Randomness in Online Casino Gambling
The fact of randomness is there, but slightly different when it comes to online casinos. At online casinos randomness is ensured by the software. It is not immediately apparent, except for the fact that the outcome is different each time a hand is dealt or the wheel spun. The software is coded in such a way that it throws up random numbers each time to ensure different outcomes. Randomness in an online casino is simulated, and therefore the event is not truly random.
This has been established not as supposition but fact: online casinos use pseudo random number generators (pRNGs) and not actual random number generators (RNGs). Words can have a devastating impact, and that is what the use of the term ‘pseudo’ does. Pseudo stands for ‘not true’ and that immediately throws up concerns about the entire fair gaming aspect at online casinos. In this article we take a look at whether such concerns are genuine, or even necessary. We will see if the use of a pRNG actually has a damaging impact on the fair gaming part of online casino gambling.
True Random Number Generation: What Is It?
The generation of a random number in the true sense of the term is based on a physical event whose outcome you cannot predict. Uncertainty and unpredictability are the keys. The more of these elements you have in an event the harder it will be to determine the outcome and therefore the higher the degree of randomness.
Translated in casino terms, this is what it means: the number of unknowns and unpredictable elements guarantee that you are not able to predict the outcome of the spin of a roulette wheel, simply because these are numerous and it will not be possible to replicate them in the exact combination time after time, and over consecutive spins.
Let us take the case of roulette at a land-based casino to understand randomness better.
Four Reasons Why Roulette Outcomes are Unpredictable: A Case Study
In a roulette game at a land-based casino it is not practically possible to predict the outcome of a spin of the roulette wheel time after time.
Here are 4 important factors that ensure this:
- Ball angle: You cannot replicate the angle at which the dealer throws the ball on to the wheel over consecutive spins.
- Ball speed: It is not possible, at a land-based casino, to accurately predict and thereby replicate the speed at which the dealer throws the ball.
- Wheel speed: You cannot replicate the exact speed at which the wheel is spun across multiple consecutive spins.
- Number on the wheel: It is almost impossible to predict which will be the number closest to the croupier when the ball is thrown down on to the wheel.
Randomness, Roulette and Jagger’s Hack
While the above is an absolute in the true sense, it is not impossible to crack. Sometime in the 1870s, a British engineer named Joseph Jagger actually did what was considered not possible – he hacked a roulette wheel!
Jagger’s premise was simple: machines underwent wear and tear over time, and this applied to a roulette wheel too since it was, all said and done, a machine. He examined the roulette wheels at Monte Carlo’s Beaux Arts Casino and found one that had a bias. The rest, as they say, is history. Jagger managed to win a massive £60,000 – massive because that amount that amount translates to about £3 million today – by manipulating the machine with the bias to his advantage.
The advancements in technology have resulted in roulette wheels and gambling equipment that are hardier and tougher and therefore not susceptible to wear and tear easily. That is not all; gambling is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise and therefore casinos spend whatever is necessary to update and if necessary replace machines at regular intervals.
True RNG and Its Standing with Regard to Online Gaming Software
We have all read about online casinos using software that deploys a random number generator to guarantee totally fair gaming.
This is how the entire process works out:
As stated earlier, true random number generation needs a physical device to manifest. We take a look at such a device now:
- In this device, the input source is a totally random physical phenomenon like thermal noise.
- The noise is calibrated and translated into a completely random binary sequence.
- The random binary number sequence can then be used by any simulation software.
However, great while this device may seem, it isn’t the best option when it comes to ensuring randomness for online casino software. There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, because the measurement and translation is physical it is too slow to deal with the speeds associated with online casino software.
Secondly, an online casino is a gambling hub where players connect to a dedicated server in thousands, if not more. This means the response time has to be instantaneous for all these players, and it must be totally electronic as well. That is not the case with this process.
Talk of true random number generator and this is the reality today. And that is why pRNG is the best choice available today.
Understanding The Pseudo Aspect of pRNG
The following points will help us understand the premise for the use of the term ‘pseudo’ with RNG:
- The first step in this process is to select a number at random. Remember, the number you pick is not small; it is a big number that you and I would normally not even think of.
- Once the number is picked there is a set algorithm that performs high-end calculations on it. The objective is simple: throw up a number that is random. This becomes the first random number in the series.
- When the next set of calculations are to happen, this number that was thrown up becomes the input number. The result will be another random number. This is how the process continues.
Take this and apply it to creating random numbers for online casino software and the numbers that are created using the above process are taken a step further and converted to some form of output. Ideally this could be one of the numbers on the roulette wheel, or it could be a card out of the 52-card deck used to deal in a blackjack game.
Now that you know the process, the next question from you in inevitable – but why would you use the term ‘pseudo’ for this process? The reason is simple and the key is in one word we used in the earlier paragraph – the random numbers are ‘created’, they are not generated. In layman’s terms what it means is this: if you know the first number and the algorithm predicting the next number is not impossible, theoretically speaking of course.
Reasons Why this Process is Acceptable
The question arises then – if the process is pseudo how and why is it acceptable for online casino gambling and software? There is a very good reason for this: an ongoing practice that basically ensures no one can predict the next number and thereby hack the system.
This is how it works: the sequence is broken at intervals that are completely random. When these breaks occur it guarantees one thing: the output number before the chain was broken will definitely not be the input number for the next calculation. That will be a new number, again randomly picked. This breaking of the chain at random intervals is an endless process. The result: the tracking of the number becomes impossible.
While theoretically it may be possible to predict the number as mentioned in the earlier section, in practice it is next to impossible, and for 2 very good reasons:
- Complexity of the algorithm: The algorithm used is highly complex and not your run of the mill stuff.
- Superfast processing time: The actual process takes fractions of a second for each number. The amount of time taken is way lesser than the time it takes to execute sensory cognitive function.
This means one thing: the moment you hit the Spin or Deal button the outcome of that activity is more or less determined. Everything else – the visuals, the animations, the sound and more – is just for show.
The Importance of Fair Gaming in Online Casino Gaming
Because online gambling is a remote activity, the most natural thing to do is question the fairness of the game and thereby the integrity of the provider. And that is something no provider can afford. The one thing that can end an operator’s career even before it began in this industry is word spreading of unfair practices at your casino.
Fair gaming is the one benchmark in the online casino industry that gets you instant recognition and sign-ups. This is something that everyone involved in the industry – from the providers to the operators right down to the players – is particular about. In fact back in the beginning and until quite a few years, this was one thing that everyone looked at.
Casinos were aware of this and took steps to not only ensure their games were fair but also provide that information to the players. One of the most significant steps that casinos from that time took was to get the RNG verified independently.
Verification of RNGs for Fair Gaming and Randomness
Every top online casino worth its name nowadays gets its RNG audited and verified by an independent testing agency. Once the RNG is tested and approved the casino operator gets a certificate of approval that comes with a specific validity period. At the end of the validity period the certificate must be renewed.
The following are the top testing and audit agencies in the industry:
- Technical Systems Testing (TST)
- Gaming Labs International (GLI)
- iTech Labs
- Price Waterhouse Cooper
The onus of providing fair games is completely on the casino. However, it is the responsibility of the player to check and ensure that all the rules are being followed.
Here are some things to do:
- Ensure that the games are random.
- Check for RNG-based information like the testing agency certificate.
- Check for certificate validity.
One lesson from this exhaustive discussion – while there is still a long way to go when it comes to true random number generation for online casinos, we have made progress. Gone are the days of printed tables for RNG. Instead, today we have software providers using sophisticated algorithms to prevent hacking. The tests to determine the RNG’s randomness and fair gaming aspects are also more advanced.