It has been long understood that the most addictive gambling game is slots. A team of researchers in Canada used this understanding to examine the slot machines themselves, not just the gambler, to better understand such addiction and the results might be startling. The Star Phoenix explains:
[Nevada inventor Inge Telnaes] wrote: “It is important to make a machine that is perceived to present greater chances of payoff than it actually has within the legal limitations that games of chance must operate.”
What Telnaes had invented, in other words, was a slot machine that fooled gamblers into believing their odds of winning were good when, in truth, their odds of winning were lousy. He accomplished this by divorcing the gameplay from the reels. In the Telnaes slot machine, on which almost all current models are based, a microchip determined the outcome of each spin.
The outcomes were still random, but the machine differed from mechanical models in one significant way: It was programmed to stop with blanks on the payline more often than winning symbols. What Telnaes had created, in effect, was a slot machine version of a loaded die. Though most modern slot machines have animated reels, a disconnect remains between how slot machines appear to work and how they actually work.
So the machines do not have fair odds. Even though you might see, for example, seven items on the real, your odds of landing on one of those items is not one in seven. But if the odds of winning are so terrible, then why do so many people keep putting money in the machines. The researches go on to explain the “near miss:”
Much of the money is coming from gambling addicts. About 60 per cent of revenues from gaming machines come from the wallets of problem gamblers, according to a 2004 University of Lethbridge study. Many slots players find it difficult to pull themselves away because of a deceptive feature of Telnaes-style slot machines: the near-miss.
As anyone who has played slots knows, you see more than the symbols on the payline after each spin; you also see the symbols just above and just below. A near-miss, sometimes called a heartbreak loss, occurs when a symbol needed to win appears adjacent to the payline.
Near-misses create an “Aww, shucks” effect that keeps slots players glued to their stools. Studies have shown that frequent near-misses lead to significantly longer playing times. As one researcher put it: “The player is not constantly losing, but constantly nearly winning.”
These machines are highly deceptive and highly addictive. If casinos ever had to actually display the odds of winning on these machines people might never start playing in the first place. Don’t be fooled.