Slot machines spin technology with superstition

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News,Business

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Winning a slot jackpot at a Mississippi casino is random and technical, yet many people believe how they play has something to do with whether they win.

Players certainly are trying to win their jackpot. The coin in — or the amount wagered, won and wagered again — is more than $1 billion every month at the 12 casinos in South Mississippi.

Warren the bull is the good luck charm for players at Boomtown Casino. Chris Foret, marketing manager, said regular players drop a quarter or a dollar into the bucket at the bull's feet for luck when they enter the casino. That money is donated to a charity every three months.

Others set their lucky charms on the machines or tap the glass on the slot machine three times for luck, he said.

Some players take a more scientific approach.

"No skill, no talent," is involved in winning, said frequent player Stephen Grimes of Gautier. "It's just being in the right place at the right time."

He's won $5,000 at a time and although he has no expectation of winning every time, he feels players should expect to hit bonus rounds often.

He tests the new games at the Southern Gaming Summit expo each year and said, "It has been surprising how many new games being showcased by their manufactures can go 100 spins without awarding a bonus feature."

If the payoff isn't what people expect, Grimes said, he and others will play less and spend less. He and his wife prefer the older Moon and Stars and Pompeii machines manufactured by Aristocrat because of the frequent bonus rounds.

Matt Wilson, vice president of marketing for Aristocrat Technologies, said the company has an amazing number of loyal followers and matches its strategies for game development with core gamblers who want the chance to win a jackpot, those who play for the entertainment, and those who look for a licensed game such as Superman.

The Australian slot manufacturer entered the U.S. market with an Australian-style machine for players looking for a big win, he said. A high-volatility machine pays out less often but pays out big, he said. Low-volatility machines pay more often but in lower amounts.

"Some players go into a casino knowing they're not going to win big," Wilson said.

For those who play for the entertainment value, $50 can last for two hours, he said. With a high-volatility game, $50 could last 10 minutes, "but you could win big," he said.

It's up to the Mississippi Gaming Commission to keep the games fair for both the casinos and the players.

Emil Lyon, director of the commission's laboratory, said his department tests each manufacturer's new games and verifies every like machine in the state has the same program.

People think previous wagers have some bearing on their chance of winning, he said, but if the lab found a machine that could be manipulated simply by alternating the wager or lines bet, his department would revoke it.

Finding the magic combination of game popularity and volatility is key for the slot managers, he said. The casino wants to make money, he said, but "the casino wants people to win money."

He compares slot manufacturers with automakers. "They're constantly changing their models and makes," he said. "There's something out there for everyone."

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Lyon turns slot machine myth into technical reality:

Myth: After a machine hits a jackpot it won't hit again for a while.

Fact: That is absolutely a myth. The odds of a jackpot are the same every time you pull the handle. Lyon heard one casino had two jackpots on opening day — but admits that also could be a myth.

Myth: Machines placed near doors, at row ends and in heavy traffic areas are looser than those in quiet areas of the casino.

Fact: I don't believe that's true. If someone is winning in the corner it's not noticed as much as a win in a higher traffic area. Casinos move the machines around. It's anybody's guess which are the loosest.

Myth: Machines pay more when a person doesn't insert a player card.

Fact: That's a myth, too. The reward cards are for rewards only and have no bearing on wins and losses.

Myth: Players won't have to pay taxes to the IRS if they aren't using a player card.

Fact: In Mississippi, any slot win of $1,200 should lock up the machine and a casino employee will get the player's information, and both have to report to IRS. With smaller wins, "it's just between you and your conscience," Lyon said.

Myth: The higher the denomination of the machine, the higher overall percentage of payback.

Fact: Generally this is true. That is why some players seek out the high-limit rooms in a casino.

Myth: Changing the wager and number of lines played often can trigger a win.

Fact: Not true. "Human brains see patterns where none exist," Lyon said.

MYTH: The Gaming Commission always sides with the casino.

Fact: The Gaming Commission gets complaints only from people who said they didn't win enough. They never hear a complaint from someone who keeps winning.

Myth: Slots are looser at slow times and the casinos tighten them up on weekends and busy times.

Fact: That perception may be because players are more likely to hear a machine hit a jackpot when the casino is quiet. The casinos are required to pay back between 80 and 100 percent. It is possible over a short amount of time that a slot machine could pay back 100 percent or more, but that starts to normalize the longer the person plays.

Myth: A slot machine's game that's not popular now can be easily converted to a new game.

Fact: Though it's a lot easier to convert a machine than it was in the 1980s, the time it takes for that conversion isn't considerably faster. Some machines have downloadable programs and no painted glass, which makes the conversion easier.

Myth: Casinos and slot machine manufacturers know which games will be popular before they hit the floor.

Fact: That isn't always the case. Casinos that put in large banks of eBay slot machines saw the popularity fizzle in only about six weeks.

Myth: A new casino means all new slot machines.

Fact: Some casinos open with refurbished machines.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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