Electronic gambling machines
Electronic gambling machines (EGMs), better known to the public as slot machines, are considered one of the most addictive forms of casino gambling.
Avoiding the Lure of the Slots
It’s impossible to think of Las Vegas without the image of casinos coming to mind. For many Americans, however, Las Vegas-style casinos are right in their own backyard – and just as tempting. Nothing has quite the same allure as casino gambling – or gaming, as casinos now refer to it. It’s kind of a one-stop form of entertainment, with various card and dice games, sports betting, keno, slots and video gaming. Of all the forms of casino gambling, slot machines are where it’s at for the casinos, accounting for some 70 percent of the casino’s total take. In fact, slots overtook table games such as craps and blackjack as the most popular casino games in the 1980s.
To the problem gambler, however, slot machines or electronic gambling machines (EGMs) are the quickest route to compulsive or pathological gambling – gambling addiction. What causes the attraction?
Slots are Entertaining
The old one-armed bandit has given way to sleek and high-tech slots and video gaming machines that use computerized virtual reels. But, just because you don’t physically pull down a lever doesn’t mean the latest bandits are any less entertaining. These new versions have built-in entertainment value, from themes taken from popular movies and TV shows, to the latest gimmick to entice patrons to give it a whirl. Most have the look and feel of sophisticated video games – and are designed that way on purpose.
As posted on several websites and attributed to Michelle Tee, founder of gamblingaddiction.tv, modern slot machines were “specially designed by psychologists who assist in creating a machine that ensures continuous play.” In other words, these machines utilize entertainment value, screens and images of vivid colors, flashing lights and exciting sounds – especially when the player is winning – all in a successful effort to keep gamblers playing.
Slots Are Mesmerizing
Many gamblers say that sitting at the slots puts them in a kind of hypnotic trance, that it’s mesmerizing, mind-numbing, and allows their thoughts to drift. All the while they’re dropping in more coins, losing more than they win (more often than not), and running through their money faster than they ever intended. Who wants to give up play when casinos make it so easy to keep on going? Most slots take one dollar bills. Just keep feeding them in and keep on gambling. Before long, the gambler is completely dry. It’s either head to the ATM machine, conveniently located nearby (what harm is another $20 or $100) or go home. Most don’t leave.
Slots Are Enticing
When you sit at a slot machine, with all the bells and whistles and flashing lights and colors, it’s easy to feel your adrenalin surging. This could be the spin that means you win and win big! It’s so close, you can see it coming. Oops, not this time. Gotta get more cash. When you win a little, the adrenalin kicks into overdrive. Gotta keep going. Maybe the next win will be the jackpot.
Slots Have Huge Jackpots
Who wouldn’t want to win a $100,000, $250,000 or $1 million jackpot? Drawn by the hope of cashing in on a supersize payout, especially as time goes on and no one’s hit yet, gamblers flock to those slots they believe are ready to give it up – to them. Everyone has a scheme, system or inside tip on which machines are hot and which are cold. Some gamblers converge on machines in an area where casinos post a sign that says their machines have a payback percentage of 97 percent. The fallacy here is that the 97 percent payback doesn’t mean it will apply to you. It occurs over a long period of time – and it most likely won’t be while you’re sitting there. Still, the lure of these incredibly high jackpots is enough to keep players inserting coins – or dollars. And with progressive slots – forget it, you even lose more money faster.
Why Gamblers Get Sucked In
Whether it’s a senior citizen hoping to snag a bundle during some idle time at the casino or a so-called professional who’s got a system down, no one’s immune to the beckoning call of the slot machine. Everybody’s got some hare-brained idea or system on how to win. Maybe they’ll head to the machines on the end of the aisle, or one they’ve been watching that’s consistently hot, or one that is ready to pay off. They pause before they press the button, mumble a mantra, say a prayer, cross their legs in succession, do deep breathing exercises, meditate, sing a song – the list of self-deceptions is endless. To an objective observer, it would seem that these rituals are ridiculous. Surely the players themselves can see how fruitless they are. The problem is that, since this is purely a game of luck, sometimes the gambler will win. Small or large doesn’t matter. The fact that there are wins is enough to suck in not only the gambler who just hit a payout, but others nearby who want to get in on the excitement. Hey, the guy two aisles over just hit and I’ve been here an hour. It’s time for me to get my payout. It’s this intermittent winning that creates the desire to keep on playing. Researchers have found that winning releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine – the “feel-good” chemical rush to the brain that people crave. While the gambler may think they’re gambling because they like the action, the craving for the dopamine rush is linked to addiction. Studies of individuals with Parkinson’s disease who were taking medication to increase dopamine levels actually became addicted to gambling – and not just any gambling, but slot machine gambling.
