Tips for Avoiding the Slot Machine Zone

By Michael Stevens in Casino & Gaming on August 1, 2019

Slot machines are by far the most popular form of casino gaming. Evidence of this fact can be seen in UNLV’s 2018 Nevada gaming report, which shows that slots earned $7.68 billion of the state’s total $11.64 billion gambling revenue.

One reason why slot machines are so popular is because they combine plenty of entertaining factors in each game. Modern slots offer bonus rounds, good graphics, animations, exciting sounds, and interesting themes.

Of course, slot machines aren’t just designed with the intent of entertaining you. They’re also developed with the goal of making you lose track of time and fall into a trance-like state.

Some call this state the “slot machine zone,” which can lead to greater losses. But how do you avoid falling into this trap and preserve your bankroll longer?

I’m going to cover more on the slots zone, along with different methods you can use to snap yourself out of this mindset.

What Is the Slot Machine Zone?

Most gamblers realize that slot machines have addictive qualities to a degree. However, they may not understand exactly where these addictive elements come from.

A study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) sheds light on what exactly causes players to fall into a trance. Their work, which appeared in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, has played a big role in uncovering this phenomenon.

The UBC team wanted to discover why some people block out their surroundings when playing slot machines. They set up a study involving two groups of people, one which included regular slots players and another featuring undergrad students (mostly non-gamblers).

Both groups played a 30-minute slots session, whereby they were asked to watch moving white circles on side panels of the machines. The participants pushed a button when they noticed the white circle turning red.

Researchers discovered that regular slots players missed shapes changing into colors more often than the undergrads. Many from this group also described falling into a trance-like state at some point during the 30 minutes.

Luke Clark, who runs UBC’s Centre for Gambling Research, believes his team’s study shows that slot machines can be a little too immersive.

“This confirms there is indeed a link between gambling addiction and the so-called slot machine zone,” he said. “When the experienced slot machine gamblers played, we found they not only felt that they lost track of time and their surroundings. But they often failed to notice the shapes on the periphery of the machine.”

The only thing missing from Clark’s study is what exactly causes the slot machine zone. One can speculate that the lights, sound effects, and themes all play a role.

However, he’d like to conduct more research on which factors lead to the addictive qualities. Clark then wants to use these findings to promote change in how slots are designed.

“There is potential for slot machines to be designed in a way that promotes more responsible use by disrupting the slot machine zone state,” he said. “Since static signs and stickers on slot machines are unlikely to distract immersed players, the messages should be eye-catching and as close as possible to the slots reels.”

Ways to Avoid the Slots Trance

The fact that the UBC team is pushing for change in how slots are designed is helpful. Having signs or stickers that would break your concentration every now and then could be effective.

But until that happens, you need to take steps to avoid slots trances on your own. Here are tips that’ll keep you out of the slot machine zone, whether you’re playing online or in a land-based casino.

Set an Alarm on Your Phone

Chances are that you have a smartphone or some kind of mobile phone. If so, you want to use this device to your advantage when trying to avoid the slot machine zone.

You should go into each session with an idea of how long you want to play for. You can then set an alarm on your phone based on when you plan to end the session, or at least take a break.

The alarm serves as a sharp reminder that there’s a world all around you — not just what’s happening inside of the slot machine.

Combine Your Phone Alarm With a Bankroll Management Plan

As for deciding how long you want to play, you can use simple bankroll management tactics. The first variable to consider is how many bets you lose on average. Provided you don’t get a big win, you’ll likely lose between 200 and 300 wagers per hour.

The next step is to decide how much money you can dedicate to slots. This amount should include funds that you’re perfectly fine with losing so that you don’t dip into money that’s meant for other expenses.

You also need to consider your average bet size. Think about how much you typically like to bet when playing slot machines.

Here’s an example on putting all of these variables together:

  • You bet $0.25 per spin
  • You lose an estimated 250 bets an hour
  • 250 x 0.25 = $75 lost per hour
  • You have a $1,000 bankroll
  • 1,000 / 75 = 13.33 hours
  • You want to play at least four sessions
  • 33 / 4 = 3.33 hours per session
  • You should set your phone alarm at 3.33 hours to quit a session

You can use the theoretical figure on your bankroll’s longevity to determine the length of your slot sessions. Combine this information with your phone alarm to remind yourself when it’s time to stop playing.

Leave Your Phone Out While Playing Slot Machines

Assuming you’re playing slots at a land-based casino, you should consider putting your phone on the betting panel.

You probably get plenty of notifications, text messages, and/or calls a regular basis. These notifications cause your smartphone screen to light up, which draws your eyes away from the game each time.

Perhaps the only thing more addicting than slot machines is a smartphone. In fact, research shows that the average person spends 11 hours per day interacting with their phone.

I’m not suggesting that staring at your smartphone is a healthy habit. But in this case, it helps you avoid going overboard when playing slots.

Choose Machines Near the Casino Entrance and Other Busy Areas

One reason why you might fall into a slots trance is because you don’t have much else to attract your attention. But if you’re playing in a brick-and-mortar casino, you can choose games near busy areas to create more distractions.

Casino entrances see thousands of people walk in on a daily basis. You’re unlikely to pay attention to all of these people, but you may see and/or hear some of them as you play.

You can also pick games at the end of rows because other casino patrons will be walking by on a regular basis. Playing at machines near the restrooms is yet one more example that will provide people-based distractions.

Casino-Slot-Machines

Only Have Enough Funds for a Limited Session

Some gamblers pay little mind to how much money they bring into a casino or fund an online gaming account with. They may know that they don’t want to gamble over a certain amount (e.g., $500), but they have few thoughts beyond a specific dollar figure.

You can take things further, though, by deciding how much money you’re comfortable losing in a given session. This thought process helps you break your bankroll down into smaller amounts so that you don’t blow it all in one session.

More importantly, running out of your session bankroll breaks your fixation on slot machines. The key point here is to take measures that prevent you from having too much convenient money at one time.

Here are things you can do to prevent easy access to extra funds while playing slots:

  • Only bring a specific amount of cash to the casino floor
  • Leave your credit and debit cards in your room
  • Only deposit small amounts into your online casino account
  • Use less-convenient online deposit methods that take longer (e.g., bank transfer)

None of these steps completely bar you from accessing more money and continuing to play. Again, though, they force you to stop playing at some point (if only temporarily) and think about what you’re doing.

Don’t Drink While Playing

One of the casino industry’s oldest tricks is to offer alcoholic beverages to gamblers. Alcohol dulls players’ senses and makes them feel more courageous when betting.

Too many beers/cocktails can also cause one to lose track of time. Players are far more likely to zone out on slot machines when they have a buzz and could care less about what’s happening around them.

Drinking can enhance the gambling experience. But players should exercise willpower and turn down the cocktail waitress if they have a problem with falling into gambling trances.

What Other Slots Tricks Should You Watch Out For?

The slot machine zone is only one potential pitfall that you need to avoid when playing these games. Slots also feature other psychological tricks that can separate you from your bankroll.

These include everything from near wins to comps. You can see more on these slots tricks below.

Losses Disguised as Wins

Slot machines used to be designed with a single payline. You can only win or lose your bet with these games, with nothing in between.

Almost every slot machine designed today features multiple paylines. Most of these games offer between 20 and 50 lines.

These extra paylines create more excitement because they give you additional chances to win on each spin. However, they also lead to an addictive phenomenon known as losses disguised as wins (LDWs).

An LDW sees you win less money back than your original bet. These scenarios can cause you to think that you’re winning when you’re really losing over and over.

Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing a 50-line slot
  • You bet one cent on each line ($1 total)
  • You win two prizes totaling a combined $0.45
  • Your net loss is $0.55

You can easily see that this is a loss overall. However, the flashing lights and sounds that go off after LDWs can make you feel like a winner.

Natasha Dow Schüll, author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, has frequently discussed LDWs. She did a 2014 interview with Vox, whereby she explained how science proves that LDWs cause a real effect.

“The laboratory research on this shows that people experience this in their brains in an identical way as a win,” said Schüll.

The study she referred to is based on 2011 research from the University of Waterloo (Ontario). They discovered that LDWs cause roughly the same “arousal” in players as a regular win.

The team concluded that the lights and sounds that go off during wins sell players on the idea that they’re actually winning with LDWs.

Slot Machine Conveniences

Many aspects of land-based casinos are made with convenience in mind. This includes slot machines, which are designed to keep players from breaking their concentration.

Here are examples of slots conveniences:

  • Game buttons are easily within reach
  • Seats are ergonomically correct so that players are always comfortable
  • The bill/ticket acceptor can be reached with little to no effort
  • Casinos also make sure that ATMs are located throughout their gaming floor, thus allowing gamblers to quickly withdraw more funds

Skill-Based Slot Machines

Many casinos are experimenting with skill-based slot machines in hopes of attracting more millennial gamblers. But these games have more going for them than just the potential to draw younger players.

