"The bonus rounds featured on today's slot machines are the greatest incentive for people to play they've ever had," said slot machine expert John Robison. "People say to themselves, 'I'll just have one more spin on the "Wheel of fortune,"' with the temptation to get to the bonus round just one more time almost irresistible."
Hitting the winning combination on a bonus round can mean a jackpot worth millions of dollars. When big money is on the line, casinos and their patrons can often butt heads.
Gary Hoffman, a retired Albuquerque city employee, is suing the Sandia Resort and Casino in New Mexico saying it refused to pay a $1.6 million jackpot he says he won playing the slots. The casino says the jackpot was a computer mistake.
Gaming commissions often intervene in such circumstances and make the decision as to who gets to keep the cash, in the hopes of avoiding court battles.
But figuring out how to work out the increasingly complex machines is the first challenge.
"When I'm on an investigation and go out and look at the machines I can initially get confused too," said Jerry Markling, chief of the Nevada Gaming Commission's Enforcement Division. "However, regulations require that instructions are included on the games so it makes sense to read them before playing."
In 2006, 923 cases involving more than $38 million in disputed winnings were investigated by Nevada's Gaming Commission. Of these cases, only 10 percent went the way of the patron, with a total of $1.7 million paid out by the casinos.
"Our investigations usually find that the patron simply misunderstood the payout rules, but sometimes it's people hoping to get rich by taking a shot," Markling said.
Experts say the grand trick of successful casinos is not to try and take everyone's money in one fell swoop. It is to get players to participate in games where the casino has a very small statistical edge in winning.
"Nobody wants to lose everything within the first three minutes," said professor I. Nelson Rose, of Whitier Law School in Costa Mesa Calif., who developed one of the first casino-law classes. "People are buying time and the longer they sit at a slot machine they happier they are — even if they ultimately go away with a loss."
The flashing lights, alcohol and lack of windows or clocks place many people into a land of fantasy. Casinos want their patrons to win small victories and feel good — so long as, in the end, they come out on top.
"The money they [let] you win or what they give you for free is overwhelmingly dwarfed by what they know you'll lose," said Scoblete.
Each and every day, casinos rake in the cash with none of the hoopla that accompanies a patron hitting the jackpot. After all, if you advertise yourself as unbeatable then soon enough people will stop wanting to play with you.