Jun 29, 2023
Casino Blog

Psychology Behid Slot Machines - Beware of These Tactics

The prototypical slot machine was invented in Brooklyn in the mid-1800s. It was a cash register-sized contraption that used actual playing cards. A player would insert a nickel and press a lever to randomize the cards in the small display window, and depending on the poker hand that appeared, they could win items from the establishment housing the machine. In 1898, Charles Fey developed the poker machine into the Liberty Bell machine, the first true slot with three reels and a coin payout.

The popularity and dominance of slot machines began to change in the 1960s when Bally introduced the electromechanical slot machine, which allowed players to insert multiple coins on a single bet and machines could multiply jackpots as well as offer up smaller, but more frequent wins. The multi-line play was introduced, allowing players to win with diagonal and zig-zagged combinations, speeding up gameplay and reviving the industry.

In the 1970s, a significant shift occurred when William "Si" Redd founded a company (later renamed IGT) that specialized in video gambling machines, or video poker. These machines had even lower volatility, paying players back small amounts on more hands, and their interactive elements made them incredibly engrossing. Redd also acquired the patent for the newly created Random Number Generator, which computerized the odds calculator behind the spinning reels and allowed game makers to control volatility. A modern slot machine is essentially an RNG going through millions or billions of numbers at all times. When a player hits a spin button, they are simply stopping the RNG at a particular moment.

The Desing of Slot Machines

The design and psychological tricks used by slot machines have evolved, intending to keep players engaged for longer periods. For example, game designers are tasked with creating a system that is simple yet endlessly engaging, effectively trapping players into a finely tuned cycle of risk and reward that keeps them glued to their seats for hours. Elements such as the use of curved screens can increase gameplay by 30-80%, and the modern casino typically earns 70 to 80 percent of its revenue from slots.

Furthermore, the development of slot machines in the 21st century involves significant study into what players react to when they sit down, and how they can be manipulated. This includes the use of bright lights, inviting stools, and the promise of hitting the elusive progressive jackpot, which is hard to avoid regardless of the logic of the terrible odds.

Psychological Aspects Which Made Players Play Longer

Unpredictable Reward Patterns

A variable Ratio Schedule of Reinforcement, a principle from operant conditioning, drives player behavior in online slots. This principle dictates that players are rewarded on an unpredictable and irregular schedule. With every spin, the uncertainty and anticipation keep players glued, as they don't know when the next win might come. It's akin to a lottery draw, where the uncertainty of outcomes fuels continuous participation. An example is the random number generator (RNG) used in slots, which ensures that each spin's outcome is independent and unpredictable, thereby making the player resistant to stop playing.

Near-Win Experiences

Slot games frequently exhibit almost-win scenarios, where players fall just short of securing a win. These near-miss experiences are crafted to give players the illusion that they're on the verge of a win, stimulating them to keep playing. For example, a slot machine might show two out of three matching symbols on a payline, making the player feel a win was just missed and therefore encouraging further play.

Small Victories Celebrated

Online slots are often programmed to celebrate even minor wins with great fanfare, matching the celebration of bigger wins. This strategy blurs the line between significant wins and minor payouts, making players feel they are winning frequently, which encourages continued engagement. An example is the use of vibrant visuals and dramatic sound effects in online slots for even the smallest payout, enhancing the perceived magnitude of the win.

Perceived Mastery of the Game

The illusion of control aspect gives players the ability to make choices like when to spin or stop the reels or select other game elements. These options can create a false sense of influence over the game's outcomes, which are, in fact, entirely random. For instance, a slot machine might allow players to stop the reels mid-spin, fostering the illusion that they can control the outcome.

Stimulating Audio-Visual Effects

The use of bright graphics, captivating sounds, and complex animations are key in enhancing the player's overall experience, making the gameplay more appealing and encouraging longer periods of play. For example, slot machines might use visually pleasing themes and engaging music, which are designed to captivate players and extend the duration of their play.

Multi-Line Betting Feature

Multi-line games allow players to bet on numerous lines simultaneously, thereby enhancing the perceived chances of winning at any given spin. However, this also amplifies the total amount wagered. For example, a slot game may feature up to 50 paylines, letting the player bet on numerous lines at once, creating the illusion of increased chances of winning, which motivates further play.

Rewarding Gameplay with Bonuses

The provision of free spins or bonus rounds after certain gameplay milestones can spur players to prolong their gaming sessions to reach these bonuses. For instance, a slot machine might offer a bonus round or free spins after the player reaches a specific wagering amount or plays a certain number of spins, driving players to continue playing in anticipation of these rewards.

Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological phenomenon named after Bluma Zeigarnik, a Soviet psychologist who conducted research on it in the 1920s. The phenomenon refers to the tendency of people to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

In the context of slot machines or other types of addictive technology, the Zeigarnik Effect might be leveraged to keep players engaged. For example, if a player is close to earning a bonus or completing a game level but runs out of tokens or time, they might be more likely to remember the game and want to play again to achieve closure.


In conclusion, the psychology of online slots is a fascinating study of how game design and human behavior interact. Developers leverage established principles from behavioral psychology to craft immersive and engaging games. Strategies such as the variable ratio schedule of reinforcement, near-win experiences, small victories celebrations, an illusion of control, stimulating audio-visual effects, multi-line betting features, and rewarding gameplay with bonuses all work to keep players engaged for extended periods.

These psychological features demonstrate how the human mind can be enticed by unpredictability, perceived proximity to success, the illusion of control, and rewards. The success of these methods can be seen in the global popularity of online slot games. Understanding the psychology of gambling could offer insights not only into the world of online gaming but also into how these principles can be applied in other fields to motivate and engage people.

However, it's also essential to recognize the potential risks associated with these psychological manipulations, as they can lead to problematic gaming behavior if not monitored and managed responsibly. Hence, balancing engagement strategies with ethical considerations remains a critical aspect of game design and player experience.

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