Slot – A New Book by Elizabeth Schull


A narrow notch, groove or slit. In computer science, a slot is an area on a circuit board into which a module can be inserted. Also used to refer to an available time period on a schedule or program. The word is derived from the Latin “slot” meaning a division of time or space:

Slot is a new book by journalist Elizabeth Schull, who spent 15 years at MIT tracking the evolution of slot machines — once thought of as arcade devices only played by old ladies. Schull examines how these machines have changed the gambling industry, and how the games themselves use psychological insights to become surprisingly addictive.

The book explores how video slots are engineered to keep players betting and playing indefinitely. It describes how machines are designed to provide a small taste of victory at the end of every spin, even when the player hasn’t won anything large. These “tastes” are what keep players seated and continuing to place bets. The book also explores how the game design is evolving, with digital slot machines that are becoming more sophisticated.

One example is the ability to display a different symbol on each reel. This can increase the chances of a big win and can also trigger an enticing bonus round. Another trend is the use of social media to promote the games. Players can share their scores on Facebook or Twitter, which increases the game’s visibility and helps generate buzz.

Despite their relatively low house edge, slot machines are very profitable for casinos. They bring in about 85 percent of all casino profits. In addition, they’re the most addictive form of casino entertainment, and studies show that people who play them are at risk for serious gambling problems.

Psychologists Robert Breen and Marc Zimmerman have found that video slot machine players reach debilitating levels of involvement with gambling three times as quickly as people who play other casino games. And the 2011 60 Minutes report “Slot Machines: The Big Gamble” focused on the link between these machines and addiction.

While most states prohibit private ownership of slot machines, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah do not. In most of the rest of the country, casinos are required to set aside a percentage of their total revenue for the operation of slot machines. And while there are many reasons for this regulation, one of the most important is the fact that casino owners fear that raising the price of their slot machines will cause them to lose their market share. In fact, some operators actually resist increasing the payouts on their machines, fearing that players can detect these hidden price increases. And if they perceive that the house advantage is too high, they may move to another casino. This can be very costly for a business.

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