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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: The truth about loose slot machines

Ask the Slot Expert: The truth about loose slot machines

29 November 2017

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: Where are the loose slots in a high limit room? By the entrance? By the cage?

Answer: Loose slots can make a guest appearance on The Walking Dead. The loose slot, like trickle-down economics, is a zombie idea that just won't die. But unlike trickle-down economics, there was some truth to the loose slot story.

Let's step into the Wayback Machine and go back to the early 1990s. Frank Scoblete interviewed a slot director in Atlantic City and the director described his philosophy for placing slots that are a bit looser than his floor average. The theory behind the loose slot is that players will see other players winning and they will be encouraged to continue to play to get their fair share of the casino's bankroll. Even though I might be down, that guy over there keeps winning. Surely it will be my turn soon. In goes another $20. The goal for the loose slot is to get slot players to play and to play more.

The slot director placed his loose slots in positions that were highly visible to other slot players. The loose slots weren't in the middle of an aisle, but at the ends. They also could have been in that circular bank of machines that you see when you enter the casino. Anywhere other slot players can see the machines and the players winning on them.

Loose machines were not near the table games for two reasons. One, because table games players didn't want to be disturbed by the noises from the slot machines. And two, table games players might drop their loose change into machines near the tables and they don't expect to win anything, so why not just take their money instead of giving them a loose slot? Similarly, the loose slots wouldn't be near the buffet or showroom lines. People may drop a few coins into these machines to kill time so, like the machines near the table games, there's no reason to make them loose. Just take the money.

Remember when you could still drop change into a machine? Keep in mind that the interview took place in the early 1990s. Ticket systems weren't on the radar then. I can remember presenting a bounce-back cash coupon to the change booth (Remember them?) to get a roll of quarters.

But I digress.

On second thought -- No, that's not a digression. That's pointing out that the slot floor and slot machines were very different back then.

Let's look at the design of the slot floor first. There's a picture of the slot floor at Bally's Park Place in Atlantic City in the mid-1990s in Slot Machines: America's Favorite Gaming Device. The machines are lined up in rows like soldiers in formation. Row after row of machines and nary a slot chair to be seen. You need some incentive to take your mind off your aching feet and keep playing instead of finding someplace to sit.

Slot floor designers started considering ergonomics when laying out their slot floors around this time. Instead of hundreds of machines, new casinos had thousands of machines. The floor designers learned that players felt trapped in the middle of a long row of machines. They started designing their slot floors with many small clusters of machines. Today you rarely see more than five machines in a row. And the short rows of slot machines will be interrupted by a group of machines in a circle or some other layout. Today's slot floor has many comfortable and inviting places to play instead of looking like the machines are lined up in a warehouse.

The machines back then, in addition, were far less entertaining than today's machines. An exciting variation in the 90s was having the reels change direction sometimes. The only entertainment value on the old machines was winning.

Today's machines have high-definition video and high fidelity sound. Watching characters from The Simpsons go by on the screen and hearing their voices is much more entertaining than watching Double Diamonds and red sevens go by and listening to reel-spinning music. One reason players play more today is because the machines are more fun to play.

And speaking of the longest-running show on TV, basing machines on licensed properties also makes players want to play the machines. THey want to see how the slot designers used the characters and concepts from the show or movie. If the machine is based on a person, real or fictional, they want to see how that person's image and things associated with that person are used in the game.

Technology and theme may be lures to get and keep players playing, but they pale in comparison to the effectivenes of the most powerful incentive on any slot machine -- the bonus round.

When trying a new machine, who doesn't want to keep playing it until they get to the bonus round at least once? If the game has more than one bonus, you want to keep coming back to it until you've played all of the bonuses. As you're playing the game, maybe you say to yourself that you'll quit after you hit the bonus just one more time.

Instead of one of us cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, I told my cousin that I wanted to try a buffet instead. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the line at the buffet wasn't too bad. The VIP cardholder's line was just out to the end of the stanchions for the line. But then the people in line pointed out that the line continued on the other side of the tiled walkway into the casino. Most of the line wasn't near the cashier. It was in the casino.

We gave up on the buffet and went to the cafe. There was a long line there too, but no one in the VIP line and we were seated right away. I felt a little sorry for the people at the front of the regular line when we were seated before them. Just a little sorry, just for a little while.

We hit the machines after dinner. First stop, National Lampoon's Vacation machines. I was having a lot more luck on my machine than my cousin was having on hers, so she moved to one of the My Cousin Vinny machines next to the Vacation machines. She was spinning the bonus wheel quite often, so after I was finished with my Vacation, I went to the Vinny machine nest to hers.

As I said, my cousin hit the bonus wheel quite frequently, so I wanted to get me some of that bonus wheel action. The bonus symbols rarely came out on my machine, and when they did, only one or two and never the three needed to trigger the wheel. I fed that machine a few times and never did get to spin the wheel.

Wanting to get to the bonus can be a compelling reason to play and keep playing a machine.

Finally, there's one huge problem with the concept of loose machines. What does looser really mean? Does it mean higher long-term payback? The problem with this definition is that players don't really experience long-term payback because it takes hundreds of thousands of spins for a difference in long-term payback to have a greater effect on results than randomness. Casinos experience long-term payback, but players don't.

Players do, however, experience hit frequency. Does looser mean higher hit frequency? Players do like to see machines hitting, but there's no correlation between hit frequency and long-term payback. Penny slots have proven that machines can hit frequently and have low long-term paybacks.

Looser should mean that you win more money on the machine than on the others on the slot floor, but a machine that pays back more may not give an obvious indication that it is more generous. A Double Diamond can be made looser just by changing one of the virtual stops from a single bar to a double bar. The hit frequency remains the same. Machines that hit more frequently may appear to pay back more, but they may actually pay back less in the long run.

To sum up, the loose slot is a concept whose time has come and gone. Just a couple of decades ago, some slot directors did use a loose slot placement philosophy to try to drive play on their slot floors. You can read about one director's philosophy in Frank's book Break the One-Armed Bandits.

The state of slot play today has eliminated the need for loose slots. Casinos have thousands of machines and the slot team can't micromanage the placement of a few special machines. Slot floors are designed to have multiple clusters of machines. Slot directors want the flexibility to put a machine anywhere it is physically able to be placed. They don't want to have to place certain machines in certain places.

Slot directors today decide what hold they want for each denomination and then they order machines with holds close to their desired percentage. Each machine in a denomination has about the same long-term payback. There are no looser machines.

Today's slot machines furthermore have built-in incentives to keep players playing. Players don't need to see another player winning on a machine nearly identical to theirs to keep feeding a machine. They play more because the machines are more fun to play. They play more because they want to hit the bonus.

You know, come to think of it, I lied when I said there are no looser machines. There are some looser machines in the casino.

Look at video poker paytables. In every casino, you can find multiple paytables offered within a denomination. Some of these paytables have higher long-term paybacks than others.

The paytables with the higher long-term paybacks are the looser machines.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John  Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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