Certified Hot!

No, not me, likely as that would be, but the slot machines at the Soaring Eagle Casinos. Thanks to the—can we call it anything else?—hot tip from long-time reader BillB, we learn that the best place to loose your money at the slowest rate are at the casinos who have invented the phrase “Certified Hot™.”

The Only Midwest Casino That’s Certified Hot™!

Imagine hundreds of the hottest slots, all certified by their manufacturers to be set to the best paybacks guaranteed! Certified Hot™ paybacks are guaranteed to be the best by our slot manufacturers including IGT™, Bally™, WMS™ and Aristocrat™. It’s a player’s paradise: Longer play times! Higher payouts! More ways to win! Just look for machines with a Certified Hot slot topper and you’re getting a chance to play Certified Hot™.

Wow™, that’s a lot of trademarks™! Yes sir, step up to Bally’s™ “DBL JACKPOT TRIPLE BLAZING 7’S™”, slip one sweet dollar into this Certified Hot™ machine and…well, you’ll likely lose it. But you will have lost it knowing that you might not have because your machine was hot. Isn’t that a nice feeling?

I’m thinking of using this ad as an extra-credit problem for my Algebra Sans Algebra class, because we just went through a section on computing probabilities for simple gambles. I’ll ask what is the meaning of this phrase: “[slots] certified by their manufacturers to be set to the best paybacks guaranteed!”

In plain English, this must mean that if you slide a dollar through the crease, the same dollar is cranked through and spit out into the catch tray. That’s the highest possible payback; logically, no other payback scheme can beat this. It cannot be, for example, that for every dollar in two (or more) come out, because, of course, the machine would empty in short order. Thus, the “best” payback must be one for one.

Now, it’s a safe bet—get it? get it?—that the slots at Soaring Eagle are not returning every dollar given to them. This implies that the “best” paybacks are not best in any quantifiable sense, but “best” in some marketing sense.

Slot machines have (virtual) dials which can be turned so that varying percentages of each dollar are returned—on average. These dials do not include 100% as a possibility. The highest percentage is a number the manufacturer, working with its buyers (the casinos), chooses. Local laws might also dictate these settings. Bally’s™, for example, might choose 50% as a peak setting for a particular machine, with perhaps its lowest setting near 0%.

To be “certified” hot, the dial will arrive pre-set with the payback at 50%. And here’s where it becomes fun. This machine may sit adjacent to another with a higher payback, say 80%, but if this neighbor doesn’t have its dial set to the highest mark, it cannot be “certified hot™”

Thus, it is consistent with the language of the ad that gamblers can pick machines “certified hot™” where they will lose money at a faster rate than if they were to gamble at machines not so certified. Isn’t that grand?

I do not claim that any casino actually does this; I merely say that they could while being consistent with the advertising copy. Indeed, it appears that Soaring Eagle has deliberately included three or four dozen machines (many with one-cent denominations) that have higher on-average paybacks than neighboring machines. It’s not possible to know this with certainty, naturally, but we can infer it because the casino is careful to note the exact position of the each “certified hot™” machine. For example, our “DBL JACKPOT TRIPLE BLAZING 7’S™” is at location “1 15-05-01” (whatever that means). Why else would they be so precise?

We did not discuss what “on average” means, but we can leave it for another time, except to note that it doesn’t imply one single thing. There are many different payback schemes that can all have the same “on average” payback, but with each resulting in different “game play.”

I don’t want to take a gamble on ending with a bad joke, so I’ll just say goodbye for now.

1. DAV says:

50% takeout? Well, maybe, but usually only a government with its captive audience can get away with that much. Still, you’ve got the right idea. Unless some government entity gets involved (a highly likely occurrence), the takeout will rise to whatever the market will bear. Simple economics, really.

For those inclined to waste their money, the best machine (highest payback rate) will be next to the front door and will be the one that costs the most. It’s advertising.

2. Craig Goodrich says:

My home is in Vegas, and I don’t play the slots but from the word on the street —

— some of the loosest (=highest payback) slots are downtown, not on the Strip.
— 97% is about as loose as it gets; 95% is closer to average.
— don’t play the slots at the airport.

It is mind-boggling to think of the amount of money passing through these machines when one realizes that a new \$5 billion casino on the Strip is largely financed by pennies off the top of every dollar being played…

3. Doug M says:

It is possible to run a floor of slots which pay back more than 100% and still make money.

Most slots have some sort of jackpot that pays out only once every few years. Due to the time value of money, you earn intrerest on all of those silver dollars before you have to pay the jackpot. And you can put up a billboard that says 100.1% loose.

Once people are in the door, you can take their money at other games.

4. Nothing in the ad or here about the most enticing aspect of slots – the “ching, ching, winkle, winkle, ching” of their sound effect generators. Do a study on the effect of those and you’ll perform a service for humanity. A dry discussion of coin “returns” – whatever that is – means nothing to true devotees. It’s the acoustics that drive us mad.

I used to program slots (and card games) for an online casino or two. The paybacks are rigged. If the random number generator pulls a win you must check if the win exceeds the take so far (with pre-set ranges and other heuristics). If it does you just keep spinning the RNG until you get an acceptable value. It is certainly not random.

6. Doug M says:

49er,

The slot machine jingle of seemingly semi-random tones is a product of many years of study and evolution. What tune (if you can call it that) will tickle your inner obsessive demon to keep putting coins in the slot.

7. Katie says:

In my experience, what stops that impulse is the elimination of the cheery clatter of the *winning* coins—and replaced with a little ticket, as if I just went through the bottle-return roulette at the supermarket.

8. Doug M.

“Music hath charms to unburden the most substantial purse” seems the theme of the slot industry. Mrs. Dweet always tells me, “Listen, they’re playing our song” as we enter our favorite casinos. Maybe I’ll surprise her and place an appropriate slots ring tone on her cell phone this Christmas.