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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.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths  Cases  Deaths 
 05/18   32,795,780   583,596   321,081   5,533   223,966   4,230   2,301   27 
 05/11   32,571,814   579,366   318,780   5,506   303,856   4,687   2,541   33 
 05/04   32,267,958   574,679   316,239   5,473   343,348   4,908   2,559   40 
 04/27   31,924,610   569,771   313,680   5,433   383,163   4,958   2,747   65 
 04/20   31,541,447   564,813   310,933   5,368   464,556   5,072   2,590   36 
 04/13   31,076,891   559,741   308,343   5,332   480,061   5,321   2,986   57 
 04/06   30,596,830   554,420   305,357   5,275   448,935   7,124   3,084   38 
 03/30   30,147,895   547,296   302,273   5,237   439,510   6,793   939   63 
 03/23   29,708,385   540,503   301,334   5,174   388,928   7,446   1,863   53 
 03/16   29,319,457   533,057   299,471   5,121   381,695   8,362   3,078   81 
 03/09   28,937,762   524,695   296,393   5,040   480,902   11,573   2,413   83 
 03/02   28,456,860   513,122   293,980   4,957   463,356   14,129   2,835   75 
 02/23   27,993,504   498,993   291,145   4,882   451,083   13,923   2,406   162 
 02/16   27,542,421   485,070   288,739   4,720   602,906   21,411   4,149   198 
 02/09   26,939,515   463,659   284,590   4,522   779,305   21,828   5,444   244 
 02/02   26,160,210   441,831   279,146   4,278   1,007,777   22,004   7,249   249 
 01/26   25,152,433   419,827   271,897   4,029   1,312,565   23,385   10,324   250 
 01/19   23,839,868   396,442   261,573   3,779   1,317,119   21,318   11,324   279 
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05    20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
 12/22   17,974,303   318,569   205,884   2,787   1,656,411   18,537   16,472   239 
 12/15   16,317,892   300,032   189,412   2,548   1,494,763   17,247   18,825   229 
 12/08   14,823,129   282,785   170,587   2,319   1,375,502   15,483   18,418   175 
 12/01   13,447,627   267,302   152,169   2,144   1,114,175   10,286   15,942   121 
 11/24   12,333,452   257,016   136,227   2,023   1,197,199   10,784   14,130   106 
 11/17   11,136,253   246,232   122,097   1,917   1,099,790   8,501   11,115   65 
 11/10   10,036,463   237,731   110,982   1,852   767,645   6,838   8,868   68 
 11/03   9,268,818   230,893   102,114   1,784   588,207   5,809   5,936   35 
 10/27   8,680,611   225,084   96,178   1,749   492,026   5,585   5,238   (10) 
 10/20   8,188,585   219,499   90,940   1,759   401,037   5,053   4,501   48 
 10/13   7,787,548   214,446   86,439   1,711   351,270   4,886   3,910   48 
 10/06   7,436,278   209,560   82,529   1,663   306,965   4,962   3,232   36 
 09/29   7,129,313   204,598   79,297   1,627   303,616   5,136   3,058   54 
 09/22   6,825,697   199,462   76,239   1,573   288,070   5,370   2,196   82 
 09/15   6,537,627   194,092   72,043   1,491   250,265   5,404   1,825   65 
 09/08   6,287,362   188,688   72,218   1,426   282,919   5,638   2,734   92 
 09/01   6,004,443   183,050   69,484   1,334   251,790   5,291   3,237   104 
 08/25   5,752,653   177,759   66,247   1,230   330,411   7,889   4,076   125 
 08/18   5,422,242   169,870   62,171   1,105   358,071   7,463   4,973   114 
 08/11   5,064,171   162,407   57,198   991   365,353   7,203   5,776   117 
 08/04   4,698,818   155,204   51,422   874   418,683   7,532   7,367   109 
 07/28   4,280,135   147,672   44,055   764   460,996   7,042   7,130   91 
 07/21   3,819,139  140,630  36,195  674  463,682  5,395  8,181  57 
 07/14   3,355,457   135,235   28,744   617   422,861   5,102   5,607   57 
 07/07   2,932,596   130,133   23,137   560   351,367   3,394   5,006   24 
 06/30   2,581,229   126,739   18,131   536   278,941   6,406   4,367   26 
 06/23   2,302,288   120,333   13,764   510 
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