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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Will Casinos Weather the Y2K Problem?

13 December 1999

Everyone knows of the impending catastrophe at the close of 1999. The fateful moment will come when the little hand hits "January" and the big hand "one." The year 2000, ("Y2K" to insiders) will arrive. And many of the world's computers -- from the massive mainframes that issue Social Security checks, to the microchips that control your favorite slot machines -- will suddenly lose their ability to correctly track the passage of time.

It'll happen because early computers were programmed to store dates using only the last two digits of the year -- "98" stood for "1998" and so on. Back then, computer memory was a precious resource and not wasting it on the "19s" meant a lot. As circuits got smaller and cheaper, scant attention was paid to the fact that "00" could mean 2000 but would be interpreted as 1900. Tasks scheduled for something like January 2, 2000 wouldn't get done because the computer would think it was just January 2, 1900. And, transactions depending on January 15, 2000 being a month later than December 15, 1999 would be skipped because the computer would think it was 99 years and 11 months too soon.

As in the fable, industrious ants are preparing by stocking up on canned goods and bottled water, in case factories where these goods are made or truckers who bring them to market shut down. The stuff is being hidden in places like caves and old fallout shelters, safe both from frivolous grasshoppers who didn't take precautions and from possible release of air pollution and weapons of mass destruction when computer safeguards go haywire.

Bloated government bureaucracies and colossal strategic corporations are conscripting crack scientists, engineers, and accountants to work on the problem. They're feverishly reprogramming the computers today, and will sit with fingers on the buttons ready to over-ride errors at the millennium. But, where does that leave industries that didn't make adequate campaign contributions for Congress to declare them vital to the future of civilization and grant them access to the critical skills pool? If the limited global supply of genius is drafted by the biggies, who will help laundromats, tee-shirt shops, and -- yes -- casinos satisfy the needs of their clientele? Needs some bezonians may consider low-priority, but who's to judge?

Gravity relative to smog and missile attacks aside, two major Y2K problems confront casino cognoscenti. And unprepared solid citizens will have only themselves to blame.

First and foremost is the rating point quandary. Casino computers keep tabs on how long patrons play various games and how much is bet. They automatically calculate theoretical house profit, and figure out what to rebate loyal players as cash backs, comps for rooms or meals, invites to special events, tasteless merchandise, and whatnot. If the computer registers 00 as 1900 instead of 2000, it'll ignore 1999 and previous action and everyone's coveted credit will be lost. One remedy rumored to be under study is to drop the computer ratings and start using gold stamps. You'd get them from the pit bosses at the tables, or from dispensers at the machines. Then you'd paste them in books, and redeem them for whatever you want when you have enough.

The other key question for betting buffs is whether computerized slot machines will hit the wall in Y2K. Casino workers are being told to say that nothing will be amiss. But, the American People has been fibbed to before -- or, at least, given legalistic mumbo-jumbo that hides the truth. So, who can be sure that slots with old 20th Century chips will pay correctly or hit various combinations of symbols with the right odds? And, if they don't, whether the mistakes will favor the players or the house.

Personally, I'm not too worried about casinos and Y2K. But I haven't bought a cave in Idaho, either. I hope I won't be sorry when the time comes, since I wouldn't want to lose my comps and not have any canned food in storage as a fallback. I'm trusting in the forces cited by the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, who wrote:

When lots of money is involved,
The worst of problems are resolved.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.