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Beltram, a casino executive, is the point man in a high-technology experiment that could alter the face of slot machines, and their insides, too. With a few clicks of his computer mouse, Mr. Beltram can reprogram the 1, slot machines on the casino floor, adjusting the denominations required to play, payback percentages, even game themes.

Despite their growing popularity and an increase in overall gambling proceeds in recent years, casino operators want to win back more of the money their customers are now spending elsewhere -- on food, lodging and other entertainment, or at Indian casinos or for online gambling.

In the past, changing out a slot machine was a complicated operation and entailed opening it, replacing the computer chip inside, then changing the glass display that markets the game's theme. The alteration usually took a day and could cost thousands of dollars, from ordering parts to modifying the machine.

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The concept is being tested for the next few months under the gaze of state gambling regulators. If regulators approve, casino operators will be able to centrally adjust the slots to cater to different crowds -- older players and regulars during the day and younger tourists and people with bigger budgets at night.

That could mean testing consumer confidence as well. Some critics wonder whether centrally controlled slots are not a few steps away from the distant, but instant and unchecked control enjoyed by Internet casino operators. Beltram insists he does not plan to capriciously change the odds, which he said would be bad for repeat business and could run afoul of regulators.

The development of networked slots underscores the growing convergence of gambling and technology. Slot machines, once highly mechanized, are now highly computerized; only about half the machines have actual spinning cylinders. The rest are computer-generated facsimiles that allow gamblers to play numerous animated reels at once, and induce them with the promise of bonus rounds.

Gamblers now insert debit slips that track how much money they have, making the coins people once collected in buckets a distant memory. Coming soon are high-definition screens that will enhance the animation to keep gamblers engaged and draw bigger crowds, and even better speakers to project Fruit Machine Casino Lobby Special Effect sound right at players. More generally, casino operators have sought in recent years to use technology to offer new games and make a science of their business.

They are experimenting with stocking blackjack tables with money chips embedded with digital tags that can automatically measure how much a gambler has wagered and on what kinds of hands. Casinos also are testing wireless devices that would allow people to play games like Keno and eventually blackjack while sitting in public areas, like the swimming pool. But these advances are Gratis Casino Verite Downloads Cnet some eyebrows.

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In the case of the new slot machines, regulators want to make sure the systems cannot be invaded by outsiders, while consumers want to know casino operators cannot too easily manipulate the odds, said David G.

Schwartz said, adding that he wondered how much latitude casino operators would have to change their returns. He also worries that some players could receive preferential odds if, for instance, they are high rollers, thus creating an uneven gambling field. By law, Nevada casinos must on average return at least 75 percent of slot machine wagers. The reality is they return more than 90 percent, casino operators say, though they do not publicize the figures.

Also under the law, they cannot modify the payback percentages while someone is playing. State law allows them to change the odds after a machine has been idle for four minutes, and then they must not allow anyone to play the machine for four more minutes.

During that time, the screen must indicate a change is being made to the game's configuration, said Travis Foley, laboratory manager for the technology division of the Pokies Casino Queens State Gaming Control Board, who is overseeing the Treasure Island test.

View all New York Times newsletters. Typically, those changes now are made in the middle of the night when there are fewer players in the casino. Foley said the technology "does expedite the change" to a new theme, wager denomination or payback percentage.

For his part, Mr. Beltram said fierce competition for slot machine players would keep him from playing fast and loose with his odds. The bigger goal, he said, is to cater inexpensively to consumer demand. He cites as evidence a recent visit by a high roller from Rhode Island.

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Beltram ordered the computer chip and glass plate from International Game Technology, which makes the machine, and had them in place 24 hours later. The lost day potentially cut into profits. If the customer had been able to play earlier, "Who knows what he would have spent? As it turned out, the high roller returned a day later, played the new game and wound up winning money.

But a lot of money is left on the table with low rollers as well. It's just a matter of giving them what they want when they want it, Mr. At night, we might have more slots," he said.

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Beltram said he expected the system to be in place by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Ed Rogich, spokesman for International Gaming Technology, said a similar test was taking place at a casino operated by the Barona Indian tribe, just outside of San Diego.

Most casinos already link their slot machines and can view their performance from a central server. The difference is that the latest advance is the first time casinos can push information out to all their machines, creating the potential for "dumb terminals," as they are known outside gambling, on which the software can be modified centrally, easily and instantly.

The concept of networked slot machines is undergoing a different kind of test down the street from Treasure Island at a casino called the Barbary Coast. There, near the front door, sits an enormous circular wheel of fortune slot machine with seats around it for nine players. In Computer Online Casino Games For Mac of each player is a monitor on which they play an individualized version of the game.

The twist is that a monitor in the center of the game, viewable by all, indicates which players have hit the bonus round.

