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Ask the Slot Expert: Changing payback on a slot machine

19 May 2021

Question: Hope you are doing well. We are fine and glad to have received our vaccinations.

There’s been a number of emails recently regarding whether the casinos can change the machine’s hold (the flip side of payout) and/or have a different payout for different denominations on the same machine. Mechanically speaking, and not considering casino regulations or policies, the answer to both questions is yes.

I own several slot machines for our personal enjoyment, and I have reset the machines for max payout for each game (on machines that have multiple games) and all the different denominations that I choose to set up. Briefly, there is a chip in the machine that controls the game (game chip) and another chip that is used to clear all the previously installed game parameters. This “clear chip” is typically used in place of the game chip for clear operation and then the game chip is reinstalled.

I have 2 IGT machines and a WMS. The set up on both is similar. In the set-up mode, the IGT Game King offers blackjack, keno, VP, and “slot”-type games to choose from. You are allowed to set up 12 different VP games and 12 different slot games, which fills up the screen with the various game icons.

In the set up mode, you can determine the different denominations you want the machine to allow for play. My machine went from $.01 to $100. Once the denominations are set, $.01, $.02, $.05, $.25, $.50, etc., you can go into each game you have selected and set up the payout % for each game. If I remember right, the lowest setting was something like 88% and the highest was 96%. (It was actually something like 88.47% and 95.89% with .XX, not a whole number.) I set up every game I selected to the maximum amount payback % provided in the menu for every denomination.

On the VP game page, you are able to select a variety of payouts for each game/denomination. For example, you could set up 8/5 Jacks or Better for $.25 and 9/6 for the $5.00 game. (Remember, unlike slots, the payout is displayed for VP is clearly displayed for each denomination on the payback table.) There was no payback adjustment for blackjack, if I remember right, and I think there was some adjustment to the payout on the keno games, number of credits awarded for numbers picked.

On the WMS, the previous payback percentage was displayed for each set denomination. While I was able to reset them all to the highest allowed (96%), it was interesting to see how they had been set up previously. I do not know if this machine came right from a casino floor or not, but from the %s that were set, I suspected so. The lowest denominations, $.01 to $.25 were set at 88%. There was a mix of other paybacks on the higher denominations, but only one, the $1.00, was set to the max, 95%. You could also adjust the number of lines in play, 25 or 40, for each denomination.

One machine I have, an IGT, has a single game. I set the payout % to the max, which was 98%, for each denomination. I could have selected a different payout for each denomination.

Sorry about the long note, but the point is the payout percentage, denominations allowed, and payback % by denomination can be reset by the use of a chip specific to the manufacture/board type and user-selected parameters changes.

Always enjoy your emails! Thanks for the good work.

Answer: Thanks for the kind words.

The Palms used to have good video poker. (It also used to be owned by Station Casinos -- and it also used to be open -- but those are other stories.) The video poker wasn't great, but there were a number of good choices sprinkled among the dregs. I was there one day when the techs were setting up some new video poker machines.

I was surprised to see them doing this on the slot floor. Why not go through all the menus in the workshop and bring out the machines after they've been set up?

Even more surprising is when I've seen techs assembling machines on the slot floor. I've seen open boxes of various electronic boards sitting next to machines with their doors wide open.

I recently learned the reason why machines are assembled on the slot floor. In Nevada, you can't ship a functioning machine. Some parts needed to make the machine function have to be shipped separately. I guess that is to prevent people from hijacking machine shipments.

It's like the old days before Public Key Encryption. You sent your encrypted message with one courier on one route and the key needed to decrypt with another courier on another route. All of the pieces needed were never together until their final destination.

Back to the Palms. After the great renovation, it downgraded its video poker. I didn't expect that these new machines would have anything playable on them.

Just as you described, the tech referred to the configuration worksheet and then chose the game (Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Bonus Poker, etc.) he wanted to make available on the machine. The next screen showed all of the different paybacks available for that game. The tech again checked the configuration worksheet and touched the square with the desired payback -- which was never the best available, unfortunately, but at least it was also never the worst.

