13 Interesting Facts about Casino Gaming Machines
1. “Time on Device” (TOD) is the metric that casinos and slot machine game manufacturers are concerned with
Casinos and gambling machine providers have figured out that the predictor of a game’s profitability is the average amount of time a gambler spends on that device. When designing new games, the slot machine manufacturers (IGT, Bally, WMS, and others) focus on features that will increase this number.
One way to look at a game with a high “Time on Device” is how well it hooks a gambler into “the zone”. This is a state of mind where it’s just the gambler and the machine. You can think of this zone as a space where time and normal social stresses cease to have meaning.
2. Slot machines are the only casino game with opaque casino odds
All casino games have a house edge that can be calculated if you know 2 things:
- The payoffs for each bet.
- The odds of winning each bet.
Most casino games use a deck of cards or a pair of dice or something comparable to generate their random results. Those are examples of games where you know the odds of winning a bet.
After all, there are 52 cards in a deck, so the odds of getting a particular card are 51 to 1. All the other probabilities can be calculated if you know the make-up of the deck.
There are only 6 sides on a die in a game of craps, so there are a finite number of combinations. Calculating the odds of any given outcome is relatively simple math.
But on a slot machine, you have symbols that pay off at a certain rate when you get certain combinations of those symbols on the screen at the same time in a line. But you have no means of determining the odds of getting a particular symbol on any particular spin.
Without that piece of information, you have no way of telling what the house edge is.
As a result, the house edge for slot machines is often higher than the house edge for other games. Blackjack has a low house edge of between 0.5% and 1% (assuming you play well). Even if you play badly, the house edge at blackjack probably maxes out at 4% or so.
But the house edge for most slot machines is 5% or more. And you have no way of knowing if the game you’re playing has a house edge of 5% or 25%. In fact, 2 identical slot machine games sitting right next to each other can have dramatically different payback percentages.
That’s because the random number generator is inside the machine. You can’t examine it.
3. Slot machine games now make up 85% of the average casino’s revenues
The casino industry changed dramatically in the middle of the 1980s. At that time, slot machines were considered a distraction for women. The boyfriends and husbands were the real gamblers and stuck with games like blackjack and craps.
The slots didn’t even have stools in front of them in those days. They were placed in the hall or near the elevator—the idea was to avoid taking up space on the gambling floor. They were located in spaces where people were moving from point A to point B.
It only took a decade for slot machines to start generating twice as much revenue per year as all the table games put together. By 2003, gambling machines were generating 85% of the casinos’ revenues.
4. Modern progressive slot machine games often have jackpots comparable to lottery sized jackpots
A progressive jackpot game is one in which the size of the top jackpot grows with every spin of the reels. You can find 3 kinds of progressive slots:
- Standalone progressives
- Local area progressives
- Wide area progressives
A standalone progressive jackpot only grows when you play that individual machine.
A local area progressive is networked with a group of other slot machine games within the same casino. Play on any of those machines causes the jackpot for all those games to grow. If the jackpot is hit on any of those slot machine games, the jackpot on all the machines resets to its starting point. (It’s a shared jackpot.)
Wide area progressives are the games that are networked across multiple casinos. These are the games where the jackpots get high enough to compete with lottery games.
The biggest example of a wide area progressive is Megabucks. The jackpot for this game starts at $10 million and grows until it’s hit. The jackpot has grown to over $30 million on at least 2 different occasions.
This kind of jackpot has a couple of significant differences from the lottery:
- The casino odds of winning are roughly double that of winning the lottery.
You can play rapidly and see your results instantly. (When playing the lottery, you have to wait for the drawing.)
Even though the odds of winning a progressive jackpot are significantly better than the odds of winning the lottery, a progressive jackpot is still a bet where the casino odds are stacked against you in an almost comprehensible way. The odds of winning the lottery are about 1 in half a million.
The casino odds of winning the MegaBucks jackpot is about 1 in a quarter million.
Another difference is that you’ll see smaller payouts more frequently when playing on a MegaBucks slot machine. It is a slot machine, after all.
5. Today’s slot machine games have little in common with the original games
Slot machines were originally made up of a few mechanical parts:
- Coin slots
Modern slots are made up of over 1200+ individual components put together by 300+ people from design to the manufacture and assembly of those components. The parts involved now include items that Charles Fey, the inventor of the slot machine, wouldn’t even recognize:
- Bill validators
- Machine cabinets
- Random number generator software
These popular casino games used to be straightforward. You inserted coins, pulled a lever, and looked for a combination of symbols across a pay line. Now you have to choose how much to bet, insert paper money or tickets, and press buttons or a screen in order to start the game. You can bet as little as a penny per line per spin or $100 per line per spin—on the same machine.
The reels are 3D animations on a video screen, and instead of a single pay line, you have potentially dozens of ways to win (and/or lose). The pay table is also available on screen, but you have to navigate to another screen to look at it.
And many of these games are now linked to other games and to computer programs which gather data that goes straight into the hands of the casinos’ marketing departments.
6. Slot machine games’ growing popularity has been the result of a perfect storm
Multiple factors have added to the growth of these games’ popularity throughout the United States. Some of this has to do with the economy during the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Those 2 administrations cut federal funding to most states during the recession. The governments of those states needed to find ways to generate revenue without directly raising taxes. Legalizing and taxing gambling proceeds was an easy way to do it.
While this was going on, video games in general were also exploding in popularity. And since most machine gamblers were women and elderly people playing for low stakes, industry spokespeople began discussing their industry using a redefined term—“gaming”, rather than “gambling”.
The combination of these factors with the technological innovations going on at the time created the perfect storm that made slot machines far and away the biggest source of revenue in the United States gambling industry.
