A Visit to the Math Factory

Last weekend I did something which many people who might know me would think I am completely opposed to, yet I do almost once every two months nowadays. I visited the casino. Visiting the casino isn’t strange on it’s own, but I didn’t go to see a show or have the buffet (although I did partake in the buffet this time), but to gamble my money away.

Usually the games at the casino are set up so that the house always wins. I know that in my mind, and my only hopes on most of the trips there are to spend as much time as possible having fun while losing the least amount of money. Lots of people go there and play poker, which is not actually played against the house (although usually there is a fee paid to the house to play) and they have a lot of fun and make money doing it. Alternatively they’ll play blackjack, which theoretically could be actually slightly on the player’s side if they played perfectly and were allowed to count all the cards.

I play something which is much more in the casino’s favor though - I play slots. The variety of games peaks my interest and I love that I could play each different type for five minutes and never repeat playing the same game twice. They are obviously a big money maker for the casino - they are all over the place, covering almost every square inch of floor which isn’t needed for walking or the gaming tables. The only thing that I can think which gets more space is the BINGO hall.

I find two things fascinating about slot machines. The first is that they are basically a rudimentary video game where you can win money. You put your money in, you push the button and you either get more money out, or you lost your money. This is the essence of gambling, without any of the facade that is messing around with cards or playing with numbers. Slots take your money and show you some flashy lights and then they give you the result. It’s part of the reason that the casinos like them so much - they have a fast result.

The second reason is that I am fascinated by the math which must be involved with the slots. They are only ever so slightly in the favor of the casino, although they always are, but they have to make it seem like it’s possible to win them. The variations on the reels and the combinations for winning the game which is presented are nice to think about. There are a lot of different types of slot games, some of which will give you free games every once in a while, some have wild cards, some have more or less symbols, or symbols in a different order. Also there are many different combinations of winning lines, making it “easier” for you to win a prize on wheels which don’t actually line up exactly. The math which must go into the more complicated ones I’m sure is quite complex to prove that yes, indeed, the game is tilted toward the house even when you play with all of the varied ways to win and the bonus games or free spins which show up.

Many would say that it’s a tax for people who are bad at math, but I like to think of it as the math factory. You build these games that will return value to you because the math says so. Sometimes it doesn’t work out in the short term, but the math factory will always create it’s value in the end, just like the factory that produces milk or widgets.

Diana likes to go and play the video poker, which I actually like to play as well, but I’m not as lucky as her. I’ve been thinking of playing around with some of the math involved, and see if I can figure out some of the games and how exactly they work. They’re not exactly opaque but not really transparent either. I might have to take some trips to the factory floor for some research.