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Ask the Slot Expert: When your slot machine reboots

30 September 2020

I was playing my favorite video poker machine a few days ago when the bezel surrounding the card reader slot changed to flashing purple. I know that red means no card inserted; flashing red means card invalid or card can't be read; green means everything is hunky-dory; and flashing yellow means that you haven't made a bet in a while, you aren't considered to be an active player, and you aren't eligible for any kind of bonus event that might occur. Flashing purple is a mystery.

I've seen the purple flash a few times before. Everything seems to be okay except for the bezel color. My earned points display keeps increasing. The problem usually resolves after a few minutes and the bezel goes back to green.

I kept on playing. This slot club system hijacks the bottom inch or so of the screen on video machines that don't have dedicated displays on the card readers. It displays your name and how many points you've earned and any other messages the casino wants to send to you. To steal that screen real estate from the game screen, the slot club hardware scales the game screen down just a bit.

I expected the flashing purple issue to resolve without incident the way it has in the past, but this time I wasn't so lucky. The slot club banner at the bottom of the screen disappeared and the game screen expanded to fill the screen.

The slot club subsystem on the machine crashed. It has to reboot. Been there; done that. I stopped playing and waited for the system to reboot.

You think Windows takes a long time to boot up, watch a slot machine. I admit I haven't timed it, but I'd guess that a video machine reboot takes about five minutes to load the software and run all the checks on the software and the hardware to get to ready-to-play. The slot club subsystem, fortunately, takes less time, only a minute or so.

The slot club subsystem scrunched the game screen so it could display its mostly incomprehensible boot-up messages in a panel on the left of the screen. I watched the messages and saw IGT Advantage Player Tracking appear.

The first time I saw this I got really nervous. I thought the casino had identified me as an advantage player and it was loading special software to track me. The more I thought about it, the less likely that seemed. What more does the casino need to track? What more could it track? And why would the casino alert me that it was keeping a close eye on me?

It didn't take much Googling to discover that the right way to parse the message is not IGT [Advantage Player] Tracking, but [IGT Advantage] [Player Tracking]. IGT Advantage is the name of IGT's suite of technologies for casino management and this was the player-tracking system in the machine initializing.

A little while later the left screen displayed the active session screen with my name and the number of points I had earned. When the player tracking system has rebooted before, my session has ended and I've had to re-insert my card. I thought the system had been upgraded to resume an interrupted session.

Not so fast. The display changed to say "re-insert card" and the bezel changed to flashing red. Oh well.

I thought the system might have missed a few hands that I played, so I checked my total points for the day at a kiosk when I was finished playing. The total was actually a little higher than I expected it to be.

Casinos sometimes have problems with their player tracking systems. At one casino, the system was down on a day it had a slot tournament. You earned entries by playing. The casino just gave everyone the maximum number of entries because the main database wasn't getting updated with the points players earned.

Everyone should have gotten all of the points they earned that day. Regulations usually require that the player tracking subsytem in a machine has to buffer player session data for a few days when it can't transmit the data successfully to the main server. Casino personnel were constantly reassuring players that even though the system was not working properly, they would get credit for all of their carded play that day.

Even though I know that all of my play will get credited once the system is working again, I still usually decide to play another day when a casino's systems are down.

Penn & Teller did a card trick with Elle and Dakota Fanning at the end of their first Try This at Home show. You can stream the show on YouTube. I challenged you to figure out why this trick works.

Here's the essence of Penn's patter for the trick, followed by a couple of hints.

  1. To make sure that the deck hasn't been set up or rigged in any way, start with a new, sealed deck.
  2. Open the pack, take out the cards, and remove the two jokers and ad cards.
  3. Elle, hold the deck face down and fan the cards.
  4. Dakota, pick a card at random from the deck. Don't show it to anyone but remember it.
  5. Elle, square up the deck and put the deck face down on the table.
  6. Dakota, put the card back on the top of the deck.
  7. Elle, cut the deck.
  8. Cut the deck again, Elle.
  9. Elle, to make sure that you have no muscle memory of where the card is, cut the deck again with your left hand.
  10. To make sure you have no idea where the card is, turn the deck face up. Cut the cards again. [On the show, the card on top of the deck was the four of spades.]
  11. Turn the deck over.
  12. We're going to find Dakota's magic number. Dakota, what was your card? She said the queen of hearts.
  13. Dakota, tap the deck three times.
  14. Elle, pick up the deck and deal three cards.
  15. Show the top card on the deck to Dakota. It is the queen of hearts.

