally manipulating machines. Unless you’re playing slots in a back ally of some shady third-world country, you do not have to worry about being cheated by a rigged machine.
For slot machines, different settings might affect more than just paytables. They can adjust winning combinations (a loose machine only needs three of a certain symbol to pay, while a tighter one might pay at four), which symbols are available, the amount of space between symbols on reels, the number of a particular symbol on each reel, etc.
This large number of variables makes it much more difficult to compare slot machines unless you really know your favorite machine inside and out. Only then you might notice a difference in symbols or payouts when playing the same machine at different casinos.
But for video poker and keno, it couldn’t be much easier. If you want to know which casino has looser video poker or keno machines, compare the paytables of identical games. Compare mid-level payouts like full houses, flushes, straights (5/5, 5/6, 6/6, 5/7, 6/7, etc.) to see where most of the variations are found.
Sometimes you can even find differences between paytables in the same casino. It’s not uncommon for a casino to set the bar machines a bit tighter than the floor machines to make up for the increased availability of cocktails at the bar, for instance.
We’re talking about real money here, so every credit difference in a full house or 5/6 payout can make a substantial impact on your bankroll after just an hour or two of playing. The one or two extra hands or draws you get after playing $20 at the looser machine might just give you that last-hand royal flush or last-draw 6/6 jackpot.
This makes it well worth your time to check the paytable every time you sit down. While it’s not so simple for a casino to tighten a machine, it’s relatively easy for the knowledgeable player to recognize when one has been tightened.
(Brad Fredella is the General Manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, NV)