Gamblers struggle to detect payout percentages, study finds

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas study revealed gamblers can't discern slot machine payout variations, challenging long-standing casino beliefs.

Many a time, one can observe a peculiar dance of sorts in casinos: players flitting from one slot machine to another, in search of the elusive machine that’s set to deliver the next grand payout. Common folklore suggests that seasoned players, especially those loyal to a specific casino, can discern the difference between machines that offer higher odds of winning compared to others. However, a recent study debunks this widespread belief.

Deep Dive into the Study

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), embarked on a series of in-depth studies spearheaded by Anthony Lucas, a professor at UNLV’s Hospitality College and an ex-analyst of the gaming industry. Over several years, Lucas, alongside Katherine Spilde from San Diego State University, surveyed various casino floors spanning the U.S., Australia, and Mexico. Their objective? To ascertain if players truly possess the ability to detect the nuances in the payout frequencies and amounts of slot machines.

Lucas opines that many in the casino business might be wary of such revelations that challenge long-standing industry norms. He said, “While it’s understandable that operators might be hesitant about new insights that defy conventional wisdom, it’s crucial to reassess how we acquire knowledge. Our study brings a ‘Moneyball’ element into play, urging us to question widely accepted beliefs when empirical data suggests a fresh perspective might be more accurate.”

Methodology and Findings

The UNLV-led team conducted a comparison study of two sets of reel slot games at a suburban online casino. The games in question were “Tokyo Rose” and “Dragon’s Fortune X”.

The research methodology was rather simple but effective: use two identical slot machines placed similarly in a casino, but tweak the ‘par’ or the percentage of the total coin-in the machine retains over a duration. This variation, though easy to set, is hard to detect in short-term gaming, hence making the research all the more challenging and relevant.

The study spanned nine months, during which the research team compared the daily performances of the paired games. The variations in the pars of these games ranged from 7.98% at the lowest to 14.93% at the highest.

Lucas’s team then used the T-win formula (which multiplies the coin-in and par) to compute the machine’s expected value or its theoretical win. The intent was to ascertain if regular players could discern the differences in the pars of these machines over the duration of the study.

Contrary to popular belief, the results indicated no evident play migration based on par detection. Moreover, even though the low par machines witnessed higher coin-in during the research period, the high par machines registered a more substantial T-win on average.

Lucas noted, “It’s essential for casino operators to focus on the notable increase in T-win as their primary goal is to optimise revenues and not just coin-in.”

Implications for the Casino Industry

Why are these findings significant? The answer lies in the significance of pars for casinos. A majority of a casino’s slot revenues are generated from reel slots, contributing a significant portion of a casino’s total earnings.

Lucas adds, “Ensuring optimised slot revenues is no trivial task for operators. Recognising the most profitable par is beneficial, but the task becomes increasingly intricate when factoring in the potential for player detection.”

While the casino industry is divided on the topic, some believe that while higher pars might offer short-term gains, they could lead to long-term losses as players could gravitate towards more generous machines at competing venues.

To address this, the research duration was extended from six to nine months, and the par difference in the compared pairs was increased to further test the hypothesis.

Parallelly, the researchers also compared data from Australia with that from two casinos in Mexico. The latter had even steeper par differences. Yet, in both scenarios, no substantial evidence was found to suggest players migrated from high-par to low-par machines.

In conclusion, Lucas emphasised, “Simply put, our findings indicate that higher pars translate to increased revenues, without any discernible risk of alienating players due to price detection.”

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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