Why do people play low varaince slot machines?

DrStrange

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Let me start by saying I understand slot machines are a terrible, negative EV way to gamble. People are suckers if they play. But a "normal" slot machine offers the chance of a lucky hit. Risk a couple of dollars and maybe win thousands. Get ultra really lucky and you might turn $3 into $50,000. But the low variance games I saw this week made me scratch my head.

I took my wheelchair bound mother to a New Mexico "casino" - basically a big room with lots of slot machines. I spent my stay wheeling her around looking for a lucky machine. What I concluded was there couldn't be a lucky penny slot machine. No matter, she had a blast - just thrilled to get out on the town.

"Penny" slot machines are nominally one cent, but all of the machines had many pay-lines and allowed you to bet more than one cent per line. Max bet ranged from $1.5 to $5. The nature of the pay table was very low variance, if you bet 200 pennies most of the time you would win something, maybe 25 or 100 or 175 rather that win nothing. The flip side of that is you rarely won more than 1000 pennies and almost couldn't win more than 5000 pennies.

The payout systems are complex and resist analysis. I was stone cold sober, bored and had plenty of time on my hands, yet some of the payouts just didn't make sense. Not every possible path was a line you could bet, so sometimes it seemed like you should get a good payout but got actually very little. My mother didn't have a clue - she also didn't really grasp that winning 150 pennies in a flashy way wasn't a good thing if you bet 200 pennies.

The house edge seemed like it was in the 15% to 20% range. The best I could figure, even a very lucky player couldn't get lucky enough to win over the span of an hour. The drain looked like 25 dollars per hour with a minimal chance not to lose. This explained why my mom only took $250 to the casino rather than the thousands she might have taken to Las Vegas. These penny machines couldn't break her $250 bankroll in the four hours we were there. Basically she was going to lose $0 - $200 something like 95% of the time.

The casino's product mix was 70% penny slots, 29% traditional slots and 1% video poker. My mother was horrified at the idea of playing a traditional $1 slot - too much! (even though she commonly played dollar slots in Las Vegas when her health was good enough to go there).

The penny slots were filled with cut screens, funny mini games and all sorts of graphics. I watched mom play "press your luck" and get to spend several minutes trying to avoid "whammies" and rack up pennies. She won 2000 pennies and got a long special game to do it. She had so much fun doing that - she spent the next hour trying to get it to happen again.

So I was trying to figure out why people played those types of machines. All I could figure is they were happy with the never realized hope of hitting a winning session if they rarely went bust and got to "play the game". I don't think anyone we went with on the four hour trip won money - they all played the penny games, had stories of how they almost won and had a good time but never had a chance to win money,

My mom just couldn't understand why I wouldn't play --=- DrStrange
 

gpc

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Great post. I have witnessed the same thing and the only thing I can think of is adrenaline. Those split seconds of lights and sounds get the heart rate up and thoughts of finally hitting the jackpot give players enough reason to keep playing.
 

SixSpeedFury

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That's why I stay away from slot machines. No more different than playing the lottery.
 

pokerplayingpisces

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When I went to Vegas for the first time after turning 21, I tried slot machines. I found it the most mind-numbing, boring thing I've ever done. I can think of a million other things I would rather do with my time, that would be entertaining; including watching paint dry, ants building a mound, and a full WNBA game.
 

NiceShot

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Game theory at it's best or worst depending on your perspective. I almost took a job out of college designing and programming those things. Glad I took a different job.

All the reasons you stated are exactly why I don't play slots. The facade of blinky lights and animations are there to cover up just how much you are not winning. Let's face it though, all casino games are made to pay the house or they wouldn't exist. I just prefer to play a game where I have more impact on choosing my fate. Dice I can throw. Cards I can cut and choose at least to continue to hit or not... but then again, I have a hard time not counting the cards.
 

stocky

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We have slot machines at basically every pub in Australia. While working in a pub when I was 19 I saw pensioners blowing their welfare checks on the machines as soon as they cashed them. Sad to see, one of the biggest spends I saw was $2000 in half an hour. (And that was only what I saw of him play) but I will mention this guy use to spend and give away money at the bar like he had all the money in the world and only a day to spend it, buying rounds for everyone in the bar.

I might occasionally throw in a couple of dollars when out for tea or drinks to get rid of the loose change in my wallet but that's all id play. Once I was out to tea with my Dad who will usually put $50 in a machine, when he came back to the table complaining about the machine being rigged I snuck around and threw $5-$6 in it and ended up winning $600. Came back to the table and waved it in his face.
 

DrStrange

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Remember - it is not just 'normal' slot machines. These low variance ones effectively don't have jackpots and there are not going to be significant winners ever. You are paying $25/hr to play a not very good video game. . .

DrStrange
 

Mental Nomad

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I remember reading about a study done on pigeons who were trained to peck a button to get bird seed. I'm sure I have the details wrong, but the gist is right.

Some pigeons had a button rigged to give a seed for every peck.
Others had a seed every fifth peck.
Others, every tenth peck.
Still others, every 20 pecks.
And the last group? Random, but on average, once every ten pecks... but it might easily go 20 or 30 or more between rewards, or get two in a row.

