Ask The Wizard #264

Since the introduction of server based control of slot machines, has anyone tracked the best day and time to play slots? This last year I have unofficially noticed slots appear to pay better on Friday and Saturday night and awful on Friday morning and all day Sunday/Monday. My understanding is that slot machines are now controlled via a main server and not individual chips manually inserted/replaced by a slot tech. I keep thinking the casinos are trying to encourage play when people come to town and take the money back on Sunday and Monday before they leave.


For the benefit of other readers, the way slot machines have usually work is that a chip inside the machine, called an EPROM chip, determines how loose or stingy the machine is. The vast majority of slots today still function this way. Contrary to popular myth, slots don’t achieve their desired return percentage by paying more when the actual return is too low and less when it is too high. Rather, it is just subtle changes in the reel stripping on video slots and the virtual weights on stepper slots. It is usually up to the casino manager which chip to put in. Some jurisdictions leave that decision up to the state. A common myth about these slots is that the slot manager can flip a switch in his office and cause any slot machine, or all of them, to pay more or less. The truth is a slot technician has to open up the machine and physically change the EPROM chips.

However, with the new generation of "server-based slots," the myth has potential to be a reality. Slots on this system can indeed be controlled remotely. The slot manager is now able to change the theoretical return, pay tables in video poker, denomination, as well as the entire game, in the comfort of his own office. Here in Nevada there are safeguards to prevent abuse of this power. The Gaming Control Board has the following regulation:

"The conventional gaming device or client station must be in the idle mode with no errors or tilts, no play and no credits on the machine for at least 4 minutes. After this time, the conventional gaming device or client station must be disabled and rendered unplayable for at least 4 minutes. During the time the machine is disabled a message must be displayed on a video screen or other appropriate display device notifying the patron that the game configuration has been changed." — Technical Standards for Gaming Devices and On-line Slot Systems 1.140

So the slot manager couldn't tighten up the game you’re playing just because he didn't like your polka-dotted hat. However, in theory, he could loosen or tighten every machine that wasn’t being played. To finally get at your question, would he loosen and tighten the slots like a yo-yo depending on the time of day or day of the week? On my forum, I argued that would be bad business, but many who submitted comments disagreed with me. To help argue my side, I asked Nick Dillon, Executive Vice President/Assistant General Manager at the Barona Casino in San Diego County about it. Here is what he wrote back.

"The concern with SBG (server-based games) is that the manufacturers and most casinos are looking at it mostly from a cost savings (less slot techs/labor needed to convert games, etc) perspective. At Barona, we really only want it if it proves a true value to the player. We have approximately 80 units on the floor that we began testing a couple of years ago. We are not yet at the point where we can say there is a true benefit to the player. We have tested many aspects of these games but have never raised/lowered the hold based on time of day, day of week, etc. We have, however, tested some other things. One is changing the minimum denom based on day of week (penny during the week moved to nickel on the weekend, for example). The idea being the same as table games whereby the denom (table minimum bet) moves higher when demand is peaking. This maximizes revenue. However, we found that was not the case with our test (likely because tables are limited and full capacity during the increase, but slots generally are not, and because a “penny” player can actually be a “dollar” player regardless of what min denom he is playing). We found more dismay from guests that were used to finding their preferred game/denom and that it was now changed. We also tested changing only the default denom from penny to nickel. This is the denom that shows on screen when the game is idle. The majority of players may not be aware of multi-denom and play the default the majority of time. Again, we found no real difference in revenue.

As evidenced by our Loose Troop and Manufacturers Best programs, best blackjack rules, loosest video poker, no ATM fees, etc. we truly believe the player deserves the best gamble he can get. We feel that providing the longest play time for the dollar is the best strategy we can employ. There is no need to play with hold percentages and adjusting them 1-3 points either way for a day or two. Of course, a Strip property may feel differently as they only have a limited amount of time to win the money.

We are hopeful that we can help push the manufacturers to continue to develop SBG in favor of the player. We are hopeful that a player can put his player card in and his preferred games, denoms, etc will appear for his enjoyment at whatever device he sits. There are so many opportunities for this to be a great product for the player, which we believe will be good for our casino and the industry. If cost savings also come, great, but that should not be the main focus of a product like this." -- Nick Dillon

In conclusion, I think you are safe playing server-based slots. If you don’t believe me, keep an eye on the video poker pay tables. If you don’t see those going up and down on a daily basis, chances are the slot returns are being left alone as well.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.

Have you heard the story of the Australian cricket player who called the toss of a coin incorrectly for 35 straight games, before getting the 36th call correct? What are the odds of that?

Mick from Wollongong, Australia

I had not heard of that until you mentioned it. You’re referring to the amazing story of a teenage cricket player for the Magpies Kristy Perrin, who indeed called the coin toss incorrectly 35 times in a row. The probability of getting exactly 35 or more incorrect is (1/2)35 = 1 in 34,359,738,368. To put that in perspective, the probability of hitting the Powerball is 1 in 195,249,054. That is 176 times more likely than missing 35 consecutive coin tosses.

Is there an easy way to calculate the probability of throwing a total of t with d 6-sided dice?

Anon E. Mouse

Here is a handy trick, courtesy of Robert Goodhand of Somerset, UK. First put on a row six ones surrounded by five zeros on either side, as follows:

One-Die Probabilities

Dice Total 1 2 3 4 5 6
One Die 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0

This represents the number of combinations for rolling a 1 to 6 with one die. I know, pretty obvious. However, stick with me. For two dice, add another row to the bottom, and for each cell take the sum of the row above and the five cells to the left of it. Then add another five dummy zeros to the right, if you wish to keep going. This represents the combinations of rolling a total of 2 to 12.

Two Dice Probabilities

Dice Total 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
One Die 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Two Dice 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0

For three dice, just repeat. This will represent the number of combinations of 3 to 18.

Three Dice ProbabilitiesExpand

Dice Total 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
One Die 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Two Dice 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Three Dice 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 6 10 15 21 25 27 27 25 21 15 10 6 3 1 0 0 0 0 0

To get the probability of any given total, divide the number of combinations of that total by the total number of combinations. In the case of three dice, the sum is 216, which also easily found as 63. For example, the probability of rolling a total of 13 with three dice is 21/216 = 9.72%.

So for d dice, you’ll need to work your way up through 1 to d-1 dice. This is very easily accomplished in any spreadsheet.

What is your advice for playing Monopoly?


Here is my Wizard’s basic strategy for Monopoly:

  • Buy everything. Advanced players may make exceptions if the property won’t help you make a monopoly, block someone else, and has little value as a bargaining chip. Utilities can also be declined in a cash-poor situation.
  • Trade as well as you can. This is where the skill comes in. Try to trade for the best set you can. Here is how I rank them, in general: Orange, Yellow, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Light Purple, Red, Green, Dark Purple. This will vary depending on circumstances. In a cash-poor game, favor the sets that are cheaper to develop, like the light blues. In a cash-rich game, go for the ones where there is more potential to spend money on, like the yellows or dark blues.
  • Once you get a set, whether naturally or by trade, build up quickly. Try to get to three houses on each property as quickly as possible. The marginal return per house drops after three. Mortgage most of your other properties and spend your cash. You want to leave a little equity for small expenses. Not spending your money is like a soldier in battle not using his bullets.
  • Oppose all the silly house rules. This especially goes for the money pot on Free Parking (I can’t stand that one!). If you are more skilled than your opponents, you want to minimize the randomness of the game.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.