Slots: Praying to the God of Chance. David V. Forrest

I’m not who casinos want walking in the door since I don’t drink, smoke, use, or gamble. (Those first three I learned the hard way and decided long ago to never give gambling a chance.) But I will go into Vegas casinos to eat their great, cheap food, marvel at the gaudiness of it all, and to ponder the slots.

To get to the restaurants in a big casino you have to wander through deliberately roundabout paths with hundreds of slot machines to catch your eye. Casinos have no windows or clocks and the exits usually aren’t obvious. They want you to stay. And to play the slots.

David Forrest is a psychiatrist and recreational slots player. His book, Slots: Praying to the God of Chance, confirms what I’ve long suspected. Slots can put a spell on you. The fervor with which people play induces states of mind like religious and spiritual mysticism. ‘I am at one with the universe communing with the Goddess of Chance in hopes of a big progressive payoff.’ He says the rhythm at which people play slots often matches physiological rhythms of the body. Truly, slot players are in The Zone. Brain studies show the high they get can be similar to cocaine.

If the casino is the cathedral then slot players are the worshippers. They are, of course, required to tithe. Vegas slots must pay out at least 80% and most casinos pay out 90-95%. How profitable are slots for casinos? A casino developer spent $200 million in Palm Springs building a posh hotel next to his casino so he could comp his whales (big gamblers) there and not at another hotel. Slots account for 85% of his profit. In other words, he spent $200 million so people would be more likely to use his slots. Sure the table games can be much higher stakes, but it’s slots that pay for everything.

Even at a 95% payoff, you will lose in the long run, the author explains. Slots use truly random number generators to decide the spin, but the payoffs are predetermined. A slot machine is controlled by a computer chip inside it that is not connected to anything and which can only be changed or reprogrammed in the presence of a gaming commission official. A slot machine can not get hot and the length of time from the last big payoff has no influence on when the next big one will occur. This may be obvious to mathematicians and computer programmers like myself but apparently isn’t to most slot players. If the machine pays off at 95% you will lose in the long run.

Sometimes the religious mania gets too extreme and flips into addiction. The author has suggestions for how to know when you have a problem. But they are clearly from the view of a recreational user who has never been addicted.Once addiction starts, it feeds on itself.

Slots is a fascinating book, almost philosophy at times. Give it a read.