The interesting part of the experiment is after the birds have been trained on their button feeders for a week or two... and they turn off the button. No more seed reward.

The each-peck pigeons gave up after a couple pecks, and the five-peck trainees didn't go much further.
The every 10th peck birds went on for 20 or 30 pecks and quit.
The 20s pecked for 40 or so.
But the ones with the random reward? Kept pecking. Never stopped. Thousands of pecks. For days. Some never stopped; they cut off the experiment, because the birds were still at it. It's like they kept thinking that next peck might always be "the one."

Whenever I go through a casino and see people sitting at the slot machines, I think of pigeons.
 

grandgnu

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Remember - it is not just 'normal' slot machines. These low variance ones effectively don't have jackpots and there are not going to be significant winners ever. You are paying $25/hr to play a not very good video game. . .

DrStrange

The same applies to the video game world now as well. You have all these early release alpha version games that people PAY to get access to. It used to be that developers would pay people to beta test their games, now people are paying to alpha-test a game, complete 180. Then there's all the fly-by-night developers that will run a kickstarter campaign, rake in a bunch of dough, and then lose interest in actually finishing their game (which languishes in development hell and never is completed) because they got a ton of money and there's no more incentive.

But the worst for me is the new DLC (downloadable content) approach to games, where they give you a game that isn't complete and make you pay extra for all the little bits they allow you to unlock for another 20-40 bucks. EA games is probably the worst for this. My wife loves The Sims series. But if you look at all their add-ons and expansions, you could pay hundreds of dollars for essentially what is just one game, it's maddening.

That's why I wait until a game has been out for a year (or two) and has gotten all the bugs worked out and is available as a complete edition on Steam for like 10 bucks and pick it up, rather than paying the developers $60 to be their beta-tester.
 

ParrotheadMZ

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Never play slots. 1st time in Vegas I put money into a progressive slot and hit. Waited for my money but nothing. After the machine and I were done arguing I decided to read the instructions, oh I have to pay the max bet to win the fn jackpot. Never again........
I almost punched that bastard in the mouth.
 

NiceShot

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The same applies to the video game world now as well. You have all these early release alpha version games that people PAY to get access to. It used to be that developers would pay people to beta test their games, now people are paying to alpha-test a game, complete 180. Then there's all the fly-by-night developers that will run a kickstarter campaign, rake in a bunch of dough, and then lose interest in actually finishing their game (which languishes in development hell and never is completed) because they got a ton of money and there's no more incentive.

But the worst for me is the new DLC (downloadable content) approach to games, where they give you a game that isn't complete and make you pay extra for all the little bits they allow you to unlock for another 20-40 bucks. EA games is probably the worst for this. My wife loves The Sims series. But if you look at all their add-ons and expansions, you could pay hundreds of dollars for essentially what is just one game, it's maddening.

That's why I wait until a game has been out for a year (or two) and has gotten all the bugs worked out and is available as a complete edition on Steam for like 10 bucks and pick it up, rather than paying the developers $60 to be their beta-tester.
Have you seen the new Star Wars Battlefield? I think they are using their own distribution site... so likely not to go up on steam... comes out in Dec.
 

grandgnu

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Have you seen the new Star Wars Battlefield? I think they are using their own distribution site... so likely not to go up on steam... comes out in Dec.


You mean Origins. I don't support anything by EA anymore, my last game with them was Battlefield 3. And I have such a backlog of great games from Steam Sales that I can just keep waiting for holiday sales to pickup new titles that are complete and patched and include all content.
 

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I played one of these funky slots on a cruise ship couple years ago... was Haunted House (or something similar in name). At one point I had to play this hide and seek game looking for keys in different rooms by selecting items on the touch screen. No idea WTF was going on, how it happened, or how much I was winning. End result was I got a couple hundred out of the game with no clue as to why (at least 10 years ago I saw bars and cherries on the slots). Went over to the blackjack table and played there for the rest of the night....at least I knew what was going on :)
 

NiceShot

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You mean Origins. I don't support anything by EA anymore, my last game with them was Battlefield 3. And I have such a backlog of great games from Steam Sales that I can just keep waiting for holiday sales to pickup new titles that are complete and patched and include all content.
Bf3 was my last one with them as well, but this latest star wars battlefront is everything I always I wanted it to be...
 

Poker Jedi

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I work on and with slot machines daily, even some of the low variance machines have a chance at a fairly large payout, its just extremely rare. first most people don't max bet on them, but if you do and the stars align, usually some free games with a multiplier hit just right and your looking at a couple thousand dollars off a 1-2 dollar bet. however it is very very rare for that to happen. most jackpots are off your more traditional machines... people bitch and moan about how the games are rigged or whatever but keep feeding the money in.. the only casino game that really interestes me is poker, and maybe a couple hands of blackjack just for fun.
 

