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Ask the Slot Expert: Why I sometimes don't report a problem with a slot machine

3 November 2021

I used to have a blanket recommendation that players alert slot floor staff to problems with machines. I still recommend that players alert the casino when a machine malfunctions. If there's only a minor problem, like a sticky button or a poorly aligned touch screen, I'm more likely to work around the problem than tell the staff on some machines.

I used to play one of the two 3-coin $5 video poker machines that Red Rock had in one of its high limit rooms. These were old machines -- so old that if you inserted a ticket that had cents on it, the machine would immediate issue a ticket for the cents. The credit meter could only handle whole dollars. The machine might even have been more particular and printed a ticket for the excess over a multiple of 5. It could only handle a count of $5 tokens. I don't remember offhand.

There was problem with the machine in the corner, the one I liked to play. One of the Hold buttons was finicky and sometimes didn't register when you pressed it. I told one of the slot supervisors about the button.

The next time I played the machine, the button was working well and I hit a handpay -- 4 Aces on 8/5 Bonus Poker for $1200. The same supervisor who I had told about the button problem handled the handpay. I made some lame joke about the technician also setting up the machine to pay off for me.

Fast forward a year or so. I went to play one of the machines after not having played them for quite a while. The machines were gone. All of the machines in the bank of four against the wall had been replaced with newer machines. I took a quick tour of the room to see if they had just been moved, but I couldn't find them.

I asked the supervisor who had helped me before about the machines and whether they had been moved. He said that the machines were getting old and that it was difficult to get parts for older machines. As far as he knew, they were gone for good and not somewhere else on the slot floor.

Over the past few years, I've seen many casinos gradually lower the paybacks on their video poker machines. If the machines still have some life left in them, the paytables get demoted. I've seen 9/6 Jacks becomes 9/5 or 8/6 or even 8/5 Jacks; NSU becomes Airport (Illinois) Deuces.

If the machines are due for replacement, the replacement machines always have inferior paytables. I've yet to see a replacement machine have paytables as good as the ones on the machines they replaced.

Today if I have a minor problem on an older machine at a casino with a limited inventory of high-paying video poker machines, I just work around it. These machines are on borrowed time as it is. I don't want to give them another black mark.

Last week I had a bizarre problem on a Quick Hit Blitz machine. It took me forever to finally hit a bonus round.

That wasn't the problem. The problem was that the machine was not rendering all of the symbols on the reels during the bonus. The machine displayed a couple of the symbols on each reel and nothing in the other positions.

As Frank Scoblete wrote in Break the One-Armed Bandits, the reels on a modern slot machine are window dressing. Even on a machine with physical reels. The true outcome of a spin is determined by the numbers chosen by the RNG.

Even though the display was filled with mystery symbols (the blank spaces), I was getting paid for the symbols as if they had been displayed. Most important, the program could see the Blitz symbols that were on the virtual reels but not displayed on the screen. It was kinda amusing to hear the Blitz symbol sound and watch my Blitzes needed for a jackpot upgrade to go down, even though there were no Blitz symbols visible on the screen. I got a few Jackpot Upgrades.

There was a slot floorperson workstation near this machine. I was able to call over one of the floorpeople working there. I told her that something was wrong. There should be no blanks on the bonus reels. She said, "Okay," and walked away.

I expected her to call it in or make some sort of entry in the machine's logbook, but she just went about her business. In all fairness to her, I think she was in the middle of something.

I stopped playing the machine a little while later. Why did I continue? The problem didn't affect the base game. Plus, I thought that this was just a display problem. If there had been a serious problem that was affecting outcomes, the machine would have detected it and tilted itself.

I saw the floorperson again as I was walking around. I told her that I didn't know if I had explained the problem well. There are no blank spaces on any of the reels on the machine, I said.

She told me that she understood the problem and they would look into it.

When I played the machine a few days later, it took me a long time to get a bonus round -- again. But at least the machine displayed all of the symbols on all of the reels during the bonus.

The only mystery was why this machine, which had been generous to me in the past, was now stingy with the bonus rounds.


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://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html), 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 
 11/03   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   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