7. Slot machine games are now legal in 41 states of USA
In the year 2000, slot machines were only legal in 31 states of USA. They’ve since been legalized and regulated in 10 additional states. Other states are considering legalization, too.
But these close to 1 million machines aren’t the only example of the industry in action. There are countless underground machines available even in states where gambling machines aren’t legal. These games are unauthorized and unregulated—you’ll find them in bars, gas stations, and restaurants in states like Texas, where there are no legal casinos.
These unregulated games are often billed as “amusement devices” or “sweepstakes games”. In Texas, the colloquial term for them is “8 liners”, and entire businesses (“game rooms”) are dedicated to allowing gaming enthusiasts the opportunity to play for prizes you could easily buy at Dollar General.
8. Slot machine games are even more popular and common in Japan than in the United States
It would seem that 800,000+ slot machine games in one country would set a record. But it doesn’t. It just makes the United States №2 worldwide.
The №1 country for slot machine games is Japan. They have close to 5 million slot machine games in the country. And considering that Japan has a population roughly 1/3 of that of the United States, the number of slot machines per person is considerably greater.
For every 27 people in Japan, you’ll find a slot machine. In the United States, you’ll find one slot machine for every 350 people.
9. Slot machine games are more popular with locals than with tourists.
Another example of how the gambling landscape in the United States has changed is the rise of the local gambler. The population of Las Vegas quadrupled from 1980 to 2010, from 450,000 people to 2 million. But 2/3 of Vegas residents gamble.
And 2/3 of THOSE gamblers play at least monthly, for 4+ hours per session. Many of those play twice a week or more. Neighborhood casinos cater to these local players by offering them amenities specific to their needs (like child care).
These factors have combined to make low rolling local gamblers a more dominant force in the economy of the local Vegas economy than high roller tourists.
10. The majority of attendees at Gamblers Anonymous meetings gamble exclusively slot machine games.
Here’s an interesting statistic about gambling addicts, too. They have the highest rate of suicide attempts (20%) of any type of addict.
But the percentage of the general population that meet the criteria for this condition is less than 2%. A less serious version of this diagnosis is that of “problem gambling”, which makes up 4% of the general population. But these gamblers make up a disproportionate amount of gambling revenue—possibly 30% to 60%, depending on which estimate you’re looking at.
The percentage of the general population that engages in general gambling, on the other hand, has been estimated to be 20%.
Slot machine gamblers become addicted gamblers 3 to 4 times as fast as other types of gamblers.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that the nature of slot machines and their design contribute to the rapidly addictive quality of these games. The easy availability of such games also contributes to this figure.
Some people are more likely to develop an addiction than others. But some activities are also more likely to cause an addiction, too.
11. Online slot machine games work in essentially the same way as land-based gambling machines.
Brick and mortar slot machines might look and sound a little bit different from the games you play at online casinos, but in reality, they’re actually quite similar in how they work under the hood. The big difference is the technology you’re using to access the results.
Online casinos use the same kinds of random number generator programs as land-based casinos. They just serve up your results via animation that is sent to your computer via the Internet.
Land-based casinos are using slightly different hardware to give you your results, but the games actually work the same way in terms of how the random number generator works.
12. The nature of slot machines contribute to their addictive quality.
What is it about slots that make them more addictive than other kinds of gambling?
Multiple factors contribute to this:
It’s a solitary game. You’re not dealing with other people at all when you’re playing slot machines or video poker.
You’re in action more or less continually. In other gambling games, you have to wait for results and to place your next bet. With any kind of gambling machine, the bets and results happen so quickly that they’re practically continuous. The average slot machine player makes 600 wagers per hour. Compare that with the average of 100 roulette spins per hour or 200 blackjack hands per hour. (And those numbers are the average for a player with no other players at the table—if other players are at the table, the number of bets per hour can drop by 70% or more.)
These rapid events stimulate and de-stimulate the brain faster than most non-gamblers can even imagine. Even experienced gamblers probably underestimate (or don’t even think about) the effect that this kind of gambling has on your brain chemistry.
This kind of gambling creates a trancelike state. It’s no wonder that slot machine aficionados are sometimes called “slots zombies”.
13. Many of the most popular games are riding on the coattails of another intellectual property.
You can find plenty of slot machine games with original themes. Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania is a good example of such a game.
But you’re more likely to find games which are based on other intellectual properties. The most famous example of this is the Wheel of Fortune slot machine game.
You can find multiple variations of this game, and all of them are hugely popular. IGT was so interested in the popularity of this game that they actually did surveys to find out why customers like it so much.
Here’s what they found out:
- Most of the people playing Wheel of Fortune slots on a regular basis said it reminded them of watching television with their grandmother.
- Game shows are a popular source of intellectual property that is used to create slot machine games. Wheel of Fortune is just one example. You’ll also find slot machines based on Jeopardy, The $20,000 Pyramid, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Many of these are available both online and off.
- Movies are also ripe for adaptation into a gambling game. Titanic is one of the more popular slot machine games based on a movie, but you can find games based on The Terminator and Aliens, too. There are countless examples, in fact.
- Even individual celebrities often lend their names and personalities to these games. Some of the more popular ones include Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton.
In fact, anything you can think of that people are interested in can (and probably has been or will be) converted into a slot machine game. Online games inspired by other intellectual properties often include superhero based games like those from Playtech, which holds the license for online gambling games based on Marvel Comics characters like Captain America and Iron Man.
Enormous amounts of revenue are generated for companies worldwide by these slot machines and the people who play on them.
Casino management and the companies designing these games understand how they work better than almost anyone.