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Ask the Slot Expert: My Theory of Relativity for playing the slots

16 February 2022

A while ago I wrote about my Theory of Relativity in regards to the passage of time in the casino. Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity explained how speed affects mass, time and space. In relation to time, the faster an object moves, the slower time passes for it.

You may have heard of the example of the two twins. One stays on Earth while her sister goes on a yearlong tour of the solar system, traveling near the speed of light (99.5%). The traveling sister aged one year during her journey, but the earthbound sister aged 10 years.

We don't travel fast enough to experience this effect, time dilation, but we have to account for it every day. GPS uses precise measurements of time, so the GPS equations have to account for the effect of the speed of the satellites in the system.

Time dilation is a real effect, but the effect in my Special Relativity is just how we feel, like wind chill and heat index. My theory is that time seems to pass more slowly when you're running out of credits or bankroll.

If you're on a roll and you don't have to put more money in a machine, you can just keep playing. Before you know it, it's time to go to the buffet (assuming your casino still has a buffet).

When the machine makes Scrooge look like a philanthropist and you have to keep feeding it to stay in the game, time grinds to a halt and you wonder how much it's going to cost you until it's time to go.

I think we get this impression because when we're able to play hand after hand (or spin after spin), we have one event. Having to stop and feed a machine, however, breaks up the session into separate parts and we perceive the sum of the parts to be greater than the whole.

Stopping to feed a machine also gives us a chance to check the clock and see how little playing time we got from the last cash infusion.

Checking the time always seems to make time pass more slowly. Since I've been going to the movies again the past few months, I haven't checked the time during a movie once. Pre-pandemic I occasionally checked the time mid-movie to see how much longer it was going to last. I guess this really says more about the average quality of the fewer movies in theatrical release today versus the average quality of the flood of movies released to theaters three years ago.

I had a rule when I flew a lot. I would always take off my watch and put it in my pocket sometime after takeoff. I didn't put my watch back on until we had started our descent. There was nothing to be gained by knowing how much more time was left in a flight.

I was on a flight through the Twilight Zone once. After what seemed like the tenth hour of a six-hour flight from JFK to LAX, I broke down and checked the time to see how close we were to arrival. After landing I met up with a coworker who was also on the flight. He agreed that it seemed like one of the longest flights he had ever been on.

This flight was long before planes had flight-progress displays. Strangely, being able to constantly see the progress of the flight doesn't make it seem longer to me.

User Interface design studies have shown that progress bars affect how long people think an operation took to complete. Given two operations in which operation A takes longer than B, users will report that A took less time than B when A has a progress bar and B does not. Seeing progress makes time seem to pass more quickly.

At one of my jobs, the size of the clients we processed increased while I was there. Every process had to deal with many more records. A program that used to complete quickly with a small client took much longer with a larger one. The users said that they needed a progress indicator now to know how much of the process had been completed. The first version of the program with the progress bar updated a counter (Processed: x of y) after each record was processed.

Not a good idea. Updating the screen is a relatively time-consuming operation. Even though the users could see the counter increasing rapidly, the operation took much longer to complete. We changed the program to update the counter every 500 records. The sweet spot is to update the progress indicator at about the time when users start to wonder whether the program is still running.

Ten years after publishing his paper on Special Relativity, Einstein added the effects of gravity to his equations and published his Theory of General Relativity. GPS also has to account for General Relativity. The clocks in the GPS satellites run more quickly than clocks on the ground because the satellites are farther away from the center of the earth.

I would like to present my own theory of General Relativity of the perception of the passage of time that applies regardless of your credit meter or bankroll.

My theory is that the more points you earn for a given amount of action, the less time it seems to take to play that action.

The new standard for video poker points at the two big locals casinos companies in Las Vegas now require $2 to earn a point on video poker rather than $1. We used to earn 1000 points for $1000 in action, but now we earn only 500 points.

I usually play with a goal to earn a certain number of points to keep me on pace for requalifying for an upper tier in the slot club. At one casino, the amount of action I have to give hasn't changed, so my action goals haven't changed. The number of points I have to earn, though, has changed.

The perception of the passage of time playing video poker now is like relativity in GPS. One effect makes time pass more slowly and another effect makes time pass more quickly.

You'd think that having to earn half as many points might make the time it seemed to take to play that action shorter, but any effect of the lower point total is outweighed by having the point meter climb more slowly.

Cutting the speed of the point meter in half makes it seem like it takes longer to play the same number of hands.


It's that time every four years when I have to look up the difference between an Axel and a Lutz even though they look the same to me.

I don't miss the crowds at the Olympics. No more cowbells (the vuvuzela of winter sports) clanging as skiers or bobsledders pass by them. Now I can actually hear the figure skaters' skates on the ice. There was one couple in one of the Ice Dance events in the team figure skating competition that made no noise as they glided on the ice. The figure skating events, moreover, go quickly when you don't have to pick up the flowers and stuffed animals thrown onto the ice.

It's discordant to watch Olympic athletes rush to put on their masks while Americans are rushing to take theirs off.

Nevada used to have one of the clearest guidelines for lifting a mask mandate. Once a county had two consecutive weeks of low or moderate transmission, the mandate could be lifted in that county. But last Thursday Governor Sisolak threw out that guideline and said there would no longer be a state-wide mask mandate in Nevada.