I checked with one of my slot supervisor friends. He said that in his experience, his casino just gets video poker machines. The machines have all of the games and all of the paybacks for those games that were approved for the jurisdiction. The casino then configured the machines to be either dedicated to one game and one denomination, to have one game with multiple denominations, or to be a multi-game/multi-denomination machine.

I say "in his experience" because procedures change with manufacturer, time and location. At one time, the paytable and reel layouts were stored on a separate chip from the game program chip. To change the machine's payback, you had to change this chip. In the next chip set for slots (similar to chip sets for CPUs), the payback chip could contain multiple paybacks and the operator could select one of these paybacks by inserting the key chip. (S2000 Chips Explained).

Just a caveat that this is the procedure for RNG-based machines of these vintages from these manufacturers. It does not apply to Class II machines or video lottery terminals. For other RNG-based machines, older or newer machines, machines from different manufacturers, and machines built for different jurisdictions may have different procedures.

No matter what the procedure, changing a machine's payback is not an easy thing to do. It's not something that a casino can do quickly.

Probably the reason that there were no options for blackjack is because in Nevada the electronic version of a game must have the same probabilities as the live game. The only choices you would have to affect long-term payback are: how much blackjack pays and other rules (double after split, dealer hits soft 17, etc.)

Thanks for sharing how your machines work. It's the closest most of us will get to being a slot tech changing long-term paybacks. Rarer still, a slot tech increasing long-term paybacks!


Some thoughts about the pandemic in a segment I'll call Covid Covfefe.

  • In response to the CDC's latest mask guidelines, is it my imagination or are some of the talking heads who said the CDC was acting too slowly two weeks ago now saying that the CDC is acting too quickly?
  • Some are calling this an about face. The recommendation to wear masks was going to be lifted at some point. What makes this an about face and not a change based on new data and new conditions?
  • In Las Vegas, gaming floors were allowed to go back to 100% occupancy once a certain percentage of the casino employees had been vaccinated. That's great. The employees are protected. What about the players?
  • Casino floors are allowed to go back to 100%, but other casino areas are still limited to 80%. I guess the virus doesn't like slot machines. Maybe instead of vaccinations we should have been handing out players cards!
  • Actually, there is logic behind the discrepancy. Casino floors are rarely, if ever, at full occupancy. It's almost always possible to social distance if you want to. Restaurants, on the other hand, want to pack in as many tables as they can and fill every one of them. Restaurants frequently are at full capacity. It makes sense to make full capacity a bit less full for now.
  • The mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, said that mask guidelines should have been tied to vaccination percentage. I agree with him. The next talking head on screen said the CDC only issued guidelines and mayors and governors are free to act as they see fit. The CDC is not stopping him from tying lifting the mask mandate to vaccinations in his city. (I'll admit it would be much easier for him if the guideline had been tied to vaccination percentage.)
  • If 50% of adults are fully vaccinated, at most 50% of the people we see should be unmasked. The unmasked percentage is usually much higher. The honor system is not working.
  • A CDC official said that unmasked, unvaccinated people were only hurting themselves. Is that really true? As a fully vaccinated person, aren't my chances for contracting the virus lowest when I'm among vaccinated people (masked or unmasked); slightly higher when some masked, unvaccinated people are mixed in; and higher still when unmasked, unvaccinated people are added?
  • Another talking head said that the CDC should have consulted with business and community leaders in developing the new guidelines. Didn't we just go through a year of being concerned with political influence on the CDC's statements?
  • A woman-on-the-street interviewed in a vaccine hesitancy segment on the news said, "We don't know how effective the vaccine is?" Actually, we kinda do. Vaccine trials began over a year ago. About 45% of US adults are fully vaccinated and about 60% have gotten one dose. I and many others are participating in the "v-safe after vaccination health checker" program from the CDC. They'll know if I have any long-term side effects from the vaccine or get the virus despite having been vaccinated. We have plenty of data showing that the vaccines are very effective.
  • Speaking of data, the figures below show that new cases and deaths are decreasing, despite many restrictions being loosened or lifted. One reason might be the vaccine.

Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases.

Click here for the latest Covid data.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots