Why it Hurts Everyone (Except Ploppies-Part 2)
In the first of these Articles, we explored the process of determining whether or not a must-hit machine is playable, and a few of the theories that one can use to determine the, 'Jump in,' point for such a machine. Toward the end of the Article, we explored my theory for the evolution of a particular play from being, 'Random slot machine,' to, 'Advantageous slot machine.' I theorize that this occurs in four separate but not necessarily totally distinct (depends on the player) stages, so let's take a quick look at those:
Stage One: Ploppies who are essentially picking a random slot machine and certifiably insane people who think these machines are more likely to hit when the meters are low. Also, people who have played the game, liked it, and are not particularly concerned with the meter situation.
Stage Two: More ploppies, people who think the Progressive being halfway (or more) between the starting point and the must-hit point is automatically a good thing.
Stage Three: Everyone in the second stage, and people who, 'Have the right idea,' but who are actually jumping in at entirely too low of a number.
Stage Four: Likely advantageous or definitely advantageous machine.
Interestingly enough, while an over saturation of must-hit machines on the casino floor is a negative for both the AP's and the casinos, it actually helps the ploppies in both the second and third stages of the game. Before we get into the why, we have to take a look at why these machines likely became popular enough to be able to become over saturated in the first place:
Slot machines, including uncapped (i.e. not must-hit) Progressives are a world of a player not knowing anything. Sitting down, a player doesn't know whether he/she will lose $50 in a span of five minutes, or in utter contrast, hit the top payout on the first spin of the game. It is this uncertainty that makes slot machines exciting for the people who play them, if the player knew that he/she was going to lose $0.30 of every $3.00 (or whatever amount) on every single spin...which they do in the long run, anyway...the player would likely not sit down at the machine. Is it really worth $0.30 to watch a bunch of symbols spin around for a second-and-a-half and land somewhere with no prospect of winning money involved?
However, when these must-hit slot machines came out, they offered a small measure of certainty. While the vast majority of everything in the previous paragraph remains true, the slot manufacturers took one aspect of the game and made it semi-predictable. Hell, in the sense of the maximum amount of coin-in that it will take to cause the must-hit meter in question to hit, it's 100% certain. This gave the players something to watch as they might play several hundred spins, be up $150, notice that the meter has moved a dollar or two and think, "Wow, that's not so hard, now is it?" As a result, many players would gravitate to these machines when one was available, and besides, some of the players prefer the base game on these machines compared to other machines as is true of any other casino game.
Without doing any math, though, a player can see a must-hit Major at the start point and think to himself or herself, "Wow, I don't have much chance of hitting that." Unfortunately, the casinos and AP's need those particular players to believe exactly the opposite.
Why it Hurts the Casinos
One of the key components of running a successful casino is to effectuate a player spending (or playing) money that the player did not originally intend to spend. This is no different than any other industry. As a hotel manager, for example, I try to sell people on my Jacuzzi Suites when they come in asking for a regular room, but I'll obviously rent the regular room if I must. If a player sets a gambling budget of $100, 'This is the most I'm willing to lose,' and the player loses that and walks out, then the casino has done a more-or-less sufficient job, (like me renting a regular room) but it would have liked to have accomplished more. This is similar to the concept of an, 'Upsell,' in any sales job.
In any case, when the must-hit machines were more scarce, but people enjoyed the games, then people would get on the machines and drive them to greater, though not advantageous, levels. At this point, the same player might dig into his/her wallet with money that he/she did not originally intend to spend under the belief, 'I should be able to get that,' or perhaps, 'Look how much money I put on this for the next person, that's not good.' Alternatively, perhaps other players who could define the word, 'Advantage,' but not the word, 'Mathematics,' would get on these scarce machines that had been boosted to higher, though not playable, levels by the people who simply didn't care and would themselves drive up the meters.
The problem for the casinos with an over saturation of these machines is two-fold: First of all, the machines that the casino DOES have end up with greater numbers on them less frequently (because there are more machines) and secondly, in a very closely related problem, all of the machines on the entire floor look like garbage because none of them have top meters that are even 20% of the way to the must-hit point!