At various points, those players who have hit the bonus round -- meaning they are eligible to increase their winnings by a certain multiple -- can cause the wheel of fortune in the center to spin; whatever number lands in front of each eligible player indicates the bonus amount. The individual players are not affecting each other's outcomes, but the game creates a feeling of community, almost like craps players cheering for each other at the table.

Regular slot players say they have mixed feelings about the potential for the centrally controlled games. Rexie Lestrange, who lives in Lodi, Calif. But she said she did not have an opinion about the casinos using servers to change their slot machines. April 17,Monday An article in Business Day on Wednesday about an experiment Fruit Machine Casino Lobby Special Effect link slot machines in Las Vegas casinos to a central computer network misstated the number of machines being tested by the Treasure Island casino.

It is 16 -- not 1, which is the total number of machines in the casino. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services. Thank you for subscribing. An error has occurred. Please try again later. You are already subscribed to this email. Events Guide Television Theater Video:

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    Modern slot machines develop an unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even, as in the case of One of the latter, titled the “Compulsive Gamblers Special,” promised to deliver the names of , people with “unquenchable appetites for all forms of gambling. With a few clicks of his computer mouse, Mr. Beltram can reprogram the 1, slot machines on the casino floor, adjusting the denominations required to play, payback percentages, even game You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services.
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Gambling is a drug-free addiction. Yet despite the fact that there is no external chemical at work on the brain, the neurological and physiological reactions to the stimulus are similar to those of drug or alcohol addicts. Some gambling addicts report that they experience a high resembling that produced by a powerful drug. Like drug addicts, they develop a tolerance, and when they cannot gamble, they show signs of withdrawal such as panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and heart palpitations.

Neuroscientists have discovered characteristics that appear to be unique to the brains of addicts, particularly in the dopaminergic system, which includes reward pathways, and in the prefrontal cortex, which exerts executive control over impulses. Gambling addicts may have a genetic predisposition, though a specific marker has not yet been uncovered.

Environmental factors and personality traits—a big gambling win within the past year, companions who gamble regularly, impulsivity, depression—may also contribute to the development of a gambling problem.

Given the guilt and shame involved, gambling addiction frequently progresses to a profound despair. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one in five gambling addicts attempts suicide—the highest rate among addicts of any kind.

There are no accurate figures for suicides related to gambling problems, but there are ample anecdotes: P roblem gamblers are worth a lot of money to casinos. According to some research, 20 percent of regular gamblers are problem or pathological gamblers.

Moreover, when they gamble, they spend—which is to say, lose—more than other players. At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues. Casinos know exactly who their biggest spenders are. According to a article in Time magazine, back in the s casino operators bought records from credit-card companies and mailing lists from direct-mail marketers.

These days, the casinos have their own internal methods for determining who their most attractive customers are. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas , 70 percent of patrons now use loyalty cards, which allow the casinos to track such data points as how frequently they play electronic gaming machines, how long they play, how much they bet, how often they win and lose, what times of day they visit, and so on.

Each time a patron hits the Spin or the Deal button, which can be as frequently as to 1, times an hour, the casino registers the data. In some machines, miniature cameras watch their faces and track their playing behavior.

Several companies supply casinos with ATMs that allow patrons to withdraw funds through both debit and cash-advance functions, in some cases without ever leaving the machines they are playing. Some of the companies also sell information on their ATM customers to the casinos. All of these data have enabled casinos to specifically target their most reliable spenders, primarily problem gamblers and outright addicts.

They also employ hosts who befriend large spenders and use special offers to encourage them to stay longer or return soon. Some hosts receive bonuses that are tied to the amount customers spend beyond their expected losses, which are calculated using the data gathered from previous visits.

The business plan for casinos is based on the addicted gambler. It increased the limits on some slot machines so that she could spend more on single games. It also made a new machine off-limits to other customers so that Richardson could be the first to play it. Management assigned Richardson an executive host, who offered her free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and tickets to entertainment events. In , Richardson, then 54, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for the crime.

The thefts ultimately put the company out of business. A representative for Ameristar Casino declined to comment on the lawsuit. District Court for Nebraska agreed that Colombo had sufficiently proved its initial claim of unjust enrichment, which the casino would have to defend itself against. W alk into the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia, and the slot machines overwhelm you—more than 1, of them, lights blinking, animated screens flashing, the simulated sound of clinking coins blaring across the floor.

But the vast majority sit at the slot machines. Slots and video poker have become the lifeblood of the American casino. They generate nearly 70 percent of casino revenues, according to a American Gaming Association report, up from 45 percent four decades ago.

Three out of five casino visitors say their favorite activity is playing electronic gaming machines. Their popularity spells profits not only for casinos but for manufacturers as well. Old-fashioned three-reel slot machines consisted of physical reels that were set spinning by the pull of a lever.

