Slots hit the jackpot with new technology.
Flow analysis, not just for fluids
Placing the latest, greatest, most-advanced gaming machines in the right location is a challenge now met through CAD. The way a casino floor is designed could mean the success or failure of a game. IGT represents software called seePower from Compudigm International Ltd., Las Vegas, that lets casino owners track traffic flow through a casino, determining, for example, what games specific categories of players gravitate to, how much they play, and where they move to. What casino operators see looks a bit like a weather map. In one example, a screenshot shows banks of slot machines next to red contours that indicate heavy play, while blue/gray contours show cooler zones. "Casino floor design and slot placement are major elements," explains IGT's Ed Rogich, marketing vice president. "Casino operators have to ask themselves, 'Which of the 2,000 machines and five different companies, offering 10 new games a month, do I put on my floor? Where do they go? What stays and what goes?'"
seePower software takes the massive amounts of data casinos collect and transforms it into user-friendly pictures, explains Andrew Cardno, Compudigm's president and chief executive officer. Inputs to the program come from information gleaned from player-tracking cards, which show players' movement over time. "The key output," explains Cardno, "is a moving heat map showing player-movement patterns. Operators use this to connect individual player patterns to individual machine behaviors."
Many casinos are seeing the benefits of such software. For example, seePower is a component of Harrahs' slot-floor management system. A Harrahs' spokesperson says the tools, in use at The Rio in Las Vegas, helped that casino's slot team revise its mix of machines so they were more compatible with the preferences of its best customers. The result: slot win in Q3 at The Rio was up 12%, even with 400 fewer slot machines. (The team cut the number of machines on the floor to make room for other offerings.) Overall, slot win per unit at The Rio jumped 45%.
Percentages mean a lot in the gambling world. Gaming machines are built on, and regulated by, payback percentages or how much money gets paid back to players from the amount the machines take in. Casinos keep a running tally of these numbers and report back to the gaming regulatory bodies on a weekly basis. Most gaming jurisdictions require payback percentages to be a certain level (usually about 75%), but actual percentages are usually much higher due to intense casino competition. The general rule of thumb is, the more a player bets on each spin, the higher the payback percentage. For example, dollar players get a higher payback percentage, typically 93 to 97%, then, say, nickel players because they are wagering more money. Slots are often called "loose" or "tight" depending if the payback percentages are high or low, respectively.
Pull the handle, cross your fingers
Modern slot machines create the illusion that pulling the arm determines the outcome. In reality, it is the computer that determines where the reels stop and who wins when. With the random numbers captured, a computer program reduces them (one for each reel) to a certain range. The result from that calculation is used to address a stored table of numbers in the computer. Those numbers correspond to stop locations on the reels. By manipulating that table, odds of winning increase or decrease.
For example, suppose the random number is reduced to a range from 0 to 31. This can be thought of as a virtual software-generated reel that has 32 stops. Now suppose the actual reel you see has only 10 stops. The virtual wheel value serves as an address to access one of the 10 stops stored in the table. Because there are more virtual stops than actual stops, several virtual stops correspond with each actual stop. But typically, the top payout symbol or stop on an actual reel corresponds to only one virtual stop.
The odds of winning correspond to the number of virtual stops, not actual stops. So in this example, the odds are not one in 10 of hitting the jackpot logo, but one in 32 (32 virtual stops compared to 10 actual stops). That is true for each reel. If it is a three-reel machine, the odds of hitting the top jackpot are one in (32 3 32 3 32), or 32,768. For higher-jackpot games, the division number (and virtual stops) may be higher -- typical division numbers are 32, 64, 128, 256, or 512.
The computer also controls stepper motors that drive the wheels to display symbols corresponding to the value drawn from the numbers table. The result is a configuration of symbols. If the reel configuration matches the stored winning configurations, the computer instructs the machine to pay out. If not, you've helped the casino stay in business.
The introduction of computers into slot machines allows all manner of bells and whistles. These include the ability to bet straight from credit accounts without the need for coins, and tie into casino slot-accounting and similar systems.