The entire concept behind these machines that made them successful (and why I think they are actually at the point of over saturation where people seem to PREFER other machines) is in the fact that they appeared to be potentially beatable when they were nowhere close. Most importantly, however, the machines would actually get the player actively invested in them. People did not want to drive up the meter several dollars and then have to give the machine to someone else, they sat there and played the game for hours and lost all that money getting the machine to that point, and now someone else is going to hit the jackpot that belongs to them!
Off to the ATM, right? Maybe not always, but certainly sometimes.
That's where having a slight scarcity of these machines benefits the casino, finding that balance is important. What these machines do, that many other machines can't, is that they get the more disciplined people (often referred to as, 'Tight,' in sales work) to part with more money on that particular visit than they otherwise would have. While it is easy to get some people to do that...the guy who says, "If I lose this last twenty, I'm done," who loses the last twenty in five minutes and you see coming right back with a fresh $100 bill from the ATM five minutes after that...some people are more difficult sells than others. When I sold furniture, I often remember customers commenting, "Damn, I only planned to spend $800 or less, but that really seems like a great mattress and I'm going to have it for 15 years or more, so what's another $400?"
Unfortunately for the casinos, if you over saturate the floor with these types of machines, then the machines are not going to have the opportunity to have that effect as frequently. What play at the early stages of the jackpots these machines do get is going to be more spread out among all the must-hit machines thereby causing them to reach whatever level someone who doesn't know better would play at more slowly. In the first Article, I bemoaned how infrequently I see these machines at an advantage these days...some people could just as easily bemoan not seeing Majors over $400, because that doesn't seem to happen very often anymore, either.
Ultimately, the people who would have pulled out more money than planned to attack the casinos' negative expectation games simply revert to losing the amount of money they planned to lose. Once again, that's a better result than the people looking around the casino and walking out, the casino made A SALE, but they didn't make a GOOD SALE.
...And Sucks for the AP's
It should be obvious from the previous section, but quite simply, the AP's don't get as many plays on these machines as they once would have. If the machines aren't getting to improved, but still patently unplayable, levels frequently; then they certainly aren't achieving beatable meters with any greater frequency.
There's also a little bit more to it than that: I think that an added effect of all of this is the fact that the Stage Three, "Right idea, wrong math," players get to whatever their play points are less frequently, and therefore, are even more determined than before to stick it out until the meter pops. That is a negative for the AP's who are playing these at correct times because there might have been a time that the Stage Three players were just a little bit more likely to give up thinking, 'It won't be that long until I have another chance at one of these machines.'
...But Good for the Ploppies
The fact that these machines achieve what are erroneously interpreted as playable levels for the Stage Two and Stage Three players less frequently saves them money. These players are making fewer investments, and as such, have fewer opportunities to get attached to set investments thereby resulting in them chasing bad money with good money. Less chasing = more saving.
What is the Solution?
The solution is not as simple as looking at the coin-in of these machines over time and making sure they are making as much money as the other slot machines on the floor because they should be making more than that due to their very concept. These machines were designed to SELL the players on the must-hit jackpots, which is why said jackpots are invariably featured so dynamically on the top of the machine. These machines were meant to make more money off of the average player than the other machines on the floor by getting them invested in the amounts by which they increased the meter during play.
In analyzing how many machines of this nature that a casino should have on the floor, I would be inclined to look at not only the amount of money that is held by these machines compared to others, but I would also place a lot of value in looking at the average spend per player on these machines during a session. As a casino, you shouldn't want to purchase/lease a bunch of expensive new must-hit machines that are only destined to hold AS WELL as the other machines on the floor. The machines that the casino already had could have done that. I would fully expect my must-hit machines to have a greater average spend on a per player basis, and therefore, to hold more money than my other slot machines on the floor.
How can this happen? I'll tell you: As a casino, I don't want 95% of my must-hit machines with a Major between $250-$500 to be perpetually at sub-$350 levels, I want them to all be at that halfway point more often than not, because then I know they are getting action that is quite likely disproportionate to the action that other machines get. When that happens, you know you have players invested in the game and in popping those must-hits. When the customer is loyal to the product, when the customer is SOLD on the product, the customer is willing to spend more money on the product. It really is as simple as that.