An 1895 San Francisco saloon and brothel gambler dropped his dime into his Liberty Bell coin slot and pulled a spring-loaded lever to spin his three mechanical reels. If the cylinder stopped with his three bells lined up in the glass window (his odds of 1 in 1000, the highest winnings), the lucky bettor he won 50 cents.
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Little did Charles Fay, the Bavarian-born tinkerer who invented the contraption, recognize the descendants of the Liberty Bell. More than a century later, slot machines, which have become the most popular form of casino gambling, are sophisticated computer-controlled devices.
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A few retain vestige pull levers, a nostalgic nod to the days of the one-armed bandits…but coins no longer roll into the hopper. Winners are paid tickets with barcodes, and the machine’s speakers mimic the sounds of the jackpot. A microprocessor and random number generator determine the outcome. The physical reels have been replaced by digitized “virtual” reels.
Advanced slots are more reliable and tamper-resistant than their mechanical ancestors. Computer versatility means faster, more exciting games and the potential for bigger payouts.
But critics say the machine is also more misleading and manipulative.It exploits the myths of gambling to lure players in to avoid near-misses, losses disguised as wins, opaque odds, and other mishaps. Programmed to keep you spending with a strategy.The tactic is perfectly legal under gambling regulations in the US and Canada.It also causes some gamblers to go crazy.
Kevin Harrigan, a computer scientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who studies slot machine design and its impact on people, said, “Before virtual reels, it was really hard to win big jackpots. I couldn’t do it,” he said. Almost all claim to be fraudulent, but then things changed.”
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A gambler bets money on the chance of an event. For slots, that is that the slot’s ‘payline’ displays a set of matching symbols, such as his 3 cherries or his 5 Tony his soprano images. The number of reels and the number of symbols on each reel determines the bettor’s chances.
Fey’s original His Liberty Bell had 3 reels, each with his 10 symbols (including 1 bell). Each symbol had the same chance of landing on a payline. So the odds of winning weren’t bad: 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000 possible symbol combinations, and on a given spin he’s a 1 in 1,000 chance of lining up with 3 bells.
But to attract avid gamblers, the casino operator needed to offer jackpots larger than his 2-bit payoff on the Liberty Bell. And in order to avoid losing money on these bigger jackpots, we needed to lower our odds of winning by making them harder to hit. So the makers of mechanical slot he machines started adding more symbols (and blank spaces) to the reels.
Symbols and spaces are collectively called stops. Adding stops increases the chances that the reels will stop on blanks or on losing or low paying symbols. A gambler playing the 22-stop, 3-reel mechanical slots that were common in the early 1970s said he had a 1 in 10,648 (22 x 22 x 22) chance of winning the top prize on a single spin. did.
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However, the tactics had physical limits. To fit more symbols onto the reels, the symbols had to be shrunk to make it harder for the player to see, or the reels had to be made larger, resulting in unwieldy machines.
Another approach of increasing the number of regular size reels to 4 or 5 greatly reduces the odds of winning without causing too many space issues. However, gamblers were frustrated with the higher reel machines as they rightly recognized that the odds were much worse than the 3-reel models.
With the rise of computer technology in the 1980s, Norwegian mathematician Inge Telnaes came up with a devious but brilliant solution. In 1984 he
The standard size he is a revolutionary invention that has enabled 3-reel slot machines to offer the big jackpots gamblers crave, with the long odds casinos have wanted.
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Telnaes accomplished this feat by creating phantom “virtual” reels in his memory of the slot’s computer. Virtual reels are invisible to gamblers. There are more stops than physical reels where the player sees them spinning on the surface of the machine.
The discrepancy between the few stops on the ‘real’ reels that the gambler sees and the many stops that he doesn’t see on the virtual reels makes the odds of winning seem much higher than they actually are.
He could have 4 cherries within 22 stops of the actual reel, suggesting that the odds of a cherry appearing on a payline are 4 in 22 for him. When linked to any virtual reel stop, the odds are actually 2/64.
Playing slot machines is technically contingent on chance, as the computer randomly stops the virtual reels. However, Telnaes’ approach is clearly intended to mislead his slot gamblers. As he bluntly put it in his patent application, “Within the legal limits under which a game of chance must operate, create a machine that is perceived to present the possibility of a greater reward than it actually is. It’s important to.”
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Many new all-digital slots His machines feature animated reels instead of real reels, but he still employs Telnaes’ basic strategy.
In the 1980s, when the Nevada Gaming Commission was considering whether to allow virtual reels in his slots in state casinos, several slot makers expressed concerns, according to meeting records reviewed by Harrigan. .
Bally executives were concerned that players were “visually misunderstood”. Lawyers for International Game Technology have told the gambling commissioner that it is “false” that the jackpot symbol “appears to [players] four times as often as it actually appears on a computer.” ‘advertisement’.
IGT officials were also concerned about the impact of his programmers on slots that indirectly cause “near misses” by utilizing virtual reels. A jackpot symbol directly above or below the payline will stop the spin and prompt the bettor to try again.
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Whatever their concerns, both companies are aware of the jackpot potential virtual reel machines offer and are willing to offer their own versions if Nevada regulators approve (and do). I promised. In fact, IGT purchased the rights to his Telnaes invention and licensed it to other manufacturers.
Slot machines eventually surged ahead of table games as the leading source of casino gambling income. In 2009, the average Las Vegas Strip casino collected over $307,000 daily from slot machines. This is 24% more than he earns from table games.
Nevada gambling regulators have rejected the idea of requiring slot machines to display winning percentages. As then-commissioner Richard Haidt reasoned, it would “remove the mystery, the excitement, the entertainment, and the risk of playing.”
Besides, “no establishment agrees to post these odds,” said Hyte, perhaps forgetting that the Gaming Commission had the power to enforce such behavior if it so chose. rice field.
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, discovered other methods used by slot designers and casino operators to keep players on their machines.
Video slot machines allow players to place multiple bets on how the winning symbols will line up on the screen when the spinning stops. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal like tic-tac-toe, or crazy he’s even a W-shaped squiggle.
The payoff on some of these multiline his bets may be less than the total amount wagered by the player. Strictly speaking, this is a loss. If a player bets $1 worth of credits and he wins 75, he will lose 25 cents. However, the machine is programmed to react as if the gambler made a profit, flashing graphics and ringing bells. Harrigan calls this effect loss disguised as victory.
In Canada, where provincial governments operate casinos, Harrigan used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain design documents for a video slot machine called Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania. He found that when gamblers bet up to 15 lines, they are significantly more likely to experience a loss in the guise of a win than an actual win.
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The document also showed that the Ontario gambling regulator had approved nine different versions of his Lobstermania slot machine. The slots all looked the same, but their “payback percentages” varied. The same-looking machines had his payback rates of 85-98%, and the casino kept his 2-15% of the wager.
In principle, there is nothing surprising or inconvenient about the payback rate, also called “hold”. Casinos are in business to make a profit, and the industry group that represents them, the American Gaming Association, struggles to advertise that the house always has the upper hand. State gambling regulations, including one recently drafted in Ohio, would retain as much as 15% of his license on slot machines. It is not uncommon for regulators to allow identical machines with different holds in casinos, as in Ontario.