Slot Machines and Human Behavior

Conditioning and Reinforcement

As a result of technological advances and a variety of reasons, slot machines have become the most popular form of casino-style gambling in the United States and in many other countries over the past two decades. This is reflected in both revenues and the total number of machines. In 2021, there were nearly a 1.5 million slot machines worldwide, most of them in the United States. The rise of popularity with slot machines may be found in the machines’ potent control over the individual player. According to psychologists studying this problem, slot machine gambling demonstrates the principle of conditioning and superstitious behavior that contributes to the effectiveness of slot machines. The behavior generated by slot machines is so potent that it is often regarded as addictive. We will examine some of these controlling factors and learn how we can help our self to stay in control and be one step ahead of the game.

Number of slots worldwide
Number of slots worldwide

When we play a slot machine, we find that it generates a high rate of behavior for a long period of time. The machine’s sole purpose is to be operated. Other machines either produce a product or help us to complete tasks more quickly, easily and accurately. In contrast, slot machines are simply there to be operated and meet their owner’s objective. The first question we must ask is what makes this machine so successful?

The successful slot machine must be attractive, induce operation and maintain the player’s behavior even though the player is operating at a loss. In the late nineteenth century, slot machines were works of art. The exquisite tool work, vivid colors and visible jackpot all draws the potential player to the machine. Today’s technology offers stereo sound, super graphics and interactive choices which induces the operation of the slot machine and maintains the player’s interest even further. The players’ behavior is induced by the payout and the possibility of winning big. People travel to Las Vegas in search of hitting the jackpot. Once, the action is initiated, the player maintains this action by hoping that the next outcome will bring him the fortune.

As we know, winning combinations of symbols are predetermined and in general small payout maintain the action. Getting two out of three jackpot symbols on the pay line is exciting. The player has been reinforced at no cost to the machine owner. We must also mention the way in which reels stop enhances the reinforcement. If the first reel stops on a potential winner, a heightened state of arousal occurs. Symbols above and below the pay line also condition the mind of the player. Not only is the machine conditioning the mind, but the environment of the casino as well. People near us and around us are engaged in the same behavior and they all are interested in the same outcome, a jackpot. The screams of joy and excitement can be heard whenever jackpots are announced. All these produce stimuli that maintain the schedule of reinforcement.

Superstition is another great generator of behavior reinforcement. Players develop strange ways of pulling the handle, standing, putting money in the coin slot, rubbing the side of the machine, etc. We, of course, know that no such behavior can influence the outcome of the game but in a player’s mind, these actions reinforce his or her conviction that the machine will hit. Another form of slot conditioning is playing more than one machine simultaneously. When this happens, not only slot playing is reinforced but so is switching. Soon, every response becomes a switching response and again the need to continue to play is reinforced.

Environmental Factors

Casino floors are carefully created to attract gamblers. Sounds of bustling players, casino employees, loud machines, ringing bells, shouts of joys, bright lights, all contribute indirectly in shaping the players’ behavior and habits. So, if you are going to gamble with slot machines, take time to observe your surroundings and learn to read the pay schedule. The higher the jackpot payout, the higher the number of virtual stops on a reel and a lower probability of hits. Look for a machine that has a lower jackpot payout, for example, a machine that has a jackpot of 20,000 coins for a three coin play will more likely have a lower probability of hits than one that has 2,500 coins jackpot. Popular machines such as IGTs Double Diamond and Triple Diamonds is a good beginning for a novice slot player. Playing the maximum coins guarantees a higher return if you win but also depletes your bankroll at a faster rate. If your goal is to extend your playing time, then play coins one at a time followed by perhaps a few and in between maximum coin play. Remember, the computer is randomly selecting a 1,000 numbers per second and there are millions of numbers to choose from and the occurrence of a big jackpot win is possible but unlikely for the time you spend near the machine. One must remember that the length of time it takes for a full cycle to complete may be as short as a week or as long as five years. Since a winning combination is solely determined by a selection of a random number, it is possible for a jackpot to appear back-to-back although this may be rare.

We initially said that the better machines, those that have a higher percentage payout may be placed near the doors or restaurants to attract attention and bring more players, the reality is that these machines placements are done first for appearances. All slots machines produce reports on a regular basis and machines that are not getting enough players will be moved to a different location, hoping to improve the number of plays. Therefore, placement is not based on a machine’s percentage or payback percentage. It is based on how well a game is getting played, that is, the number of coins that are dropped into the machine. It is worth reminding the reader that changing any machine’s configuration such as the payout table is very time consuming and expensive to the casino owners and for this reason, the placement of machines is based strictly on the return of the machines rather than the percentage.

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