The hints: At one point in the trick, Penn told an outright lie to the Fannings. Another one: Two-thirds of the three-word motto under the pyramid on the back of a one-dollar bill.

Did you figure out how the trick works?

Let's start with the hints. The Latin motto under the pyramid on the back of the one-dollar bill is Novus Ordo Seclorum, which translates to "A New Order of the Ages." The part of the motto that is relevant is Novus Ordo, new order.

That's the key to how this trick works. All new, sealed decks come in new deck order. Line 1 above is the lie Penn told. The trick uses a new deck because the deck has been rigged in a known order.

When Dakota puts the card on the top of the deck in line 6, we know exactly where the card is in relation to any of the other cards in the deck.

The multiple cuts of the deck do nothing to change where the card is in relation to any other card. The cuts are misdirection to make us think the deck is being randomized.

Line 10 is the crucial step. Once we know the card on the bottom of the deck, we know how many cards are after it in new deck order. That's the number of cards that are now on the top of the deck before the card that was chosen.

The card shown in line 10 is the four of spades. There are three cards after it in new deck order. Three is the magic number. Three cards down from the top of the deck is the card Dakota picked, the queen of hearts.

You can see Penn take a quick look to his right when he says to complete the face-up cut. I assume there was a chart with the offsets on it or someone just wrote the offset on a cue card for him.

Teller did the trick at the same time as the Fannings. How did he choose the same card? How was three also his magic number when the card on the bottom of the deck at the end of his face-up cut was not the four of spades?

Penn didn't have to ask what Dakota's card was in line 12. He didn't know what the card was but he already knew exactly where it was in the deck. He had to ask what the card was so Teller could produce the same card.

We're all watching the Fannings at this point in the trick. Go back and watch Teller. Teller moves both hands below the table right before Dakota names her card and then brings up only his left hand after she names the card. His right hand stays below the table and out of frame until after she names the card and both he and Elle tap the deck three times and pick up the deck. It looks unnatural to put both hands down and then raise only one.

Someone gave Teller a queen of hearts out of frame and now he's palming it in his right hand. Right after he deals out the three top cards, he puts his right hand on top of the deck, transferring the card he was palming to the top of the deck. He takes the card and shows it to the camera. Et voila, the queen of hearts.

Question: I was wondering if you would answer this non slot machine question for me. The United States has 6.8 million total cases of covid and almost 200,000 deaths. In India they have close to the same amount of cases, about 5.6 million, but only 90,000 deaths. India has almost 4 times the population of the US and is crammed into about 1/3rd the land mass and yet less than half of the total deaths.

Can you comment on this discrepancy? Any opinion as to why this isn't covered in the news media?

Answer: In the few days since I received this email, India's Covid-19 cases has exceeded 6 million and deaths have exceeded 95,000. India has the fastest-growing case count in the world and is expected to become the pandemic's worst-hit country in the coming weeks (India’s confirmed coronavirus tally reaches 6 million cases from the AP).

PM Narendra Modi instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 24 (India will be under complete lockdown for 21 days).

This is like a curfew, and far stricter than the ‘Janata Curfew’ (on March 22). Seeing the present conditions, this lockdown will be for 21 days. This is to save India, save each citizen and save your family. Do not step outside your house. For 21 days, forget what is stepping outside. There is a Lakshman Rekha on your doorstep. Even one step outside your house will bring the coronavirus inside your house.

That last statement is quite alarmist, granted. Nevertheless the message is the polar opposite to "LIBERATE MINNESOTA", "LIBERATE MICHIGAN", and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA".

"Modi later issued an appeal to the public to desist from panic buying as people began crowding markets to stock up before the midnight deadline."

My fellow citizens, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED TO PANIC. Essential commodities, medicines, etc. would be available. Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this. Together, we will fight COVID-19 and a healthier India. Jai Hind!

By converging around shops, you are risking the spread of COVID-19. No panic buying please. Play stay indoors.