The skill element can make a gambler feel like they have more control over their odds. They may even think that they’ll gain an edge over casinos by becoming good enough.

However, players need to realize that skill accounts for a small percentage of the return to player (RTP). Furthermore, skill only comes into play during bonus features.

Assuming the bonus accounts for just 4-5% of overall RTP, then the vast majority of results are based on spinning the reels. No skill is required to spin the reels, meaning the outcomes are mostly random.

Skilled-Based Slot Machines

Thinking Comps Are Really Valuable

Casinos offer comps as a way to reward you and retain your business. You, in turn, receive various perks that can boost your bankroll (e.g., cashback) or simply enhance your experience (e.g., free meals).

Obviously, you want to receive comps whenever playing slot machines. But you also don’t want to fall into the trap of chasing these rewards.

Some gamblers actually play longer just to get better comps. The problem here is that the rewards aren’t worth anything close to the potential losses.

Casinos don’t offer a high enough comp rate to properly reward you for going after comps. In many cases, you’ll be dealing with a 0.1% rate.

Here’s an example of how this low comp rate compares to theoretical losses:

  • You’re playing a slot with a 5% house edge
  • The casino offers a 0.1% comp rate
  • You bet $4,000 on the machine
  • 4,000 x 0.06 = $240 in theoretical losses
  • 4,000 x 0.001 = $4 in comps
  • 240 / 4 = 60x
  • Your theoretical losses are 60x greater than the comps

You can see that it’s definitely not profitable to play slots just for the rewards. A better idea is to simply play the games and let comps come naturally.

Near Wins

A near slots win can apply to either narrowly missing a payout or coming up 1-2 symbols short of winning a huge prize. The latter has a big effect on convincing you to play slots longer in pursuit of these narrow misses.

Here’s an example:

  • A slot offers a jackpot worth $50,000 for five Lamborghinis in a payline
  • You’re betting $0.25 per spin, with $0.01 on each line
  • You get four Lamborghinis in a line
  • This payout offers 1,000x your line bet
  • 1,000 x 0.01 = $10
  • You were so close that you continue playing in hopes of landing the fifth symbol

You seemingly almost won the jackpot in this example. But when considering the odds, you aren’t really that close.

For Example:

A slot could offer 1 in 10 million odds of hitting the top prize. However, the odds of landing four jackpot symbols may be 1 in 100,000, which is a 100x difference.

You may feel encouraged to keep playing if you were this close to a jackpot. The key point to realize, though, is that the odds don’t change just because you almost won the top payout.

You’ll have the same long-shot odds of winning the jackpot as you did before getting four symbols. It just seems possible because you came so close.

Studies show that near wins are much like LDWs because they trick you into feeling like a winner regardless of the facts. These types of wins can even feel like jackpots — only ones that pay much less.

The important thing to realize when you narrowly miss a jackpot, or just a regular payout, is that appearances can be deceiving.

You’d need much better odds to get the extra symbol you missed. More importantly, odds don’t change just because you almost won a certain payout before.

Conclusion

The slot machine zone is a strange state where you fixate on a game and block out surroundings. This trance-like phenomenon is bad from the perspective that it makes you play slots for too long.

Slot machines aren’t inherently evil because of this fact. However, they do have addictive qualities that can make gaming go from a fun experience to one that costs you serious money.

The best route is to be aware of the problem and take steps to counteract the slot machine zone. Doing so ensures that you maintain a healthy gambling habit without going overboard.

Setting an alarm on your phone is a great way to snap back to reality. You might even consider combining bankroll management and your phone alarm for a detailed plan.

You can also set your phone on the slot machine’s betting panel. Seeing the notifications light up on your screen will break your concentration every so often.

Choosing slot machines near busy areas (e.g., casino entrance) is another helpful way to avoid trances. Seeing and hearing people constantly walk by will serve as distractions.

You want to also avoid drinking too much during a slots session. Alcohol has a way of making you forget about what’s happening around you.

The slot machine zone isn’t the only thing that you need to watch out for. Other possible pitfalls include LDWs, skill-based slots, and the machine’s convenient setups.

Playing slots is supposed to be about fun and entertainment. You can keep it this way by knowing how to avoid the most addictive qualities of slot machines.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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