Twins aren’t always equal

Jan 1, 2007 5:45 AM

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I recall sitting around with a group of people several years ago. One couple was telling the rest of us about their twins, a boy and a girl. One person looked up and asked them if they were identical twins. After the rest of us gave him some interesting looks, he realized his faux pas. By the very definition, identical twins have to be of the same gender.

I don’t know if the person who asked the question simply failed high school biology or was simply not paying attention when the couple with the twins said one was a boy and the other a girl. I always think of this story, when I think of the ”˜identical’ slot machines sitting in a row in a casino. They all look identical. They have identical names. They have identical paytables. They must be identical in every way, right? WRONG.

Slot machines, mechanical or video, are programmed for a certain payback. It doesn’t matter what you see on the reels. Each symbol is not required to come up randomly in equal proportion. So, if you need three Blue 7’s to win $10,000 and there appear to be 20 or 30 symbols on the reel, it is 100% okay for the machine to be programmed to have a Blue 7 show up 1 in 100 or 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 100,000,000.

To make matters worse, it may be programmed to show in different frequencies on two apparently identical machines sitting side by side. The end result is that one machine may have a payback of 92% and the other one 95% and you have absolutely no way of knowing, unless you can see the programming (which you can’t!).

Video poker machines are quite the opposite. In places like Las Vegas, they are required BY LAW to be completely random. That means the likelihood of the ace of diamonds showing up is the same as the 2 of clubs or the 5 of hearts.

Apparent ”˜near misses’ are simply part of the randomness of the process. In slot machines, near misses may very well be programmed into the process. In video poker, the math tells us that near misses are far more common that ”˜hits’ and far less common than a big miss.

So, it is usually the selective memory of the Player that causes us to remember the hands where you started with a 3-Card Royal and hit the Royal or drew one of the needed cards, but to completely forget all the times you drew two worthless cards.

When you play a slot machine, there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve your chances. You put your money in, you pull the handle (or press the button), the machine plays and you win or lose. In video poker, players that learn the right strategy have a far greater chance of winning than those that don’t.

This combination of strategy and complete randomness allows us to calculate the payback of any video poker machine with complete certainty. The casino can have a big sign at the entrance that says, "Our video pokers pay 99.6%. Our slots pay 97.8%", and I can find the video poker machines that pay 99.6%. NO ONE can tell me (without inside information) which slot machines pay 97.8%. It may be ONE machine sitting in a row of identical looking machines. The others might pay 92.8%. You’ll never know.

For nearly two decades now, my father and I have been begging our readers to kick the slot habit. I am amazed at how many people continue to put their money into these machines. Through the years, there have been many authors who have written about video poker. While there have been some differences, such as whether to bother with penalty cards, or how much to value slot clubs or long term vs. short term, on the whole, all of us are saying basically the same thing. Video poker offers one of the best chances for winning in the casino. It is essentially acknowledged that there are both professional players who have won significant money playing video poker and recreational players who win smaller amounts year after year. I don’t think I have ever heard of a slot player who won year after year. The only long term winners may be the rare few who have won million dollar jackpots.

It is now 2007. As I do every New Year, I’m asking all of you to make a new year’s resolution and break the slot habit. In the long run it might be healthier to you than giving up chocolate. Have a Happy New Year.