Clearing up the smoke surrounding slots

Slot machines are by far the most popular form of casino gambling, on average bringing in about 70 percent of a casino’s revenue.

With their popularity comes a jackpot of myths and superstitions. Gaming industry leaders agree that despite advances in technology and the proliferation of game types, the Nevada-style machines found in most parts of the U.S. operate the same way. On early machines, wheels spun and stopped randomly; today, a computer acts like a virtual wheel.

Winning is a chance event, but, “There is still competition in slot payouts,” says Russell Kinney, vice president of slots at Cache Creek Casino Resort.

Interstate 80 from the Bay Area to Reno used to be dotted with billboards advertising various “90-plus percent” slot payouts.

What that means is that in a machine advertising a 97 percent payout, out of every $1 played over time, $0.97 comes back to the player. The key here is “over time.” Infinity is a long time.

Those casino payouts still “vary from property to property, by region, and by state,” Kinney says. Strictly Slots magazine regularly publishes a list of the casinos with the highest payouts.

Most people gamble for the same reason as  those who play golf — recreation.

“Amenities make a big difference as well,” Kinney says. “Having a well-trained, friendly staff and providing good customer service helps us, as well as the fact that we offer a hotel, spa, golf course, entertainment venue, poker room and nine restaurants. The more amenities a property has, the more competitive they will be in the market.”

The first slots were mechanical devices that would take in tokens and pay out cigars, candy or gum. And the first successful slots were invented in San Francisco in the late 1880s by Charles Fey and Theodore Holtz. A Strictly Slots magazine article reports the men went their separate ways, remaining friends, and ultimately Fey’s design dominated.

By the 1920s, these devices with spinning reels were paying out coins, and the selection increased to three and four wheels, multiple ways of winning, poker and Keno.

By the ’60s and ’70s, electronics and computer technology entered the picture, and the sophistication and variety of the games multiplied. Slots are tied in with popular movies, games (think “Wheel of Fortune”) and themes (“Monopoly”). Mechanical machines are now novelties.

Most slots today won’t even accept or pay out coins, eliminating a huge logistical burden on casino operators and ending the random opportunity of the player with a single, loose coin to play.

Slots are about to enter a new phase. When MGM Mirage opens the $8 billion Las Vegas CityCenter Las Vegas Strip this year, a new International Game Technology “server-based” gaming network will open at the ARIA Resort & Casino.

The machines will look the same, but the casino will be able to reconfigure slots without overhauling the machine. With a player club card connected, the house will be able to tailor marketing to individual players.

From the machine, players will be able to see their account balances and get entertainment and dining information.


All about slot machines

– International Game Technology (IGT), a $2.5 billion Reno-based company, is the largest slot machine maker. An 86-page book on its Web site, “Introduction to Slots and Video Gaming,” explains the mechanics of slot machines and the slot business in detail. Visit

– Strictly Slots and Casino Player magazines both have information from the player’s perspective. Visit


Slot myths debunked

1. Using a player’s club card won’t affect whether you win, but when you use the club card, you accumulate points to get comps for food, hotel rooms and other items, including free slot play.
2. Because every play of the machine is random, the same machine can give back-to-back payouts, so there’s no need to avoid a machine that just paid a big jackpot.
3. “Big Bertha” and other types of novelty machines should be considered just that: “You are better off playing other types of slots.”
4. You cannot outlast a machine. The level of payout, however, depends on the player. That is why you should always play the maximum bet in case you do hit a jackpot to assure that you are receiving the maximum payout possible.

— Russell Kinney


One good tip

Russell Kinney, vice president of slots at Cache Creek Casino Resort, advises that because each pull of the machine is random, “You need to move around frequently from machine to machine to maximize your chance of success.”


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