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Player puzzled by mystery of her unexplained jackpot

Player puzzled by mystery of her unexplained jackpot

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John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. I’ve never been lucky on progressive slots, so I’ve mostly avoided them. I’ve been a three-reel player since the ‘90s and I’ve never won a progressive.

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve gone to casinos with my daughter and she likes the video. I play some video, too, just to be with her. In October, the strangest thing happened. I didn’t line up any winners, but the machine said I won $183.28.

I asked my daughter, “What’s this?” She said I’d won a progressive. I said there weren’t any winners and she said, “Oh, Mom. They do that.” They’ve never done that to me, so I asked, “Since when?” She told me, “Since always.”

Maybe it’s always for someone young like her, but it was new to me. What the heck was going on?”

A. You won a mystery jackpot. They’ve been with us on video slots since Aristocrat Technologies brought Cash Express to the United States at the beginning of the 2000s. Mystery roots go back a bit farther to Mikohn’s Money Time reel-spinning slots, which had a run of popularity in 1997 with a mystery bonus event.

Whether on jackpots or bonuses, mystery events turn up regardless of whether there is a winning combination on the screen. They are independent of other payoffs.

There are several ways to program mystery events and not all manufacturers use the same system.

One way that gained wide acceptance in the slot industry was devised by Acres Gaming. It enables the setting of parameters coupled with a random number generator selecting a number between those parameters.

One example of that would be a jackpot seeded at $100 with a maximum payoff of $250. If the RNG selects $183.28, then the player whose wager pushes the jackpot to that amount wins it regardless of other results on the spin.

Parameters also could be set for time between bonus events, money wagered between events or spins between events.

Such systems are commonplace in today’s casinos and have been for most of the last 20 years. To me, the biggest surprise is that you’d never encountered this before. Mini progressives that pay only a few dollars come up so often that nearly everyone who plays multi-tiered video progressives has won them.

Q. Does the house edge on casino games factor in speed? I make a lot more bets per hour in craps than I would at roulette.

A. No. The house edge yields a specific piece of information: On average, what percentage of money wagered can the casino expect to keep?

If you’re placing 6 in craps, a bet with a 1.52 percent house edge, then the house will average a $1.52 profit per $100 wagered. If you bet on black in double-zero roulette, with a 5.26 percent house edge, then the casino’s average profit is $5.26 per $100 wagered.

That says nothing about the number of wagers per hour or the size of your bets. Those are important in calculating expected loss per hour. Game speeds are variable. Fewer players bring a faster game. But assume you’re at a table fast enough to get 50 decisions per hour when you place 6. If you bet $12 per decision, your expected loss is 50 times $12 times .0152. That’s $9.12 per hour.

If you spread $12 around a crowded double-zero roulette wheel at 35 spins per hour, your average loss is 35*$12*.0526, or $22.09 per hour.

Note the house edge is just one piece of that. It’s an important piece, but it can’t tell you everything about a game all by itself.

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