Slot machine questions

I was recently visiting friends in the St. Louis area. On a scenic drive we passed within view of what I took to be a tourist riverboat but what in fact was a floating casino. My friend Shirley told me that it has hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of slot machines that are exceedingly popular with people of retirement age, especially women. Apparently, this place has had recurring problems with women peeing on the carpet because they wouldn’t take a short break to visit the loo.

I’m definitely impaired when it come to casino gambling - I really have a hard time understanding the appeal of playing a game rigged against you and in favor of billionaire casino owners. I don’t tend to go there, so perhaps someone can help me understand:

  • Why are some casinos on boats (that apparently never sail), rather than on shore?

  • Is my friend correct that slot machines appeal disproportinately to older women? Is so, does anyone know why? Are any statistics on the demographics of gamplers published?

  • Why would a slot machine player pass up a 3-minute bathroom break when nature calls? Are these machines set up to be more or less likely to pay off according to circumstances (I was under the impression that they were required to be as close to purely random as possible.)

  • Just how profitable are these machines? (Hideously, I know - but are actual figures published?)

Some states, in an effort to legalize gambling but not make it too legal, merely changed their laws to ban gambling on land. Thus the riverboat gambling industry was born. Eventually, they just started building giant, stationary barges on the rivers to put casinos in.

There do seem to be a disproportinately large number of old women playing slots at casinos I’ve been to. To hazard a guess, I’d say it’s appealing because there’s no social interaction and you can play at your own pace. Perhaps this gives an illusion of control over the game.

They are compulsive gamblers. They don’t want to give up thier “lucky” machine, or believe it’s the right time of day to hit the jackpot. I’ve known people who inisted that pushing the button in the upper left corner gave them better odds.

In the UK, the machines in pubs (typically limited to a £15 jackpot) are required to have a label stating the exact minimum odds of payour - typically it’s something around 70% of money is paid out. Not horrible odds, if you enjoy gambling.

What the manufacturers seem to have tapped into is the tendency of players to anthropomorphise the machine…“it’s waiting for me to leave”, “it’s trying to make me bet high”, etc…all controlled by on-off logic switches, but the effect it has on people is overpowering.


  • Just how profitable are these machines? (Hideously, I know - but are actual figures published?)

I was thumbing through a magazine that adorns every room in Atlantic City…gambling related, naturally…and an article stated that EACH machine in a casino makes a yearly profit for the casino, on average, of $80000.00. (That’s eighty thousand, folks)

The N.Y. Daily News, in it’s Sunday editions, has a page advertising the celebrities that are appearing that week in the Atlantic City casinos. In a little box, on that page, is the payout averages at all the casinos, on nickle machines right on up to the five and ten dollar machines. I have never seen a percentage of payout that was less than 90%. A few are listed at 93%.

And people actually bought the argument that a floating casino is somehow different from one that’s aground? Sounds like one of those great moments in the history of dubious logic.

I don’t really know, but I would not be at all surprised if friedo is right

I don’t go to the casino much either (seems like a horrible waste of cash) but in the few trips I have taken there did seem to be a rather large number of older ladies compared to everyone else.

They are random (or, at least are supposed to be) but that does not mean people are not convinced there is a pattern, or that they pay out after so long, or that some machines are better. I’ve never heard of anyone actually wetting themselves though and I would suspect your friend is maybe exaggerating a bit about it being a big problem. (allthough, on second though, if I worked there even 1 person would be a big problem :wink: )

Don’t know how true it is, but I once talked to a guy who worked at a casino in windsor and he said they made the vast majority of their money from the slots, more then everything else combined. Even if the payout is 90%, you can burn thru money alot faster then you might think and with all the machines they have that 10% adds up fast, not to mention alot of people stick everything they win right back in hopeing for the big jackpot

Some states have put their foot down and insist that the riverboats MUST move once a day (i.e., Louisiana). So, every day, the boat cruises up the shore a ways and back to its dock. Ironically, I think the casino closes down while the boat moves.