BiGGyT

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The penny slots were filled with cut screens, funny mini games and all sorts of graphics. I watched mom play "press your luck" and get to spend several minutes trying to avoid "whammies" and rack up pennies. She won 2000 pennies and got a long special game to do it. She had so much fun doing that - she spent the next hour trying to get it to happen again.

So I was trying to figure out why people played those types of machines.

You answered your own question. She had fun and wanted to do it again. My wife loves these stupid games and will blow through $100 in 20 minutes of no wins, or make $300, she just likes the bonus round aspect of the games. I think maybe 2 times in the last 17 years, she left with more than she started with, but usually loses her bankroll of $400-$800 over the weekend or trip. However, we get the comps from her play, not mine. She will get the rooms, food, free play, giveaways, whatever, so I figure I am not paying about $300+ per trip, so in my mind I offset the losses for the comps.

For advantage play, stay away. For shits and giggles or racking up comps, have fun. I can take advantage of the cocktails with slots, pai gow, and video poker, not so much at poker or blackjack.

BiGGyT
 

DarPodo

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For advantage play, stay away. For shits and giggles or racking up comps, have fun. I can take advantage of the cocktails with slots, pai gow, and video poker, not so much at poker or blackjack.

BiGGyT

This. This was my Vegas drinking strategy.

I never thought I could possibly enjoy slots until my buddy and I stumbled upon Rolling Stones and Godfather themed machines. Turned our minds off, got tipsy, enjoyed just pressing buttons. Granted, these machines aren't the low variance ones the Dr. described, but I was surprised to find myself having a blast donating money to a slot machine.
 

ChaosRock

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For advantage play, stay away. For shits and giggles or racking up comps, have fun. I can take advantage of the cocktails with slots, pai gow, and video poker...

BiGGyT

Man, I'll tell you what, If I had to sit my ass down and play slots to get a free drink, I would die of thirst first, and I loooooove my alcoholic beverages mind you... :) But that goes only to show how different people are, no judgement here...

I have a good buddy who's hooked on slots bad... He plays sort of high stakes slots in roped rooms in some casinos downtown Detroit... Lost everything he had a few times over just playing slots...:( And he was telling me he's not the only one... Something I never knew it was possible with slots really... Last we spoke he was down $80K for the year...:confused:

But as the good doc said, at least those are super high variance machines, so for him is the thrill of the gambling...
 

NiceShot

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Man, I'll tell you what, If I had to sit my ass down and play slots to get a free drink, I would die of thirst first, and I loooooove my alcoholic beverages mind you... :) But that goes only to show how different people are, no judgement here...

I have a good buddy who's hooked on slots bad... He plays sort of high stakes slots in roped rooms in some casinos downtown Detroit... Lost everything he had a few times over just playing slots...:( And he was telling me he's not the only one... Something I never knew it was possible with slots really... Last we spoke he was down $80K for the year...:confused:

But as the good doc said, at least those are super high variance machines, so for him is the thrill of the gambling...
Wow 80k... you could buy a lot of nice chips for that much...
 

Poker Zombie

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If I'm going to play slots, I'm going to look for low variance.

However, if you see me at a slot machine, it's because I have some form of freeplay. $20 freeplay with a $20 drop is a mathematical money winner if you can keep your head about you - and I always do, because $40 isn't enough for the waitresses to get me tipsy.

I'd rather walk away $16 richer than to risk $20 for a long-shot jackpot, even if the house edge is the same.
 

Hot Nuts

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I was losing in blackjack and took a break playing nickel slots. I seldom play slots. Won $160, cashed out and went back to blackjack table.
 

BiGGyT

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Man, I'll tell you what, If I had to sit my ass down and play slots to get a free drink, I would die of thirst first, and I loooooove my alcoholic beverages mind you... :) But that goes only to show how different people are, no judgement here...

You might die of thirst waiting at a regular slot, but it takes very little critical thinking brain power to push a button, which is why I like video poker at the bar (note the avatar). Tip $5 first drink, they come non-stop and heavy. We were at the Wynn playing VP on the floor since at the bar, drinks are not comped for players, $10 for 3 guys per round got doubles every time the waitress came by, she was very happy, we were very happy, and I drew a royal on 1 of 5 multiline, so made the evening even better.

NO, I am not a perfect player, Bob Dancer could train me for 25 years and I'd still not hold some obscure hand right every time. But mostly, I do well enough.

I am sorry to hear about your friend, gambling addiction is a real problem. I like it for fun, just like drinking (for me) is for fun, not a way to start the day. I know most folks here are a lot more serious about their play and it is not for fun but for profit, and that is fine too. I am not a psychologist, but if I found myself in any sort of debt from gambling, think I would go see one. Not saying that for you or anyone else, just me in my reality. Maybe the $80k debt friend.....

I agree mostly with the premise, I do not go to play slots, but if I do, it is with my wife, $20 in Wheel of Fortune or Megabucks, to use freeplay like Zombie said, or VP at the bar for drinks while watching the game or the people in the casino. I suppose if I went to casinos more often, I would shun them completely, but I am in Vegas 1 or 2 times a year, Biloxi 2-4 times a year, so they are not pure evil......yet.

BiGGyT
 
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