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Ask the Slot Expert: Where were you when the lights went out in the casino?

22 September 2021

Question: Occasionally read your column on RGT Online and it often triggers even more questions!

For example, what if I hit a big jackpot on a slot machine and the power goes out? How would I prove I won? Do casinos have backup power that keeps the slots energized in the event of grid failure? Can you imagine if there was a power outage right after hitting a $1M jackpot?!? Do the machines have non-volatile memory that would preserve the jackpot information when power is restored?

Also, any chance you can direct me to anything you've written about how progressive payouts work? I've often wondered about the machines with high jackpots such as the Buffalo machine that recently paid out $1M at the Cannery. With payouts that big doesn't that mean the rest of the time the machine is paying out worse than most machines?

Thanks for the column!

Answer: You only occasionally read my column? Oh well. Thanks for the kind words anyway.

Casinos do have generators to provide power to the casino floor in case the main power goes out. What happens to your machine if the auxiliary power doesn't kick in soon enough to prevent it from rebooting?

I admit that I've been fibbing when I've said that a machine will pick up right where it left off when it loses power. Based on my experiences, the machines create "restore points" as they're being played. If a machine loses power, it will resume at the last restore point, which may not be exactly where it was when the power went off or the machine rebooted.

I was in the middle of a video poker hand when a machine rebooted. It had dealt five cards and I had held some of them -- and then the blue screen of death and three minutes of incomprehensible boot messages. When the machine was back, my hand was there but not my hold selections. I think the restore point was the five cards dealt.

I had a machine reboot when I was playing Triple Wheel Poker. I had gotten the qualifying hand and swiped to start the wheel. And the wheel was spinning, and spinning, and spinning.... And then we were rebooting, and rebooting, and rebooting.... When the machine was back up, it didn't resume with the wheels spinning. I had to swipe to start the spinning again. The restore point was to initiate the wheel spin bonus.

In the case of the interrupted hand, I didn't necessarily get the same result as if the machine hadn't rebooted. The replacement cards are chosen after you draw. Similarly, I didn't necessarily get the same result on the wheel spin because the result is determined after the spin is started.

I haven't had a slot machine reboot on me, but the procedure is the same as on a video poker machine. If a game is not in progress, the machine will come back up with your credits intact.

If you're in the middle of a bonus round, it will come back at the last restore point. If you were in the middle of a free spin bonus round, the machine restores the number of free spins you completed and the amount you won on those spins. If you were on your fifth free spin of seven, for example, the machine will come back with four spins completed, whatever you won on those spins pending, and three spins remaining.

What if you were in the middle of a multiple picking bonus, like matching three tiles to determine the number of free spins and multiplier on a Quick Hit variation? It will either restore to the beginning of the pick with a different grid or restore the same grid and your picks. If it restored the same grid but not your picks, you might know where the valuables tiles are and are not and you could use that information to get a greater number of spins and a higher multiplier than if you chose randomly without that knowledge.

What if the reels were spinning when the power went out? I think this is the same situation as when my machine rebooted when the bonus wheel was spinning. It is also when "Malfunction voids all pays and plays" can apply. The machine had already chosen the result of the spin, so it could restore to spinning reels and then stop on that result. I think it's more likely though that the machine will restore to a point right before you started the interrupted spin.

The principle I'm following is that something a player has won (like credits on a machine) or an intermediate result (like a dealt hand or the triggering of a bonus) that has been decided and revealed to the player must be restored. A decision that has not been revealed yet does not have to be restored because we're not taking away something the player has already won.

I found only two references relevant to power interruptions in Nevada's regulations (well, actually a Technical Standards document). One, in relation to dealing with electrostatic discharges: "A gaming device may exhibit temporary disruption when subjected to electrostatic discharges...but must exhibit a capacity to recover and complete an interrupted play without loss or corruption of any stored or displayed information and without component failure."

And two: "Gaming devices must be capable of detecting and displaying the following error conditions, which disable game play and may only be cleared by an attendant...(e) Low RAM battery." RAM chips forget what was stored in them when they lose power, so a battery backup is needed for them to remember if power is lost on the machine.

Please send me your experiences with what happened on your machine after a reboot or power failure. Maybe we can figure out how manufacturers are implementing these standards.

Now, what happens if the backup power does not come on? This happened at Paris on November 3, 2016. Construction workers sliced through both the primary and the backup power cables.

If the auxiliary power fails, wait by your machine for someone to record your contact information, the machine you were playing, and the number of credits you think were on the machine. Richard Broome, executive vice president of public affairs and communications at Caesars, explained what happened next at Paris. "Then we allow one of two things to happen. One is they can cash out and we do that when we've been able to verify (the amount they've won). Or we say to them, 'When the power is restored, you are welcome to come back and play this game again' and we make sure it's not in operation until they come back." Despite a casino power outage, gamblers unlikely to be left in dark on winnings

There's a third possibility. A man had won $1000 on a Keno machine when the power went out. He had a flight out a few hours later, so Paris said it would mail him a check after the casino confirmed his winnings. Thousands evacuated as power outage hits Las Vegas resort

If you were affected by the Paris (or any other) outage, please tell us what happened. Did the casino let you back on the machine to cash out? Did it just pay you for the credits on the machine? What did the casino do if you were in the middle of a bonus round when the power went out?

As for progressives, it's true that the jackpot is included in the machine's long-term payback. In between jackpot hits, though, the machine could be paying back more or less than its long-term payback or other machines. And, of course, small sessions of play can pay back widely varied percentages. (It's all random.) I've seen and been a Buffalo player who has won without hitting the progressive.

Actually, the probability of hitting that Buffalo progressive is so small that there is (almost always) a really, really large amount of play on the machines that participate in the progressive in between progressive hits. The actual payback on the machines is going to be very close to the long-term payback without the progressive.

How much does the progressive contribute to the long-term payback? Very little. Even though the amount is very large, the probability of hitting it is very small.


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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