Slot Machine: come mai restiamo incollati?

Have you ever played slot machines? In Italy we have 400,000 slot machines in which we put around 40 billion euros every year. Slot machines are everywhere: in cafés, in tobacconists, in gambling parlors and even online so that we can easily play while walking down the street. There are slot machines for all tastes! Sara is addicted to TV series after “Scrubs” and “Breaking Bad”, her current favorite one is “Game of Thrones”. And of course there is a slot machine inspired by it.

Paolo goes to deserted places populated by wild animals every time he has a chance to do it. That’s why a slot machine about the savannah could intrigue him. Diego is calm and gentle but anytime he’s tired or hungry, he becomes quick-tempered and belligerent. He might like the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde slot machine. According to article 110 of the “Unified Code of Public Security”, paragraphs A and B a slot machine player loses 15 cents or 26 cents for every euro played depending on the type of slot machine.

Therefore, the more we play, the more we lose. It’s mathematical, but it’s the law too! Why do so many people play if it is a bad deal?

There are some ingredients, created deliberately to keep us stuck to the slot machines. even when it’s clear that it’s not favorable. Let’s see how they work.

If a player loses too many times in a row, that player leaves the game. That’s why we must win often, while still losing on the long run. The solution is to let us win frequent low prizes. Psychologists call it “intermittent positive reinforcement” it has the effect to increase players’ will to play.

When we lose, we often get the feeling of having nearly won. This feeling provokes a cognitive frustration which makes us want to place the next bet. With the latest slot machines, there can be just 2 seconds between a bet and the following one. The pace is too frenetic to allow our self-control to activate. That makes it easy to lose the understanding of what’s happening. Big bets are allowed the latest slot machines accept 500 euros bills.

On this slot I can bet 50 euros at a time, losing 500 euros could be pretty fast. When we spend some time in front of a slot machine we establish with it a personal relationship. That’s called anthropomorphism. It’s the tendency to bestow human characteristics to inanimate beings. It’s exactly what we do when we speak to our car or to a plant.

It’s proven that those who anthropomorphize slot machines, play longer, and thus lose more money. All these ingredients have one effect: to keep us stuck in front of the slot, the longer we stay the more we lose and when we have lost a lot of money it’s really hard to stop playing.