Granted, we are in a different place than we were when the mask mandate was put in place on May 3, 2021. More people are vaccinated and boosted, the dominant strain is weaker, testing is more widely available, and there are additional treatments. Even though every metric is higher today than it was when the mandate was put in place (positivity rate 13% versus 6%, weekly new cases 5280 versus 2559 and weekly deaths 149 versus 40), the trend is downward and the governor hopes the trend will continue. He could have done what other states did and say that the mandate would be lifted at a given date in the future as long as the downward trend continues. Instead, he just hopes the downward trend will continue without the mandate.

Do you think Super Bowl Sunday had anything to do with the timing of the announcement and having it take effect immediately?

Here are the latest Covid data. There is a difference in the hospitalization data for US versus NV. The CDC reports total number of Covid hospital admissions. Nevada reports current hospitalizations, not admissions.

All data comes from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#new-hospital-admissions), except for Nevada current hospitalizations (https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/).


Totals Weekly Changes
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths  Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths 
 02/15/22   77,837,693   4,449,166   920,097   673,322   865   9,335   1,005,691   67,963   17,059   5,280   (375)   149 
 02/08/22   76,782,002   4,381,203   903,038   668,042   1,240   9,186   1,769,556   92,750   18,185   11,144   (387)   235 
 02/01/22   75,012,446   4,288,453   884,853   656,898   1,627   8,951   3,193,570   121,420   17,885   26,555   (344)   191 
 01/25/22   71,818,876   4,167,033   866,968   630,343   1,971   8,760   5,102,999   143,329   16,393   57,574   99   133 
 01/18/22   66,715,937   4,023,704   850,575   572,769   1,872   8,627   4,983,654   147,105   13,301   25,927   (1,787)   99 
 01/11/22   61,732,283   3,876,599   837,274   546,842   3,659   8,528   5,421,565   139,572   12,168   32,486   2,594   100 
 01/05/22   56,310,718   3,737,027   825,106   514,344   1,065   8,428   3,501,427   104,272   8,867   20,966   276   61 
 12/28/21   52,809,291   3,362,755   816,239   493,378   789   8,367   1,693,987   63,185   11,127   7,977   89   56 
 12/21   51,115,304   3,569,570   805,112   485,401   700   8,311   1,063,296   55,734   9,102   5,639   9   110 
 12/14   50,052,008   3,513,836   796,010   479,762   691   8,201   853,262   57,885   8,946   5,008   17   91 
 12/07   49,198,746   3,455,951   787,064   474,754   674   8,110   821,215   66,191   8,575   5,011   23   125 
 11/30   48,377,531   3,389,760   778,489   469,743   651   7,985   563,746   28,426   6,309   3,343   (50)   55 
 11/23   47,813,785   3,361,334   772,180   466,400   701   7,930   667,924   41,145   10,754   4,784   (24)   86 
 11/16   47,145,861   3,320,189   761,426   461,616   725   7,844   604,748   63,164   7,862   4,577   22   85 
 11/09   46,541,113   3,257,025   753,564   457,039   703   7,759   516,764   33,219   8,290   5,539   34   103 
 11/02   46,024,349   3,223,806   745,274   451,500   669   7,656   555,915   38,028   9,226   4,327   45   109 
 10/26   45,468,434   3,185,778   736,048   447,173   624   7,547   488,829   42,265   9,842   4,753   (87)   96 
 10/19   44,979,605   3,143,513   726,206   442,420   711   7,451   578,396   11,963   4,381   136 
 10/12   44,401,209   714,243   438,039   7,315   795,586   14,067   15,710   149 
 10/05   43,605,623   700,176   422,329   7,166   554,194   10,642   3,852   121 
 09/28   43,051,429   689,534   418,477   7,045   817,218   14,463   6,160   165 
 09/21   42,234,211   675,071   412,317   6,880   971,637   14,691   7,466   152 
 09/14   41,262,574   660,380   404,851   6,728   1,176,763   12,919   10,256   145 
 09/07   40,085,811   647,461   394,595   6,583   975,725   10,076   5,237   104 
 08/31   39,110,086   637,385   389,358   6,479   1,113,414   9,385   7,592   173 
 08/24   37,996,672   628,000   381,649   6,306   1,045,491   7,507   8,117   116 
 08/17   36,951,181   620,493   373,649   6,190   959,978   4,715   7,065   150 
 08/10   35,991,203   615,778   366,584   6,040   819,524   3,987   7,652   122 
 08/03   35,171,679   611,791   358,932   5,918   622,832   2,279   7,489   81 
 07/27   34,548,847   609,012   351,443   5,837   652,251   2,394   8,347   79 
 07/20   33,896,296   606,618   341,096   5,758   169,933   1,478   3,351   28 
 07/13   33,726,363   605,140   339,745   5,730   181,047   1,959   4,982   33 
 07/06   33,545,316   603,181   334,763   5,697   75,104   1,373   2,234   27 
 06/29   33,470,212   601,808   332,529   5,670   87,507   2,057   3,020   24 
 06/22   33,382,705   599,751   329,509   5,646   75,420   2,157   1,930   22 
 06/15   33,303,285   597,594   327,579   5,624   95,797   2,293   1,560   17 
 06/08   33,207,488   595,301   326,019   5,607   114,250   3,762   2,271   21 
 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 
 05/04/21   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 
 12/29/20   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 
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