A customer stopped me as I was walking the casino floor the other day and asked me when I tightened up the slot machines her husband usually plays.
This is an easy question to answer, but providing evidence to her that my answer was an honest one proved to be a bit more difficult.
You see, this guest and her husband are regular customers of our restaurant, and he enjoys playing a particular section of penny slot machines most days they visit. It seemed lately her husband wasn’t even getting any play time before losing his money, and she couldn’t remember him cashing out a winner in weeks.
He was certainly having a cold streak, and it’s entirely possible that this dry spell of his (or any of ours) could be a result of tightened machines. If not the sole reason, tighter machines could certainly extend a cold streak. So questioning me certainly makes sense. If I were her, I’d want to know what was going on too.
Problem is, I hadn’t tightened the machines. In fact, I haven’t tightened a single machine since I started at Stetson’s as the G.M. in early 2009. Like I told my inquisitive guest, I’ve actually loosened just about every machine in the place since my arrival.
Proving to her that I loosened the video poker and keno machines and that I never tightened them back up is easy, because it’s all in the paytables. A quick comparison of a paytable at Stetson’s with an old paytable from before I started or a paytable from a competitor down the street will confirm that we’re set pretty darn loose.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for slots. Well… actually the same can be said. I can say that Stetson’s slots are looser until I’m blue in the face. I just can’t prove it.
This is because tightening or loosening a slot can affect more than just the paytable. It can affect the number of symbols on the reels, the spacing, the awards and multipliers on bonus screens – a whole litany of different things.
And even if, as it is on some slots, only the paytables change between different settings, who among us can memorize the entire paytable of a 5-reel, 40-line video slot with dozens of different symbols and several bonus rounds? I know I can’t.
So there’s no way for me to prove to her that I didn’t tighten her husband’s favorite bank of machines. All I can do is assure her, and my readers, that it’s not as easy to tighten a machine as you might think. It’s actually pretty difficult, and so casinos don’t do it too often at all.
Many of us assume that a casino can set any machine, especially a slot machine, to any setting they want with relative ease. Open the thing, turn a key or flick a switch and voila – the machine is now tighter than a knotted shoelace.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, adjusting the setting of any machine takes keys that can only be gotten with two signatures. Even I, as the General Manager, can’t just waltz down to the casino, pull a few keys out and start hopping around the floor tightening and loosening machines at will. It takes a minimum of two people, and it takes a lot of knowledge and quite a bit of time too.
Even once the keys are in hand, programming chips need to be installed by a trained technician before game choices and settings can be altered. These techs follow what’s called a par sheet, which is basically a list of games, denominations, paybacks and option settings (let-it-ride, double down, etc.) that execs like me choose ahead of time and then hand to the true professionals to program into the machines.
Each game on the device is programmed independently, and settings within a game can vary between denominations. While setting up a single game, single denomination slot is pretty easy, changing the settings on a machine with a dozen different games at various denominations can take an hour or more. Also, casinos like continuity, so tightening one machine usually means tightening several other surrounding machines too.
Point being, tightening machines is serious work. New par sheets must be drawn up, machines must be roped off and shut down for reprogramming, and the actual process of tightening the games will tie up the time of at least two people for several hours.
Casinos can and will tighten machines from time to time, but the decision to do so is not taken lightly, and it’s certainly not done with any type of regularity.
Unfortunately, it is far more common for a gambler to go on an extended cold streak than it is for a casino to tighten a slot machine.
And remember, just like the tightest machine can be a winner, the loosest can be a loser. Sometimes it’s not the payback setting of the machine that’s the cause of our woes. Sometimes it’s just plain bad luck.
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(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is General Manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, NV.)