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Can poker machine players pick when a payout is coming?

Thu, Jul 18, 5:02am by Staff Writer

It is a common sight on casino floors.

Patrons that jump from one slot machine to the next before eventually settling down at a game that’s due for the next big payout.

Can players, even the regulars who frequently a particular property, really tell the difference between the house edge on one game from that of another?

A series of studies led by University of Nevada Las Vegas professor and former gaming industry operations analyst Anthony Lucas has revealed that they can’t. reports that for the past several years, Lucas and colleague Katherine Spilde from San Diego State University have taken to casino floors on multiple properties in the United States, Australia and Mexico to investigate.

Their results contradict the long-held beliefs of casino operators about a player’s ability to detect difference in how much – and how often- a slot machine pays out.

“I think some operators are naturally and understandably cautious of new information that challenges traditional industry practices,” Mr Lucas said.

“But we must consider how we know what we know. This is where our work takes on a Moneyball-like aspect – questioning the wisdom of widely held beliefs when data show that a new way of thinking may be better,” he said.

In their latest study, the UNLV-led research team compared two pairs of reel slot games at a “locals” casino in suburban Sydney, where all wagering occurs on electronic gaming devices.

Their process is straightforward. They take two identical slot machines, positioned in similar places on a casino floor, but vary the par – the percent of total coin-in that the machine keeps over time.

For example, if the par on a game were set at 10 per cent, the machine would be expected to retain $10 of every $100 wagered, on average, over the long term.

In the short term though, this rarely happens, increasing the difficulty of par detection.

For this study, researchers compared the daily performance of pairings for the games Tokyo Rose and Dragon’s Fortune X over a nine-month period.

A range of pars as casinos look to maximise profits

The pars within each pairing ranged from 7.98 per cent on the low end to 14.93 per cent on the high end.

As Mr Lucas predicted, differences between the high and low par game remained stable throughout the length of the study, which meant that there was no statistically significant indication of play migration.

The results were also consistent with findings from the team’s previous studies, which analysed 11 pairs of games over 180 days at gaming properties in the United States, Mexico and Australia.

Pars are an important factor for casinos looking to optimise revenues, as the bulk of slot revenues come from reel slots and a lion’s share of a casino’s overall profits come from slot operations.

While there are exceptions to this rule, it is true for most of the world’s casinos.

“Ultimately, operators are responsible for optimising slot revenues, which is no simple task,” Mr Lucas said.

“Knowing which par will produce the greatest win is most helpful, but the optimization issue becomes more complex when the possibility of player detection is introduced,” he said.

Despite these factors, the results still found no evidence of players moving away from higher-par machines to their low-par counterparts, and the high-par games continued to post substantially greater revenues.

“Put simply, our results suggest that greater pars produce greater revenues, without the risk of brand damage resulting from ‘price’ detection,” Mr Lucas said.

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