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Slot machine developers strategically designed their games to hook you and keep you hooked. It sounds like a drug, doesn’t it? Gambling addiction is a real thing; it’s why online gaming sites have so many warnings to “please play responsibly.” The truth is the games themselves are purposefully addictive. The answer to how we get addicted to them lies in the basic principles of human psychology. Most of the time, you won’t even know it’s happening.

Addictive Properties of Slot Machines

Casino games are fun to play. Slot machines are popular because they hold all of the entertainment value without requiring a lot of skill, but they still offer you the chance to win. Slots generate three-quarters of casino revenue and twice as much as all other casino games combined.

Gamblers who play slot machines become addicted three to four times faster than those who play other games, so why is this?

Solitary, Continuous, Rapid Betting

Slot games take a matter of seconds to complete, and there is no delay between one game and the next. The repetitiveness and intermittent payout schedule mean that players get caught up in the play rhythm and lose awareness of time and spending. In a sense, the machines are hypnotic, and the ever-present possibility of winning the jackpot keeps it going.

Variable-Ratio Reinforcement

Unlike other casino games, slot payoffs occur immediately. These machines offer attention-grabbing music and high-tech animation. They’re also unpredictable. This unpredictability is called a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule.

This reinforcement schedule causes a pleasurable state in your brain and keeps you playing. Here’s how it works. Take a rat and place him in front of a button. The first few times he pushes the button, he gets food. The next few, he doesn’t. Then there are a few times where he alternates getting food and not getting food as he pushes the button. He learns very quickly that at least some of the times he pushes the button, he is rewarded with food, so he keeps pushing in hopes of a reward. Sound familiar? This conditioning of action and reward is exactly the same process that occurs when playing slot machines.

Disguising Losses as Wins

When you’re playing a slot machine, it feels like you’re always “so close.” This isn’t an accident. Multi-line machines with the ability to bet on more than one line give you more chances of winning. Or at least the perception that you are winning. Let’s say you bet three credits on three lines, and you win on one line. The bells go off along with the flashing lights. You perceive that as a winning spin, but you actually lost two credits.

It’s All in the Design

Slot machines are designed to be addictive, regardless of whether you play online or at your favorite casino. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play them; knowledge is power. Knowing how slot machines keep you playing can help you set limits on your time and wallet. Gambling should be fun, but it’s important to set and stick to your limits like so many forms of entertainment.