Are gaming machines rigged?

Are gaming machines rigged? The answer in Australia is definitely "no". Gaming machines are regulated to a surprising degree, and governments vigorously scrutinise their operation. Clubs, hotels and casinos that operate gaming machines are required to provide much information to government about their operation. They can be fined for any defect, even a malfunctioning light can break the law.

The starting point is the Australian/New Zealand Gaming Machine National Standard, a 119 page document that sets out all sorts of rules, requirements and standards for gaming machines. It's purpose is to ensure that gaming machines are fair, secure and auditable. The state and territory regulators, as well as the Kiwis, get together regularly to revise the Standard which is currently up to version 10.0 (as at December 2008). The Standard covers the cabinet, computer, screen, money-handling, metering, artwork, screen displays, game play, note acceptors and lots more.

The Standard states that "A game must follow a constant set of rules and must at no time deviate from those rules." So it is illegal for a manufacturer to put extra little things in the programs of computers.

Also "events of chance within the games must be independent of (i.e. not correlated with) any other events within the play or any other events within previous plays." This means that each game you play on a machine is completely independent of the previous game. If machines were more likely to pay because they had not done so for some time, they would be breaking the law.

Each State can take what they want from the National Standard and have their own variations. For example, in South Australia, note acceptors are not lawful. In NSW, note acceptors are legal and we have the NSW Appendix to the National Standard, which explains that NSW has some different requirements for hardware, software, multi-terminal gaming machines etc.

The National Standard is only the starting point, as each State and Territory have added their own additional requirements. In NSW we have the Gaming Machines Act (2001) and Gaming Machines Regulation (2002), which are special laws just for gaming machines. The objects of these laws are:

  1. to minimise harm associated with the misuse and abuse of gambling activities,
  2. to foster responsible conduct in relation to gambling,
  3. to facilitate the balanced development, in the public interest, of the gaming industry,
  4. to ensure the integrity of the gaming industry,
  5. to provide for an on-going reduction in the number of gaming machines in the State by means of the tradeable poker machine entitlement scheme.

The Gaming Machines Act doesn't just regulate the technical side of gaming machines, but also provides some responsible gaming regulations, including a law that requires clubs and hotels to shutdown their gaming machines for a few hours every night. The laws also apply to individuals too. For example, the Gaming Machines Act makes it an offence to interfere with a gaming machine and people who try to alter the operation of machines using magnets or strings could go to prison for up to a year.

In addition, NSW has additional restrictions on gaming machines through the regulator, the NSW Casino, Liquor and Gaming Authority (CLGA). The CLGA considers each new game to see whether it is acceptable to the gamblers of our state. Not all games are approved. Recently games have been rejected because they were non-linear (didn't have same average return for any bet size), had too many free games (40 is the max. in NSW) and displayed legal tender in the artwork (might encourage people to gamble irresponsibly).

Gaming machines are not perfect. Sometimes they go wrong or have 'bugs' in the program. If you think your machine is malfunctioning, then you should talk to the Duty Manager and explain your concerns. If you are right, then the gaming venue will switch off your machine and call a repairman. They must cash in any credits you had in the machine at the time of the malfunction. If you are not satisfied with the response of the gaming venue, you can contact the government regulator and they may send an inspector to check the machine. Each state and territory have their own government regulator. For example in NSW, it is the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR). They have inspectors and gaming machine expertise and can discuss with you any concerns you have about gaming machines. There is no point in continuing to play a defective machine, because if you win a major prize on a defective gaming machine, you forfeit the prize. That would be painful!

Of course, some people still complain that machines are rigged because despite all the detailed regulation, standards, and gaming machine laws, they continue to lose money when they play gaming machines... unfortunately there is no law that says you are going to win when you play!

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