Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Readers ask about video keno, slot jackpots, single-deck blackjack

Question. I never see much written about video keno, but that's just about all my husband and I play. I was wondering if you could solve a question for us. My husband says that it doesn't matter what numbers you pick, that when the machine's ready to pay off, it'll pay off. You just have to be in the right place in the right time, just like a slot machine.

Don't the numbers matter at all?

Answer. The numbers you pick do matter. Video keno machines have random number generators, just like any slot machine. But the video keno RNGs are just generating the numbers to be drawn, and if your numbers match the RNG's, you win. You can't win if you don't have the numbers that are drawn on that play.

Every number has an equal chance of being selected. In the basic game with 80 numbers, and 20 drawn per play, each number has a 1 in 4 chance of being among those 20.

The house doesn't get its edge on video keno from making sure there are more losers than winners. It gets its edge from paying less than true odds when you do win. Let's use the simplest example: A one-spot play.

Your number has a 1 in 4 chance of being drawn. If video keno were an even game, your winner would pay 3-1 odds --- in an average four plays, you'd lose three times, but get back all four wagers on the one time your number hit. But most machines that allow one-spots give back only three coins on the winner. The coin you don't get paid is the house edge.

Meanwhile, the random number generator just keeps generating numbers to be drawn. For you to win, your numbers have to match the machine's. Your selections do matter.

Question. I hit a slot jackpot for $12,500 on a dollar machine. I usually play quarters, so this is by far the largest I ever hit.

The attendant and security guard were very nice, and happy for me. We had high fives all around. They had me sign a tax form. Then the attendant turned a key in the machine before I could play again.
My question is, what does that key do? The man next to me says its resets the machine into "collect" mode, that the machine has just paid out and now it has to take money for a while.

Answer. Congratulations on your big hit. A reason for high fives all around indeed.

As for resetting to "collect" mode, well, no. There is no "collect" or "payback" mode on slot machines. Results remain as random as humans can program a computer to be. And at least until server-based games arrive, changing a payback percentage requires opening the machine and changing a computer chip, not just turning a key or punching in a code.

What the attendant is really doing is unlocking the game so you can play again. The game locks up automatically when an IRS-level jackpot of $1,200 or more is hit. The casino unlocks it once it has your ID and information. Then it has to have you sign the form before it can pay you.

Big jackpots are a normal part of play, and are included in the calculations for the game program. The machine just keeps making its random payoffs, and in time, the jackpot fades into statistical insignificance.

Question. I've studied blackjack basic strategy, so I know when to double down. But when I was playing with a friend of mine recently, he was doubling down on 8s, too. I asked him about it afterward, and he said it was because it was at a single-deck game. Is that right? Why the difference?

Answer. Single-deck blackjack does bring with it some basic strategy changes, and one of them comes when you have a two-card 8. In the single-deck game, you have an edge with an 8 when the dealer shows a 5 or 6, and you want to double down.

Why the difference? Because each card removed from a single-deck game has a greater impact on the composition of the remaining deck than it does in a multiple-deck game. In a single-deck game, taking your 5 and 3 and the dealer's 6 out of a 52-card deck means that 16 of the other 49 cards, or 32.7 percent, are 10 values, and 10-value cards are the dealer's enemy when he or she has a 6 up. In a six-deck game, removing those three cards from play would mean that 96 of the other 309 cards are 10 values, and that's just 31.1 percent.

The dealer in that situation will bust more frequently in a single-deck game than in a multiple-deck game, and that affects our strategy. In addition to the dealer being more likely to bust than in a multiple-deck game, you're more likely to draw a 10-value card on top of your 8. That 18 isn't all-powerful, but it's pretty strong against a 5 or 6.

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