How To Fix Slot Machines – Anthony Frederick Lucas is supported by grants from the Sycuan Tribal Game Institute and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Gaming is big business in America, contributing approximately $240 billion to the economy each year, generating $38 billion in tax revenue and supporting 17 million jobs.
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People may not realize that slot machines, video poker machines and other electronic gaming devices make up the majority of all economic activity. In casinos in Iowa and South Dakota, for example, such facilities account for up to 89 percent of annual gaming revenue.
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Roulette slots in particular are a big draw in most casinos, surpassing table games like blackjack, video poker and other forms of gambling.
An important economic theory states that when the price of something rises, the demand for it tends to fall.
However, it is about price transparency that is present in most of the everyday purchases we make. This means that apart from a visit to the doctor and maybe a car mechanic, we know the price of most products and services before we decide to pay.
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Slots can be worse than the doctor’s office because most of us never know the true value of our bets. This means that the law of supply and demand is violated.
Casino operators often consider prices based on the player’s average or expected edge per bet. Basically, it’s a long-term advantage built into the game. For a single player, their limited interaction with the game will result in “awards” that appear to be very different.
For example, consider a game with a 10% house edge – which is fairly typical. This means that in the long run, the game will return 10% of all bets it receives to the casino that owns it. So if he accepts a bet of $1 million on 2 million spins, he is expected to pay $900,000, resulting in a $100,000 profit for the casino. So from a management point of view, the “price” they charge is the 10% they want to get from gamblers over time.
However, individual players can define the price as the spin price. For example, if a player bets $1, spins the reels and doesn’t win, that’s the prize, not 10 cents.
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So who is right? Both, in their own way. While the game certainly took $1 from the players, management knew that later 90 cents of that would be distributed among the other players.
However, the player will never know because they will only be playing for an hour or two, during which they can hope that the big payout will cover many of their losses and then some. At this rate, playing slot can take years before the casino’s long-term advantage emerges.
For casinos, table games like blackjack are not as profitable as slot machines. Reuters/Toru Hanai
This difference of opinion on the price is rooted in the difference between the short-term views of the players and the long-term views of the management. This is a lesson I have learned in over 30 years of experience in the gambling industry, analyzing the performance of casino games and studying them as a researcher.
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Consider George, who just got paid and went to the casino with $80, spent over an hour on a Tuesday night. There are basically three outcomes: he loses it all, hits a sizable jackpot and wins the jackpot, or wins a little or loses a little but manages to get out before the odds are clearly against him.
Of course, the first result is much more common than the other two – the casino must maintain its advantage. The money that pays the huge jackpots comes from frequent losers (who are eliminated). Without those losers, there are no big winners – that’s why so many people gamble in the first place.
Specifically, the sum of all individual losses will be used to fund the big jackpot. Therefore, in order to provide attractive jackpots, many players have to lose all their money on Tuesday night.
What is less obvious to many is that long-term experience rarely occurs at the level of a player. This means that players will rarely lose $80 in a uniform manner (ie 10% loss rate per spin). If this is a typical slot machine experience, it will be a disappointment. However, this will make it easier for the player to determine the price to pay.
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Ultimately, casinos sell the thrill of hope and difference. Although the place may have a modest home advantage from a management perspective, say 4%, it can and often does get all of George’s capital on a Tuesday night in short order.
This is mainly due to the differences in the pay tables of the slots – all combinations of winning symbols are listed together with the number of points awarded for each of them. While players can see the paytable, the probability of each winning symbol combination is still hidden. These probabilities are, of course, a key determinant of the home advantage – that is, the long-term stock price.
This rare ability to hide the price of a good or service offers casino management the ability to raise prices without players being informed – if they can do it.
Casino managers are under enormous pressure to maximize revenue from their most important slot machines, but they don’t want to kill the golden goose by raising the “price”. If players discover these hidden price increases just by playing, they can choose to play at another casino.
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This scares casino operators, because recovering from the perception of high-priced slot machines is difficult and expensive.
As a result, many operators refuse to increase the margin on their gaming machines, arguing that players can detect these price shocks.
However, our new research finds that the increase in home advantage has led to significant revenue that even savvy players fail to point to. By comparing two otherwise identical reel games repeatedly, the high prize games provide the casinos with significantly more revenue. These findings were confirmed in a second study.
Further analysis revealed no evidence of game migration for the higher-priced games, even when their lower-priced games were only 3 feet away.
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Importantly, these results occurred despite severe economic barriers to high-priced gaming. This means that in both game pairs, the visible paytables for the high and low priced games are the same. The only difference is the hidden probability of each payout.
Armed with this knowledge, management may be more willing to raise prices. For price-conscious gamblers, reel slots can become something to avoid. The festive music, flashing lights and the exciting feeling that the next attempt will win keep game players hitting the button again and again. But sometimes when the slot machine tells you you won, you actually lost.
Modern slot machines use a technique called “loss disguised as a win” (LDW) to make players think they’ve won more, thanks to upbeat tunes and flashing lights. It looks and sounds like a real win, but in these cases the “win” is paid less than the deposit.
If people know about the LDW trick, they’re less likely to be tricked into thinking they’ve won — and become problem gamblers, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Canada. “Slots are designed to draw your attention to those cool animations and fancy sounds, but that can fool you,” said Michael Dixon, professor and director of research at the Waterloo Gambling Research Laboratory.
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The researchers gave one group of participants an educational video about slot machines that explained the concept of losses masquerading as wins, and another group a non-gambling video. After watching the video, all participants played two slot machines, one with a lot of LDW and one with a few LDW.
The study showed that all players won about 10% of their spins, but the group that watched the pale video “severely overestimated” their winnings, believing they won 23% of their spins. Those prepared for LDW gave a more accurate estimate of how much they won, estimating that they won about 12% of the spins.
Watching the video prepares the player and teaches him how to play, which determines the win (win more than the bet) and the loss (win nothing or no bet). When a player pays on 15 lines, the probability of losing is about 68% and the probability of winning is about 14%
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