How Slot Machines Keep You Hooked: The Subtle Psychology Behind the Appeal of the One-Armed Bandit

slotThe “one-armed bandit.” The “crack cocaine of the gambling world.” The good old-fashioned slot machine didn’t receive these nicknames for nothing. As things go, slot machines have earned themselves quite an infamous reputation among casino-goers; they are among the tabletop games where losing money is a certainty (unlike poker and blackjack where having a bit of skill pushes the odds slightly in your favor). Slot machines, especially penny slots, have the highest house advantages around, and are specifically designed so that it’s almost impossible to make money off them.

The weird thing is that this fact is common knowledge among slot machine fanatics. They know that they will lose money if they spend too much time playing slots. It has also been observed that slot machine players become addicted three times faster compared to gamblers of other casino games.

So the question is this- why do people keep on playing? What is it about slots that people play themselves until their wallets go dry? Here are some of the common “psychological” reasons:

The “Near Miss” Initiative

According to R.L. Reid of the University of Exeter in England: “…a near miss is a special kind of failure to reach a goal, one that comes close to being succesful.” This event encourages players of a game or sport to continue playing even after they have lost multiple times; for example, a budding marksman might be encouraged to improve after seeing his shots hit closer and closer to a target. This kind of perspective is also present among gamblers, no matter how irrational it may seem (since gambling games often rely on luck, not skill). After seeing a couple of near miss reels, a slot machine player may be duped into thinking that he or she is closer to a jackpot despite the fact that all spins have equal odds of hitting a payout.

The Machines are Alive…With the Sound of Music

Casinos and slot machine manufacturers have put a lot of thought into the production of sounds for their machines (i.e. the “cha-chings!” and the sounds of the spinning reels and clanging coins). Try this experiment: Enter a casino and notice how harmonized everything is. Though you can hear the machines, their noise is not at all jarring or unpleasant to the ear. According to Natasha Dow Schull, an anthropologist and author of Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, an audio director for Silicon Gaming decreed that all slot machine sounds should be tuned in “the universally pleasant sound of C.” This is why the soundscape inside a casino feels like it’s “whole” instead of being a disjointed mass of random sound effects.

 Modern Slot Machines Operate Faster

On a modern slot machine, you press a button to spin the reels (instead of pulling a clunky lever). Inserting electronic tickets have also replaced the action of fumbling for coins. You don’t need to wait for the coins to be dispensed if you win something (as these have been replaced by more efficient electronic systems) and you can start playing as soon as possible. As machines become faster, players have also been staying and playing for longer- it’s a very curious paradox.

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