If the same symbol aligned on the payline on all three reels when they stopped spinning, the player would win a jackpot that varied in size depending on the symbol.

The odds were straightforward and not terribly hard to calculate. But where each reel stops is no longer determined by the force of a good pull of the lever. The physical reels are not spinning until they run out of momentum, as it might appear.

Thus it is possible for game designers to reduce the odds of hitting a big jackpot from 1 in 10, to 1 in million. Moreover, it is almost impossible for a slots player to have any idea of the actual odds of winning any jackpot, however large or small.

The intent is to give the player the impression of having almost won—when, in fact, he or she is no closer to having won than if the symbol had not appeared on the reel at all.

Some slot machines are specifically programmed to offer up this near-miss result far more often than they would if they operated by sheer chance, and the psychological impact can be powerful, leading players to think, I was so close. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School and the author of Gambling and the Law , has written, Nevada regulations operate on the theory that a sophisticated player would be able to tell the real odds of winning by playing a machine long enough.

Research has shown that an elevated number of near-miss results does increase playing time. Indeed, as early as , B. Astonishingly, the patent application for virtual reel mapping, the technology that made all these deceptive practices possible, was straightforward about its intended use: In the United States, by contrast, the federal government granted the patent for virtual reel mapping in IGT purchased the rights to it in and later licensed the patent to other companies.

Of course, classic, spinning-reel slot machines make up only a fraction of the electronic gaming machines available at most casinos. Technology has evolved such that many machines lack physical reels altogether, instead merely projecting the likenesses of spinning symbols onto a video screen.

Instead of betting on one simple payline, players are able to bet on multiple patterns of paylines—as many as on some machines. This allows for more opportunities to win, but the results are often deceptive. You can get to of these false wins, which we also call losses , an hour. Because the machine is telling the player he or she is winning, the gradual siphoning is less noticeable. Related to the video slot machines are video-poker terminals, which IGT began popularizing in The standard five-card-draw game shows five cards, each offering players the option to hold or replace by drawing a card from the 47 remaining in the virtual deck.

The games require more skill—or at least a basic understanding of probabilities—than the slot machines do. As such, they appeal to people who want to have some sense of exerting control over the outcome.

They saw, for instance, patrons going more often for four of a kind than the royal flush, a rarer but more lucrative hand, and they adjusted the machines accordingly. Video poker also offers its own version of losses disguised as wins. Whatever the exact figure, the house odds make it such that if a player plays long enough, she will eventually lose her money. T echnological innovations have not only rendered electronic gaming machines wildly profitable; they have also, according to experts, made them more addictive.

A crucial element in modern gambling machines is speed. Individual hands or spins can be completed in just three or four seconds. For many gambling addicts, the zone itself becomes more desirable even than winning. Players have gone for 14, 15, 16 hours or more playing continuously. They have become so absorbed in the machines that they left their young children unattended in cars, wet themselves without noticing, and neglected to eat for hours.

Casinos and game designers have come up with many ways to keep patrons at their machines and playing rapidly. The chairs are ergonomically designed so that someone can sit comfortably for long stretches. Winnings can be converted back to credits or printed on vouchers to be redeemed later. Waitresses come by to take drink orders, obviating the need for players to get up at all. Public-policy advocates compare slot machines to cigarettes.

Both, they claim, are products specifically and deliberately engineered to have addictive properties that are known to hook users. Eubanks was the lead counsel for the Justice Department in successful federal litigation against the tobacco industry between and She joined Noffsinger in representing Stacy Stevens after he convinced her that the deception used by the gambling industry paralleled that of the tobacco industry.

The data they track in real time on player cards alert them to these pain points: Hosts are also on the lookout for telling behavior, such as someone striking a machine in frustration or slumping over it in discouragement. When hosts spot someone in a state like this, they may swoop in and offer a voucher for some free credits, a drink, or perhaps a meal in the restaurant, where the player can take a break until the resistance passes and he can resume gambling.

When players do exhaust all their funds, casinos will sometimes loan them additional money. In , she spent an entire night gambling at Caesars Riverboat Casino, drinking strong alcoholic beverages provided for free.

When she eventually came to the end of her money playing blackjack, the casino offered her a counter check, basically a promissory note, to enable her to keep playing. She signed the check and gambled away the money. That happened five more times. Noffsinger countersued on her behalf.

Experts say casinos should be aware that when they extend credit to losing patrons, they are by definition enabling problem gamblers. Casinos might similarly be held liable for the financial consequences suffered by gamblers to whom they extend credit beyond a certain limit. In , the widow of a man who killed himself after racking up insurmountable debt at a Mississippi casino sued the casino under an extrapolation of dramshop laws.

