Slot Machines – The “Near Miss” Trick

How many times have you been sitting down at your favorite slot machine just spinning away trying to hit the ‘big one’ when you hear that all knowing ***groan*** from just a few chairs down. You look over already knowing what you’re about to see…7-7-7, all in the window, but none on he pay line. How is it that I already knew what I was about to see? Because it happens way too often, and some would say that this is by design to generate excitement among the players that the machine is about to hit.

I’m not a big one for citing studies because I think more than half of the time these so-called ‘experts’ just make up junk to justify their obscure existences. However there are those times when I stumble across a study that reinforces my personal observations and reasoning, The gaming industry also invests a ton of money into studying gambling psychology, so maybe there is something to this.

Some scientists were commissioned to do a study on the effects that ‘near misses’ have on gamblers. It can be found in Neuron for anyone that cares. Anyway, what they found was that a Near Miss generated more brain activity in the pleasure areas of the brain than a win. Go figure. The brain reacts in strange ways. I would have to agree with their conclusions just based on my observations of gamblers in general. I’ve seen people hit a big win or even a Jackpot, and relatively speaking they are a ‘cool as a cucumber’ compared to those near miss spins. I guess that when you hit a big win, the excitement is over… you’ve done it. Whereas with a near miss you’re still on a quest and now you’re feeling like you’re one step closer. For whatever the reason, the casinos and the slot manufactures have picked up on it and have made good use of it to keep players glued to their seats and wallets open.

Well, that’s ‘deceptive’ you say. ‘They would be crucified in any other industry for such practices. There should be laws against that.’ Guess what…THERE IS, but that’s not the end of the story.

A Japanese slot machine manufacturer name Universal Distributing had slot machines approved and in use throughout the state of Nevada. It wasn’t until 1988 that the state regulators discovered that the company had programmed a feature into their games that for a non-winning spin at times they would force two of the jackpot symbols on the pay line, and the 3rd one either right above or right below the pay line. There were no laws against this at the time, but needless to say it caused a bit of commotion and resulted in a number of hearings to discuss the issue. Consequently, regulation 14 of the Nevada gaming laws (which applies to the manufacturer and distributors of gaming devices) was amended in 1989 to prevent this activity.

So, that about sums it up, right? Wrong! Have you forgotten about the VIRTUAL REELS?  Has anyone actually DEFINED what a near miss is?  The law prevented the likes of Universal Distributing as well as any slot machine manufacturer from explicitly selecting specific symbols or stop points from being displayed if it was not the result of a random action. They could no longer say, “the spin is not a winner, so I can display any non-winning combination that I like”. What it doesn’t prevent is the inherent bias that necessarily has to be built into Virtual Reels.

Here’s the thing…the Virtual Reels have may more defined stop points than the physical reels. Each outcome from the virtual reels must be mapped to the physical reels so that it can ‘display an accurate representation of the game outcome’ as stated in the regulation. So, the way the manufacturers can get around THE INTENT of the regulation is to define the Virtual Reels mappings with an inordinate number of stop points to the positions right above or right below the jackpot symbols. Everything is OK in accordance with the regulation because the outcome of the spin was decided at random AND the symbols displayed to the player were as per the virtual reels and not selected ‘by hand’. But because we can’t see how the virtual reels are defined, we don’t see that the stop points above and below the jackpot symbols have a higher probability of being involve in the outcome of a spin.

What does this mean to you as a player? It means that slot machines are still a lot of fun and can sometimes be profitable, but don’t even begin to think that a machine is about to hit based on what happened on the last spin. Each spin is a random event unrelated to what has happened previously. Stick to your budget and have fun…you might hit a winner, but don’t get sucked into the psychology of how the outcomes are displayed.

Trivia: Did you know that Video Slot Machines originated in Australia?

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