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John Robison

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. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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Ask the Slot Expert: Getting gonged on Fu Dao Le

25 Jul 2018

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: One of my favorite slot machines is Fu Dao Le, for which I have several questions:

  1. When two of the green gongs appear (on reels 2-4), the next spin most often contains none. Sometimes one, and rarely two, but never three. After about 50,000 spins, I would expect to see at least one. Is this truly random or programmed?
  2. The game I play is a penny (bets range from 88 cents to $8.88 per spin) and says 243 ways to win. I've also seen the same game (set for an opening bet of $0.25 or $8.00) which says "8 pay ways." If I assume the decreased odds of hitting an 8 payline vs. a 243 payline, how does the casino make up the payouts to conform to what is required by state law?
  3. Finally, recently in Las Vegas I noticed that over the weekend, the game seemed to be tightened in payouts, specifically no bonus games awarded during a run of about 400 pulls. Come Tuesday, the machines seemed more normal, hitting a bonus round every 100-150 pulls. Do casinos adjust the payout ratio during specified times or days?

Answer: Fu Dao Le. Isn't that the name of a Beck album?

One of the burdens (benefits?) of writing this column is having to play machines to get a feel for how they work. This past week I spent a little quality time on a Fu Dao Le machine, the 243 ways to win variety.

The green gong symbol serves two purposes. First, it is the wild symbol on the reels. And second, three green gongs initiate the free spins bonus round. When I played, I didn't see the gong too many times. I didn't keep track of the number of times I got at least one gong. I found a number of YouTube videos of someone playing Fu Dao Le and I counted the number of times the spin had 0 gongs, 1 gong, 2 gongs and 3.

Out of 100 spins, 50 had 0 gongs, 40 had 1 gong, 9 had 2 and 1 had 3. So about half your spins will have zero gongs, about four-tenths one gong and about one-tenth two gongs.

Now, we have to remember that this is not a random sample of 100 spins. The only reason this video is on YouTube is because the player hit three gongs during the session. I would guess that the true chances of hitting three gongs is a bit less than 1 in 100 spins.

You said that the next spin after a spin with two gongs most often contains no gongs. That checks out. About half of our spins have no gongs. The next spin sometimes has one gong. That also checks out. A good percentage of our spins have one gong. The next spin rarely has two gongs. It's pretty rare for a spin to have gongs in the video, so that also checks out.

And never three? You want a rare condition (two gongs) to be followed by an even rarer condition (three gongs). I think a couple of things are going on here. I suspect your estimate of 50,000 spins is a bit high. And this machine does give the false impression that gongs are plentiful because a spin with one or two gongs happens about as frequently as a spin with none. Given the rarity of a two-gong spin and the extreme rarity of a three-gonger, I don't think it's unusual that you haven't experienced the ol' two-three.

In any case, all regulated slots in the United States determine their results at random, without regard for what has happened in the past. It's not programmed, it's random.

Moving on to your second question, your assumption that the eight payline machine has decreased odds of hitting compared with the 243 payline machine is faulty. The eight payline machine most likely has a different reel layout than the 243 payline machine and it may pay different amounts for the winning combinations. Going from 243 to eight paylines involved more than removing paylines.

As for your last question, all changes to how a machine pays out must be reported to the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC). The NGC — and any gaming regulator in the United States, for that matter — would never allow a casino to change a machine to make it tighter for certain times of day or certain days of the week.

The scarcity of bonus games you experienced is only a consequence of randomness of the outcomes.

An example from my own experiences. You get four deuces about every 5,000 hands on NSU deuces. I recently went over 10,000 hands between hands with four deuces on a particular machine. (Yes, it became my goal to show that machine who was boss and get my deuces from it.)

Almost twice as many hands as expected between deuces? Just normal randomness.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

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