The slots at the CosmopolitanDec. 21, 2012 -- I know educated, high-functioning, otherwise reasonable people who will swear slot machines can think. Not only can they think, these people will insist they can outwit you.
Truth is: there is no ghost in the machine. Slot machines run through a random number generator, which continues to sort numbers by the millisecond, even when it's sitting idle. It can't outwit you, but it can run faster: spinning through number cycles in milliseconds, and more quickly than human reaction time. When a player pushes the button, selects a sequence of numbers. It's that simple. It doesn't figure out whether or not you have a rewards card, and it doesn't try to outsmart you.
"Sometimes even people who know slot machines are computerized react to them as if they were alive," says Natasha Dow Schull, an anthropologist and professor at MIT, who has studied slot machines and their designs for years.
Some players claim to be able to recognize cycles on whether a certain machine will keep you entertained longer than others. In his book, "Surviving Penny Slots," Hal Bishop says machines go through winning cycles. He says to play $5 at a time. If the machine starts eating your money too quickly, move onto the next, until you find that doles out small wins and allows you to play longer. While players may believe this, each spin is random and independent from the next. In the long run, you can't win.
I went to the Cosmopolitan simply for the atmosphere. It's a beautiful casino, so I wore a pair of my flashiest shoes.
- Before I had put my rewards card in the machine, Megan, the cocktail server, came by and asked me if I needed a drink -- the quickest service of any of my gaming nights yet. I ordered a Fat Tire and started playing "Buffalo," by Aristocrat. I'd heard it was one of the most popular slots on the casino floor.
The machine had visual graphics of moving Buffalos on the reals and surround sound of galloping hoofs. It also ate my money like prairie grass. I moved to another machine and lost my next $5. Following Bishop's advice, I tried another machine, looking for the elusive one in a "winning cycle." I landed at Li'l Red by WMS is part of what the company labels its "Colossal Reel" machine where you can play multiple lines and columns at a time. I kept my bets low on the penny machine, as a young woman started chatting to me.
- "Are you winning?" the woman wearing short shorts and torn fishnet stockings asked. She was sitting at the next machine, not playing, just trying to start a conversation. She may have been a prostitute. Or just bored. No, I wasn't winning. This machine kept giving me small returns but again took my money. On the two Buffalo machines and the Li'l Red, I had played only 10 minutes, costing me $20. I found yet a third Buffalo machine. I don't know why I kept trying those. But that one hit bonuses and free games. My $5 investment lasted 28 minutes. Megan brought me another beer.
I gave one more machine a try. This one: "Greenback Attack" by IGT. I hit my biggest "win" of the night -- almost $20.
- I switched from my small wagers and hit a few maximum bets, because there's a change you could win $100,000 jackpot. I lost my last $25, but I was able to play another 21 minutes.
By the end, I played in the casino for more than an hour and racked up 50 points on my Identity card. Since I was still playing on the first trip's black jack winnings, I still had yet to spend my own money. Through three trips, I have received two hours of casino play, and it cost me nothing. So far, the slots have been a sure-fire loser, but they've allow me to play longer for the money than the table games.