No panic buying please, tweets PM Modi

From COVID-19 in India: the dangers of false optimism in The Lancet:

The country has responded well in many regards, especially for such a large and diverse nation. India instigated a national lockdown in March, which was praised by WHO. During the lockdown period, tertiary care provision was increased, including access to specialist equipment such as ventilators. Testing numbers also increased quickly, with India being among the first to roll out innovations like pooled testing.

Today, "most Indian states have completely opened up in an effort to repair an economy that is suffering its worst slump in decades," according to the AP article cited above. "Along with the resumption of economic activity has come a noticeable disregard of social distancing measures in public spaces. Many people can be seen with their masks lowered over their chins or with no masks at all."

Sound familiar? India is also experiencing the spread pattern we saw in the U.S. Cities are hit first, then the virus spreads to less densely populated areas. "While most of India’s deaths remain concentrated in its large cities, smaller urban centers across the country’s vast landscape are also reporting a surge in infections."

India's death statistics are inaccurate. From India has one of the world's lowest Covid-19 mortality rates. But the numbers don't tell the whole story:

India has a weak, underfunded public health infrastructure, and for years it has failed to accurately record the deaths of its own citizens.

Even when India isn't facing a pandemic, only 86% of deaths nationwide are even registered in government systems. And only 22% of all registered deaths get an official cause of death, certified by a doctor, said community medicine specialist Dr Hemant Shewade.

There are a few reasons behind this. The majority of people in India die at home or other places, not in a hospital, so doctors usually aren't present to assign a cause of death.

Even if a patient dies in hospital, not all hospitals are covered by the Health Ministry's medical certification of cause of death (MCCD) web portal -- meaning the cause of death isn't logged in the national database, said Shewade. Even hospitals that are covered in the MCCD face other issues in data like errors or missing information.

These problems are even more pronounced in rural parts of the country.

"In Delhi, only 63% of deaths get cause of death certification. This is the capital," Shewade said. "Imagine when you go away, to Uttar Pradesh, to Bihar, to Jharkhand, where only 35% of deaths get registered -- forget certification of cause of death."

In short, if you die, your death may not get logged in the system. And even if it is, it likely won't get a cause of death, and so won't be included in the Covid death toll.

Insufficent testing and listing a pre-existing condition as the cause of death also lead to undercounting the number of Covid deaths in India.

According to graphs on Google's Coronavirus data pages, the U.S. has about 40,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths per day. India has about double the number of new cases per day and the same number of deaths per day. The population of the U.S. is 327 million and the population of India is 1.4 billion.

One real factor that may lead to a true lower mortality rate in India (and other countries) compared with the U.S. is obesity. Obesity has been linked to higher rates of complications and death from Covid-19. The obesity rate in India is 4% and in the U.S. it's 36%.

As for why this isn't in the news media -- well, it is. I found a number of articles. As for the nightly news, I recall a riff Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show. He ran a clip of a news producer saying that he didn't make the news.

Jon said the producers most definitely make the news. They have only 30 minutes less commercials to present the news and they decide what is newsworthy.

Gary Larson had a Far Side cartoon showing a bird siting in his easy chair watching a news report about a plane crash on his TV. The avian reporter on the scene is standing in front of the burning wreckage. "Details are still sketchy, but we think the name of the bird sucked into the jet's engines was Harold Meeker."

Deaths of Indian citizens don't necessarily make the nightly news in the U.S.

I worked for Pan Am when flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie. A friend of a friend was a reporter, knew I worked for the airline and called me at home to see if I could confirm the number of Americans on the plane. As if that had some effect on the enormity of the tragedy.

I'll close with the closing paragraph from the Lancet article cited above.

Hope is important, and recognising successes is vital, especially during a pandemic. But presenting the current situation in India with a too positive spin not only clouds reality but also hampers vital public health initiatives. Perpetuating unrealistic claims or failing to honestly report negative news creates uncertainty among the public and health-care professionals, discouraging people from taking preventive action or taking public health messages seriously. India has the expertise in medicine, public health, research, and manufacturing to lead the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic. To capitalise on these attributes, the country's leaders must respect scientific evidence, expert commentary, and academic freedom, and not provide false optimism.

Here are the latest figures from

Click here for the latest Covid data.

A 50% effective vaccine doesn't mean we can stop wearing masks. Here’s How the Pandemic Finally Ends.

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