In Mississippi, there is another reason why the casinos are built on barges. The waterfront areas in Gulfport and Biloxi never recovered after hurricane Camille hit in 1969 (category 5/190mph winds/24ft storm surge/killed 137 people and 8,000 animals). Forcing the casinos to build on barges along the waterfront effectively removed the eyesore the area had become. Pictures of some of the devastation can be found here:

Not sure about figures but how do you think they pay for all those fabulous hotels in Vegas. Slots are their biggest money makers. And it’s not just from old women!
I’ve read that a typical slot machine keeps 8 cents of every dollar bet to be split between the house and the state. (But I’ve seen the casinos ad say they pay off 96%… ? )

Twenty years ago the slot machine accounted for 30 percent of the casinos profits. Today it accounts for about 70 percent.

Other jurisdictions may vary, but in Nevada gaming machines (slot machine, poker machines, any mechanical gaming device as opposed to table games) must pay back 75% of the play through them. In practice, competition has kept the percentages higher. If you want to buy a slot machine from IGT (A big Nevada manufacturer) with a payback lower than 82%, they’ll have to cook up a special payback table for you.

The casinos, naturally, look at the percentage the other way and talk about the ‘hold’ of a machine, the amount it is expected to retain over the long haul. Those ‘tight’ 82% payback machines, for example are described as having 18% hold while a 96% payback would be 4%.

Casinos also look at what’s called action, that is, the amount of cash-flow, through a machine. That’s why they can be more ‘generous’ with the higher denomination machines. Example: a guy comes up to an 18% hold nickel slot, and puts 1,000 nickels through it ($50). Over the long haul, the machine will keep $9. A guy walks up to a 4% hold dollar slot and puts 1,000 dollars through it. The machine keeps $40. Play time for both is about the same. (Same number of coins) As a casino manager, who would you prefer to see walk through the door?

Percentage-wise, live Keno makes more money, but it takes an awful lot of keno players to equal a 1,500 slot floor. That’s moderately large for Reno, pretty eensy for Las Vegas.


I’m hazarding a guess, here; but at least in my particular state (where we have riverboat casinos), there’s a whole lot less water than land, so restricting casinos to water vastly limits how much room there is for them, and voila! Less casinos.

So the logic may not be as dubious as it first appears.

My mother worked in casino for many years and had some great stories. The person wetting themselves to stay on a machine happens. It may not be often but it does happen. The worst case she saw of not wanting to leave a machine was the following:

Husband and wife are playing two seperate machines next to each other.
Wife goes into diabetic attack(sorry, don’t know the proper term for this).
Husband yells for help.
Husband keeps playing machine.

Some people have serious problems.

“Some states have put their foot down and insist that the riverboats MUST move once a day (i.e., Louisiana). So, every day, the boat cruises up the shore a ways and back to its dock. Ironically, I think the casino closes down while the boat moves.”

That law is gone in Louisiana. Boats no longer have to sail.

I have heard (but can’t cite) that one reason for riverboat casinos is that portions of the Mississippi River are considered federal “land”, and therefore not under the direct jurisdiction of the state. This at least sounds more plausible than “just because”.

AFAIK, most states gaming commissions keep public records of detailed gaming stats, which include a casino’s gross receipts and payouts broken down by individual games. Illinois does. Indiana does. And Missouri does. I presume most other states do, too.
Here’s Missouri’s latest (June 2004) stats for riverboat slots.

As you can see, it’s broken down by boat. Just look in the Actual Payout % column to find the numbers you’re looking for. In general, slots payout at around 85-95%. Usually, the penny slots are worst for payoffs, while the higher denomination ones ($10-20) payoff at closer to 95% rates.

Looking through the website, it looks like the average payout across riverboats and all different denominations of slot machines in Missouri is about 92-93%