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The Reel Deal

Slot machines are games of pure chance, requiring no skill whatsoever. So why are casino-goers so enamored with all the bells and whistles?

Rob Harmon
February 1, 2017

Visit River Spirit Casino or any of Green Country’s other casinos, and you’re bound to see hundreds of slot machine players, in the zone, mesmerized by the machine in front of them, rhythmically pressing the spin button, eyes fixed in fervent anticipation. They seem to be under a spell, cast by the gods of luck.

Talk to these casino-goers, and they’ll tell you they love the thrill that comes from the possibility of winning big and taking home boat loads of cash. And why shouldn’t they? It’s fun to dream. Where else but a casino can you enjoy fun and entertainment and have a chance to also walk out with a lot of money? Ask that same person what it
is they love to do the most at the casino, and seven out of 10 times they’ll say, “the slots.”

Seventy percent of the money spent on gambling in the U.S. is spent at the slot machine. Americans spend five times more every year
at slot machines than they do going to the movie theater, and slot machines have now doubled the number of ATMs in America. at makes playing the slots among the most popular activities around, and it’s easy to play in Green Country.

Pat Crofts, CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos, understands well America’s love a air with the slot machine. “River Spirit Casino has approximately 3,200 electronic gaming machines,” he says. “Slot machines are the gaming choice with a lot of our customers, over the table games.”

Slot machines come with all kinds of bells and whistles, and every year game manufacturers seem to add more games with more features than ever before. But which slot machines do people prefer more?

“Our customers prefer the machines that pay out the most,” Crofts says. “When you can stay on a machine longer, get the most bang for your buck, then that’s the one you’ll enjoy yourself on." 

It’s not easy to hit it big at the casino, but if you take the chance, casinos like River Spirit can offer games that ratchet up the payoffs for the lucky winners.

‍Seventy percent of the money spent on gambling in the U.S. is spent at the slot machine.

“We have machines where you play against the individual machine with jackpots up to $25,000 and $50,000,” says Crofts. “And there are linked-progressive machines, a series of machines that are connected to other casinos around the state of Oklahoma, and those jackpots can be as much as a million dollars or more.”

There are many types of players too, says Crofts, depending on what games you like to play. “It’s all about preference,” he says. “Some people just go for the home run, and some people go for a whole lot of singles and the smaller jackpots, in order to stay on the slots longer.”

Of course, most players are perfectly aware that they’re likely to lose money. So, what is it about the slot machine that brings so many people to the casino? In a word: dopamine. To keep things simple, dopamine is a neurotransmitter created in the brain that helps you feel good. When your body is producing it effectively, your brain helps you enjoy pleasure, feelings of reward and overall emotional well-being. When your body doesn’t produce it properly, you’re more likely to feel depressed and anxious. Physically, low levels of dopamine can cause achy joints, extreme fatigue and even tremors.

Playing a slot machine can produce dopamine the way eating
a piece of chocolate cake or falling in love gives us that electric rush. It’s a similar chemical process to the one that comes
from exercising. After experiencing the rush, we do the thing again and wait in anticipation. We train our brains to expect rewards and our brains stand by, ready to produce dopamine as a response.

That’s how it works with slot machines too. We know we have a pretty good chance of losing the money we came in with, so we play and have fun, not expecting anything but a little fun. But after winning, our brains remember that rush, and dopamine is steadily produced in anticipation. Even if it’s been awhile since winning, our brain remembers the sights and sounds of the casino that were present while winning, so just walking into the casino can produce the same rush as the time you won it big.

“I play slots for the entertainment and the slight chance that
I might actually hit it big,” says Lisa Sandella, a slot machine enthusiast. “It can be hours of fun on the weekend, and if you break even at the end of the night, it really is free entertainment. My theory is...you have to play to win.” 

After a long work week, everyone loves to unwind and have fun. For many, the best place to do that is the casino. But just remember, as with nearly anything else, too much of a good thing could become unhealthy. So, here are a few things to consider when going out for a slot machine fix:

  • ‍Don’t gamble with money you can’t afford to lose. Take your fun money in with you, and don’t play with more money than that. Once your fun money is spent, call it quits for the night. 

  • Set a time limit and stick with it. When you’ve reached that limit, no matter how much money you have left (even if you have more than you started with), leave. 

  • Don’t play the slots if you’re feeling depressed. It may provide a temporary fix but can very easily add to any long-term problems you’re facing. 

  • Have fun.