Beating an RNG
not an easy task

Aug 7, 2006 3:40 AM

Here’s a chilling thought. What if the video keno game we love so dearly (or video poker for that matter), isn’t really the game it appears to be.

Instead, what if it were basically a "slot" machine whose outcome is determined by a random number generator (like a reel slot), and the keno "game" that we see is simply an output device created to carry out what the RNG comes up with?

That’s essentially how a slot machine works: the computer program determines the outcome (hit, miss or whatever), and the reels are then directed to line up in a manner to reflect the computer’s outcome.

This would mean that the keno game we see — and the patterns that arise and numbers that are filled in — are directed by the computer.

That scenario would actually explain why numbers all of a sudden stop landing in a row or column once you mark that row or column, but they seem to "rush" into the row or column when you move your pattern elsewhere.

That message was implied by someone claiming to be a former program writer for a slot manufacturer. I’m not sure I understand it all, but it seem to make some kind of sense.

Basically, he said that slots are all about math. Modern machines run on microchips known as a random number generators, or RNGs. These chips contain elaborate algorithms that constantly generate random numbers at a rate of thousands to millions per second. Each of these numbers corresponds to the various outcomes of the game — hits, misses, etc.

As soon you hit the start button, the RNG uses the most recently generated number to determine the outcome of the game. Results of each attempt depend on the exact second when you hit the start button. Hit it now, you might hit the jackpot; hit it at the end of this paragraph, you get nothing.

With this in mind, Scott Garawitz, general manager of Thunder Valley Casino in Northern California, said the RNG makes game outcomes entirely unpredictable. Even if a math whiz were to figure out the algorithm, there’s no way that anyone could determine where in the algorithm the RNG was at the moment they started playing.

"They call it a random number generator for a reason," he said. "When people sit down at a slot machine, they’re experiencing nothing but a portion of a life cycle of that machine."

A life cycle can consist of as many as 10 million games before the RNG resets. Based upon this number, every slot machine has what’s called a "hold" rate, or the percentage of every bet that the machine keeps over the course of one life cycle. Most hold rates vary from 20 to 5 percent (conversely, they return from 80 percent to 95 percent or more to the player). Casinos usually have some slots with holds even lower than that.

Theoretically, machines with holds of zero pay out every penny put into them over the course of 10 million pulls. Technically, these are the "loosest" games around.

But based upon the length of an average gambling session, these machines are no more likely to be winners than slots with higher holds. It all depends on which few thousand games are yours.

"No matter how you look at it, you need to be at the right slot at the right time to hit a large jackpot," said Russell Kinney, vice president of slot operations at Cache Creek Casino Resort in California. "I play slots myself, so I can attest to the fact that these games are all about luck."

Despite this warning, Kinney offered some advice for gamblers looking to maximize their chances of winning at slots. First, because casinos tend to place lower holds on machines with higher wager denominations, Kinney suggested that players stand a statistically better chance of making money at $1 or $5 a pull.

Stats would tend to substantiate that. In Nevada, penny games have a hold percentage greater than 10 percent, while nickel and quarter machines hold about 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Dollar machines hold about 5.5 percent and $5 machines hold about 4.5 percent.

Second, he said, be aware of the "time on device." If you spend 30 minutes at one machine and you don’t win at all, move along. If you play for 45 minutes without losing, keep playing.

That makes sense. But, for me, instead of hopping from cold machine to cold machine, I’ve had some measure of success "re-setting" the numbers relatively frequently.

In the end, I suppose, you’re battling a computer program. You may not win the war, but taking a few battles here and there can be fun.