Thursday, May 20, 2010

Slots can make you rich unless there's a glitch

OK, so here's a question for everyone who has ever been into a casino to play a slot machine or who has played online. Why did you do it? The answers will all have differences in the detail, but the simple truth is easy to write. You want to win some money. There's this machine. It's got a simple system for deciding when you win. In old technology, there were physical reels turning. Now we have video technology. You get to see the representation of the different characters turning. There's an air of breathless excitement. You watch the key numbers or symbols pass ever more slowly in front of your eyes. Just one or two more turns and you'll hit the jackpot. Ah, so close! You were within touching distance of millions of dollars. If only you'd been able to reach out with your mind to just push one wheel through one more turn to the pay line. But the fact you did come so close means you could win next time. If your luck is in. And the stake for each spin of the virtual wheels is so small. And the winnings are so much, they will clear all your losses to date and leave you with cash in hand. Some of those combinations make you rich. But then there are the few combinations that make you even richer. And then there's the jackpot itself. Your heart races and you think what you could do with that big a pile of cash. Yes, your answers would be something like that - it' exciting to anticipate a win.

So let's all have a moment of sympathy for Louise Chavez. She's a resident of Denver, but was visiting Central City, Colorado. Having taken in the local scenery, she had settled into The Fortune Valley Casino. The slot machines were all lined up and she was ready to hit the big time. Time passed and then came the experience everyone dreams about. The reels settled into place and the light on top of the machine lit up. As every player knows, this tells you and everyone watching you have just picked up the jackpot. In this case, she imagined she had won the Phantom Jackpot which was standing at a mere $43 million. The other players gathered round. Casino employees rushed over. And Louise Chavez was partying. It was her birthday and she had just been given the very bestest present in the world.

That's why she was more than a little angry when the casino told her there was a computer glitch. She had not actually won anything. That's a rapid makeover from multimillionaire to a big zero in one sentence. Now let's be honest. It's always possible for a computer to foul up. There are all these lines of code and, at any time, one of them can just decide to play a game with our heads. It doesn't matter whether you're in the real world or playing slots online, a machine error can catch you out. What makes this interesting is the idea of a "phantom" jackpot. The pay lines for conventional slots are always clear. Are the rules for winning phantom jackpots always so clear? Presumably the state gaming officials will publish a report and confirm this phantom jackpot system is fair, can be won and is not a scam. No matter where you play slots, you always need confidence the computers are programmed to give you a fair chance of winning. As it stands, this is a PR disaster for the casino.

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