How to Get Past the Lure of the Slots
Now that it’s quite evident how the slots suck you in, what can the problem or compulsive gambler do about it? What can you do if you consider yourself just a social gambler – in order to prevent falling victim to the slots and developing a gambling problem? These are actually two different questions. We’ll deal with the problem or compulsive gambler first. For the individual with a gambling problem – defined as any gambling behavior that disrupts your life – and a compulsive gambler – a person who cannot control their impulse to gamble despite negative consequences, the only way to deal with the increasing difficulties posed by gambling is to seek treatment. Therapy, individual and/or group counseling, residential treatment programs and 12-step group meeting attendance are a must in order to break the self-destructive pattern of gambling problem and/or addiction. Although it sounds simple enough here, treatment for a gambling problem or addiction is a lengthy process and a successful outcome very much depends upon the individual’s desire and motivation to change. Other articles in this series go into more depth on the subject of treatment for both problem gambling and gambling addiction.
Despite the huge numbers of problem and/or addicted gamblers in the U.S., most Americans are able to be responsible about gambling. Still, it may be beneficial to keep in mind some tips to steer clear of slot machines.
• Recognize the slim chance of winning – All the experts say that over time, you’ll lose playing the slots. Slots have the worst payback percentage of all casino games. And, you’ll lose more than you win on a consistent basis. You simply can’t beat the computerized virtual wheels – even with so-called guaranteed 97 percent payback percentages. Those stats just encourage you to bet more and longer in a vain attempt to win. Since you’re likely to lose, you have to modify your gambling to avoid losing more than you can afford.
• Know the odds - If the odds of winning a particular jackpot are 1 in 250,000, they’ll always be 1 in 250,000 – no matter if the last win was 5 minutes ago or 3 months prior. According to VegasClick.com, the odds are about 262,144 to 1 on a machine with a $10,000 jackpot. Megabucks machines with multi-million dollar jackpots have odds closer to 1 in 50 million. The odds are the same on every spin. Keep this in mind when you decide whether or not to play the slots.
• Limit your play – Give yourself a specific time limit during which to play. This could be an hour or less. Limiting time at the machines could also be a matter of budget. Only carry cash that you can afford to lose – and leave all your credit and ATM machine cards at home. When you run out of your gambling money, quit and leave. That’s the only way you won’t be tempted to “just take out a bit more” and keep on playing. Again, experts recommend that you set your limits (time and money) before you sit down to play. Don’t let yourself be tempted to overstepping your limits. Remember that the longer you play, the more likely it is that you’ll lose. Over time, the casino always wins.
• Avoid progressive slots – Don’t be fooled into thinking that when you win (and, it’s really only if you win, not when), you’ll win big by betting the maximum amount on progressive slots. If you’re playing purely for entertainment value, you can play longer when you skip the progressives. Don’t pump in more money to make the maximum bet per play. This just gets you into the hole faster. Progressives, according to experts, typically pay back 2 to 7 percent less than standard slots.
• Know the game and the pay lines– Not all slots are the same. Be sure you know the specifics of the slot machine before you sit down to play. Watch others so you get an idea how it works. The more elaborate the machine (5 virtual wheels instead of 3, for example, or a 5-reel machine with 15 or more pay lines), the more difficult it is to play. Ramping up your learning curve will cost you plenty – money that you probably won’t ever get back.
• Steer clear of $5 and $10 machines – Why blow through your money in $5 and $10 increments (and, yes, it can really get up there with progressives on top of it)? The odds still aren’t going to be in your favor. Stick, instead, with the penny and/or nickel slots – if you feel you have to play slots. Lower stakes machines have worse odds than the higher bet machines, but you’ll lose less.
• There are no gimmicks or patterns to beat the house edge – Despite what hucksters selling secrets and tips on how to cheat the house, the machines will deliver random results. No one has a way to determine a pattern or scheme to beat the slots. Don’t bother with any so-called sure-fire advice. It’s worthless – and it will cost you more money.
• Don’t play slots – The best advice is to not play the slot machines at all. Whether in a casino in Las Vegas, or Atlantic City, or an Indian gaming casino, or an airport, these bandits will still rob you just the same.
• If you feel yourself getting into trouble, get help – Here, the same advice applies as to problem and compulsive gamblers. Once you start getting in over your head, betting more than you can afford, gambling longer than you intended, neglecting your responsibilities at home and at work, feeling like you have to gamble – it’s time to get some professional help. Start by talking to your family doctor, or visit Gamblers Anonymous or the National Council on Problem Gambling for useful advice, literature, resources and links.
Bottom line, when it comes to the slots, the best thing you can do with your money is put it into something that delivers a secure return, such as a savings account or time deposit. It’s certainly not the slots. And that’s guaranteed.