Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fourth Generation Las Vegas Casino Gaming Devices Mess With Your Mind

Fourth generation or "4G" is a name to describe some invention or innovation that has gone through several levels of improvement. Sometimes it may seem that there are four distinct stages. An example I am very familiar with is the evolution of computer programming languages from machine language to Fourth Generation Language ( which uses Artificial Intelligence methods). Other examples abound in technology: the vacuum tube was a first generation invention that was replaced by the transistor and printed circuit board, which further evolved into the integrated circuit chip, which will eventually evolve into nano-technology. Another example would have been the automobile: some may argue that because of the powerful international oil cabal, the American automobile industry has not been allowed to evolve much beyond the first generation internal combustion engine. Any innovations in engine design that reduces or eliminates the need for gasoline fuel are quickly bought out and the inventor is silenced, or worse. Or so the conspiracy theorists , uh, well, ... so they theorize.

Yet another example of 4G innovation is the modern casino gaming device. Notice I did not say "improvement", I said "innovation". The jury is out on whether these new machines are improvements for people who play. Let's review a brief and incomplete history of the casino gaming device:

1) Antiques - these are typified by the "one-arm bandit" of the Old West -- completely mechanical with gears and moving metal parts.

2) Traditional single action - these are the older ancestor of the modern video poker machines I played back in the late seventies and eighties. You put five quarters in them and then pull the handle --- each pull is completely independent and if you win it dumps the quarters in your tray. Coins in, coins out. Simple to understand. Biggest drawback: dirty hands ( from touching the coins).

3) Modern credit machines - the big innovation here was that you could play without putting more money in as long as your balance was positive. This led to machines that took bills ( paper money ) and then multi-denomination games that allow you to choose amongst several games and your unit of play --- penny, nickel, dime, quarter, etc... This also led to the "ticket in --- ticket out" machines that pay in vouchers that can be fed for credit into another machine. This also led to the casino's ability to track your betting habits, wins, and losses in great detail with their slot club cards.

4) So called "penny slot machines" - These 4G gaming machines may use more electricity than the traditional machines, but based upon their growth, they are big money makers for the casinos. Oddly enough, they tend to pay less, but many people like to play them more than the traditional machines.

The following describes the new penny slots better than I can, and is taken by an article in the Daily Herald called Illinois casinos beat the odds with tighter slot machines:

At the center of concern are new penny, 2-cent, 3-cent and nickel machines. Many look much like video games, sometimes with interactive touch screens, TV or movie clips and attractive themes like "Wheel of Fortune," Monopoly or "The Wizard of Oz."

These aren't your average one-armed bandits.

Psychological studies, focus groups, surveys and other intense research goes into empowering these slots to keep gamblers playing longer and betting more - and ultimately losing more, but somehow leaving happy.

"There is a science to everything," says Scott Herrington, a senior producer for WMS Gaming Inc., a major slot machine designer and manufacturer based in Waukegan.
At WMS' trendy programming office on Chicago's North Side, he walks along rows of new, vibrant slots in a small side showroom.

Jumping from machine to machine, Herrington illustrates the alluring elements his team of researchers and programmers have created to keep gamblers entertained and spending:

  • Bonus round: All of these new slots offer gamblers a chance to enter a second game level where they can rack up extra cash, sometimes by selecting boxes or targets to reveal prizes.

  • Theme: Many slots target demographic groups via movie, TV show or iconic themes such as "Star Wars" or "Happy Days." This is enhanced with video clips and theme songs. The longer a gambler plays, the longer the video and audio tracks run.

  • Hits: The more gamblers bet on a spin, the more often they will "win" or hit a combination that sets off video, theme songs and other psychological rewards. But often, the "win" ends up being less than the amount bet, say $1 on a $5 bet. The machine constantly encourages the gambler to "Bet Max."
    "If you don't play all the lines, you are not seeing everything the game has to offer," Herrington says.

  • Control: Some new machines give players the illusion of control, such as bonus rounds that require gamblers to pick boxes or targets to win prizes. The newest line from WMS offers "mechanical" reels that have video graphics displayed on top of them. Herrington says some gamblers prefer reels because they don't trust a computer. These slots, like all slots, are actually run by computer chips.

  • Payout: Programmers set up these slot machines to pay out at different rates. Some "dribble" out small amounts to gamblers more often. Others hold back on small payouts to give fewer, larger ones. Herrington calls this "playing with the math" of the computer chip, which is set to withhold a certain percentage of total bets over a long period of time.

The best slot machine "is the perfect stew of all of this," summarizes Herrington. All of these new elements draw in more gamblers and more money, but none of them loosen the machine's tight payout. That is determined by the casino operators.
As long as gamblers keep flocking to more entertaining, tighter machines, there is little reason for casino operators to increase the overall payout.
"Casinos are a business and obviously their interests are in maximizing profitability," Eadington says.


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