Slot Machine Technician

Slot Machine Technician – With its heavy cast-iron cabinet and brass claw feet, the first cash machine looked like a mash-up between a cash register and a Victorian-era bathtub.

Gamblers in the saloons and taverns of 1895 San Francisco dropped a nickel into the coin slot of the Liberty Bell and provided a spring-driven lever to set its three mechanical reels spinning. If the cylinders stopped with three clocks aligned in the glass window — the top prize, with an odd person in a thousand — the lucky bettor won 50 cents.

Slot Machine Technician

Charles Fey, the Bavarian tinkerer who invented the contraption, would hardly recognize the Liberty Bell’s offspring. More than a century later, slot machines are sophisticated computer-controlled devices that are now the most popular form of casino gaming.

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A few proprietary pull levers hold, a nostalgic nod to the days of one-handed bandits. But coins no longer fall into the hopper; winners are paid with a barcoded ticket and the machine’s speakers mimic a jackpot. Microprocessors and random number generators determine the outcome. The actual reels have been replaced with “virtual” digitized ones.

The advanced slots are more reliable and resistant than their mechanical ancestors. The flexibility of the computer means faster, more exciting games, and the potential for bigger payouts.

But critics say the machines are also more misleading and manipulative — programmed to exploit gambling myths and trick players into continuing to play with streaky closes, losses disguised as wins, opaque odds, and other strategies. . Under American and Canadian gambling regulations, the tactics are perfectly legal. They may also help get some gamblers hooked.

“Before virtual reels, you couldn’t have big pots,” said Kevin Harrigan, a computer scientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who researches slot machine design and how it affects people. to claim that almost all of it was a hoax – that’s when things changed.”

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Gamblers bet money on the probability of an event — in the case of slots, a series of matching symbols, such as three cherries or five images of Tony Soprano, appear on the slot’s “payline.” The number of reels, and the number of symbols on each reel, determine a bettor’s chance.

Fey’s original Liberty Bell had three reels, each with 10 symbols (including one bell). Each symbol was as likely as another to stop the payline. So the odds of winning weren’t bad: 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000, possible symbol combinations, and a one-in-a-thousand chance of all three bells coming up on a particular spin.

To attract serious gambling, however, casino operators had to offer larger jackpots than the two-bit payout at Liberty Bell. And in order not to lose money with these big pots, they had to reduce the chances of winning, and make the jackpot more difficult. So the makers of mechanical slot machines started adding more symbols (and white spaces) to the reels.

The symbols and spaces together are called stops. Adding more stops increases the chance that the reel will stop on a blank symbol, or on a losing or low paying symbol. A player playing the 22-stop, three-reel mechanical slots popular in the early 1970s had a 1 in 10, 648 (22 x 22 x 22) chance of hitting the top prize on a single spin.

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But there was a physical limit to the tactic. To put more symbols on the reels, the symbols had to be shrunk — making them harder for players to see — or the reels had to be bigger — a troublesome machine therefore.

Another approach, which increases the number of normal-sized reels to four or five, greatly cuts the probability of winning without creating as much of a space problem. Bookmakers balked at the higher reel machines, however, as they correctly felt that their odds were much worse than with the three-reel models.

With the rise of computer technology in the 1980s, Norwegian mathematician Inge Telnaes devised a brilliant, if devious, solution. In 1984, he

A revolutionary invention that made it possible for a standard three-reel slot machine to offer the big jackpots that gamblers wanted, with the long odds that casinos wanted.

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Telnaes achieved this feat by creating “virtual” magic reels in the slot’s computer memory. The virtual reels are invisible to gamblers. They have more stops — often dozens or hundreds more — than the physical reels that players see spinning on the front of the machine.

The difference between the few stops on the “real” reels that gamblers see and the many stops hidden from view on the virtual reels makes the odds of winning seem much better than they are.

There may be four cherries among the 22 true reel stops, which implies that there are 4 in 22 cherries popping up in the payline. But if there are 64 stops on the virtual reel, and two of the “real” cherries are not connected to any virtual reel stops, then the odds are actually 2 in 64.

The computer stops the virtual reels at random, so slot machine play is still technically driven by chance. But Telnaes approach is clearly meant to mislead slot gamblers. As he openly noted in his patent application, “it is important to make a machine that is perceived to have a greater chance of winning than it actually is, within the legal limits within which games of chance must operate .”

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Many newer digital slot machines have animated reels instead of real ones, but they still use the basic Telnaes strategy: using visual displays that show a better chance of winning than they actually are.

In the 1980s, when the Nevada Gaming Commission was weighing whether to allow virtual slots in the state’s casinos, some slot manufacturers raised concerns, according to meeting transcripts reviewed by Harrigan.

Bally’s executive was worried that players were “lost visually.” International Game Technology’s corporate lawyer told gaming commissioners that the jackpot symbol “appearing four times as often [to the player] as the computer actually sees” was “false advertising”.

The IGT man was also fretted about the consequences that slot programmers take advantage of virtual reels to indirectly cause “near misses.” That’s where the spin stops with a Jackpot symbol just above or below the payline, spurring bettors to try again.

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Whatever their concerns, the companies recognized the potential bonanza of the virtual reel machines, and promised that if Nevada regulators approved them – which they did – they would offer their own versions. In fact, IGT bought the rights to Telnaes’ invention and licensed it to other manufacturers.

Slot machines eventually overtook table games as the main source of gambling revenue for casinos. In 2009, more than $307,000 per day came from slot machines, 24 percent more than taking a table game.

Nevada gaming regulators, for their part, have rejected the idea that slot machines require the chance of winning. As commissioner Richard Hyte reasoned at the time, that would “remove the mystery, the excitement and the entertainment and the danger of playing.”

Besides, “there is no establishment that would agree to raise those expectations,” Hyte said, perhaps forgetting that the gaming commission had the power to implement such a measure if it wished. with him.

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, he has discovered other methods used by slot designers and casino operators to keep players on the machines.

Video slot machines allow players to place multiple bets on how winning symbols might appear on the screen when the spinning stops — horizontally, vertically, diagonally like tic-tac-toe, or even in Crazy W-shaped squiggles.

The payout on some of those multi-line bets may be less than the total amount bet by the player. Technically, that’s a loss: If a player bets a dollar’s worth of credits and gets 75, he’s down 25 cents. But the machines are programmed to react as if the gambler has earned a profit, with flashing graphics, ringing bells and the like. Harrigan calls this effect a loss disguised as a win.

In Canada, where provincial governments run the 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 bettors bet on the maximum 15 lines, they were much more likely to get losses disguised as wins than they were to win.

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The documents also revealed that Ontario gaming regulators had approved nine different versions of the Lobstermania slot machine. All the slots looked the same, but varied in their “payback percentage” — the portion of a gambler’s bet that the machine, on average, is programmed to return. The identical machines had payback percentages between 85 and 98 percent, meaning that the casinos kept between 2 and 15 percent of the bets.

In principle, there is nothing surprising or disconcerting about repayment percentages, called “holds.” Casinos are in business to make a profit, and the American Gaming Association, the trade organization that represents them, likes to advertise that the house always has the edge. State gaming regulations, including those recently drafted for Ohio, are as much as 15 percent on slot machines. It is also not uncommon for regulators to allow casinos to have identical machines with different shifts, such as in Ontario.

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