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Ask the Slot Expert: Is the RNG dead?

2 June 2021

Question: I’m extremely new to gambling. I love to play the slots. I watch all the YouTubers and over the last few years I’ve even hit a few handpays.

I have a question that I’m sure you’ve answered hundreds of times. Most people that I’ve heard talk about it say that all slot machines on the casino floor have an RNG. The outcome of the game is based solely on the millisecond you press that button. Timing is everything.

This is what I’ve heard and believe to be true. Lately though I’m hearing that RNGs are a thing of the past and all new slot machines on the floor are using a central control room and are server based.

They aren’t saying that, in the middle of you playing, the casino can change your payback percentage but that they can after a machine is idle for a period of time.

I’m just confused and looking for some expert information on the topic.

Are RNGs dead?

Also I read some things you have written about the players card. If I win a jackpot for $2100, is the casino going to use my players card against me and try to get all that money back?

Sorry for asking the same question that I’m sure you’ve answered a million times.

Answer: I don't mind re-answering questions. Even though two questions are about the same basic concept, readers ask them in different ways and I try to give different explanations and different examples in each answer. I hope that I eventually give an answer that clicks with each reader.

As I said last week, it used to be so easy answering questions in the How do slots determine their outcomes? category, but now there are many different methods. The method used depends on where you are and it isn't always easy to determine which method is used by a particular machine.

You bring up a few concepts in your question about the RNG and not all of them are mutually exclusive.

First, the RNG is definitely not dead. There is nothing on the horizon indicating that Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Mississippi, etc. -- let's call them corporate casinos -- are going to switch their machines to a different technology.

It's true that timing is everything. It's also true that timing is nothing. Your outcome is determined by the numbers generated by the RNG when you hit the button, but being a little faster or slower won't make your outcome necessarily better or worse -- just different.

These machines may determine their results independently, but they can use a central server for some functions. One of these functions is downloadable games, in which a casino can change the long-term payback or game on a machine without having to visit the machine and change hardware in it. The new game is sent to the machine over the casino's internal network.

As you said, regulations prevent the casino from changing a machine while it is being played. In Nevada, a machine has to be idle for four minutes before it can be changed. Then it must display a message that its configuration has been changed for another four minutes. Depending on jurisdiction, the casino must also file paperwork with the local gaming control board informing it of the change.

Things get muddier when we move from a corporate casino to an Indian casino. Depending on whether the tribe has a compact with the state, the casino will have RNG-based games (called Class III in this context), bingo-drawing based games (Class II) or both. Tribes need state compacts to offer Class III machines.

In Class II machines, a central computer conducts a bingo drawing and communicates the numbers drawn with the machines on the slot floor. The outcome of a play is determined by the pattern filled on the internal bingo card in each machine. Each Class II machine must display the bingo card used in determining its results and it must give the player the opportunity to change the card.

We have two methods for determining the outcome: RNG and bingo drawing. Let's add a third one. This method is sometimes known as Central Determination or Finite Outcome. (Unfortunately, the slot industry never settled on precise meanings for various terms.)

Instead of having a bingo drawing under the hood, what if we had the electronic equivalent of lottery scratchers. Each time we hit the Spin button, our machine buys a scratcher from a central server (the lottery agent). The prize on that ticket determines what we win. If the ticket says that the player wins $5, one machine may display that as mixed bars while another displays two cherries. When the central server uses up all of the tickets in a pool, it creates another pool.

You usually find this method only in machines in casinos run by state lotteries. The machines are usually called Video Lottery Terminals, although the term has also been used to describe RNG-based machines. As I said before, the industry never developed precise terminology.

In summary, we have three ways to determine the outcome on a slot machine, each with varying degrees of independence. The RNG-based machine is completely independent.

Next is the bingo-drawing-based machine. It depends on a central server for the bingo drawing, but what the numbers drawn are worth depends on the card the machine is playing. The same drawing gives different results on different machines.

And finally we have Finite Outcome. These machines are completely dependent on another machine. The central server tells them how much a play wins. The same result from the central server yields the same win on all the machines participating in a pool.

The people who say machines are server-based (another term not precisely defined by the slot industry) may be correct. And the people who say machines are RNG based may also be correct. It all depends on the technology used by a particular machine.

One of the regulations governing the RNG in Nevada is that it must be free from any outside influence. That means that the time of day, the day of the week, the number of people in the casino, the past performance of the machine, the presence of a players card, and how much the player has won or lost have no effect on the results on a machine.

There's no way for a casino to alter the operation of the machines you play to try to win back money you've won. It just seems like they can.

Slot machines are all negative expectation games. If you play long enough, they'll win all of your money.


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 
 06/01   33,039,238   591,539   323,748   5,586   123,333   3,709   991   27 
 05/25   32,969,905   587,830   322,757   5,559   174,125   4,234   1,676   26 
 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