So far, no U. Nor should they, according to the gambling industry. Nothing of that sort exists to measure what the level is to have gambled too much. Mountaineer Casino and IGT both declined repeated requests for comment. It does not, however, prevent them from losing money if they visit a casino despite the restriction. Some experts believe self-exclusion lists are not effective, because they seem to be erratically enforced.

Despite the presence of sophisticated surveillance technology, patrons are not routinely screened for their self-exclusion status. Given that casino operators and slot-machine manufacturers are adamant that the blame for gambling addiction resides with the individual, it is not surprising that research by the industry-funded National Center for Responsible Gaming favors studies directed toward confirming this conclusion.

Members of the board of directors, she asserts, do not make research decisions, and the center has a separate scientific advisory board. She says that the problem is rooted in the individual. Independent research not funded by the NCRG has shown how false wins, near misses, and other such features influence gamblers, especially the way they perceive expected outcomes.

Most of them are making correct conclusions based on deceptive information. Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says that although the industry should have a role in research and public-education efforts, it cannot be effective on its own. The group, which maintains a neutral stance toward legal gambling, receives a large share of its funding from the industry.

A lmost a decade after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act launched the dramatic expansion of casino gambling into new jurisdictions, the federal government appointed a commission to study the impact of the proliferation. Despite that warning, states have been unable to resist the continued expansion of casino gambling.

One reason for the ongoing growth is the financial clout of the industry itself. Many states provide tribal casinos with regional monopolies in exchange for revenues skimmed off the top of casino profits—as much as 30 to 40 percent in some places. Kansas actually owns the games and operations of nontribal casinos.

New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island have all provided financial bailouts to faltering casinos. Communities typically build casinos based on a mirage of false promises: It should not be allowed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. In defense of its products and practices, the gambling industry insists that it is heavily regulated and therefore safe.

Nelson Rose, the author of Gambling and the Law. Each state in which gambling is legal has set up its own commission to regulate the industry, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between regulators and the industry. Many gaming-commission members—including those who approve applications for casino licenses—are advised by consultants for private companies also on casino payrolls.

Yet such essential disclosure is not required of electronic gaming machines. As it happens, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board addressed exactly this question during its hearings on virtual-reel technology.

They seem unwilling to deal with the social costs. Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling agrees that the close relationship between the state and its gambling interests was crucial: Essentially what the West Virginia Supreme Court has said is that gambling interests in West Virginia are immune from liability.

Former West Virginia House Majority Leader Rick Staton has expressed regret over his role in expanding legalized gambling in the state. There have been more people who have lost a lot of money, there have been more people who have had to file bankruptcy, there have been more people who have embezzled, there have been more people who have committed suicide.

And that, according to several experts, is what it will probably take—a court trial, which would open access to private industry documents. They cannot afford to have that made public, because it would confirm what everybody knows: The more lawyers read about it, the more they are going to start smelling blood in the water. It just takes for a case to be brought up in the right jurisdiction.

A photograph of him later that week, when he was deep-sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas, a place that usually brought him happiness, reveals the heaviness in his expression—his eyes defeated, his smile gone. In the months after he was fired, Stevens tried taking the antidepressant Paxil and saw a therapist, but he did not admit to Stacy that he was still gambling almost every day. As spring turned into summer, he knew that charges from the IRS were forthcoming following its investigation into his embezzlement and that even after serving time in prison, he would likely still be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owed in back taxes and penalties.

His former employer seemed close to pressing charges, having put the police on notice. He would never be able to work in the financial sector again. Once the affair hit the papers, his family would be dragged through the gantlet of small-town gossip and censure.

He could see no way to spare them other than to sacrifice himself. By mid-afternoon on August 13, , Stacy had started to worry. Schwartz said, adding that he wondered how much latitude casino operators would have to change their returns. He also worries that some players could receive preferential odds if, for instance, they are high rollers, thus creating an uneven gambling field.

By law, Nevada casinos must on average return at least 75 percent of slot machine wagers. The reality is they return more than 90 percent, casino operators say, though they do not publicize the figures. Also under the law, they cannot modify the payback percentages while someone is playing.

State law allows them to change the odds after a machine has been idle for four minutes, and then they must not allow anyone to play the machine for four more minutes. During that time, the screen must indicate a change is being made to the game's configuration, said Travis Foley, laboratory manager for the technology division of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, who is overseeing the Treasure Island test.

View all New York Times newsletters. Typically, those changes now are made in the middle of the night when there are fewer players in the casino.

Foley said the technology "does expedite the change" to a new theme, wager denomination or payback percentage. For his part, Mr. Beltram said fierce competition for slot machine players would keep him from playing fast and loose with his odds. The bigger goal, he said, is to cater inexpensively to consumer demand. He cites as evidence a recent visit by a high roller from Rhode Island.

Beltram ordered the computer chip and glass plate from International Game Technology, which makes the machine, and had them in place 24 hours later. The lost day potentially cut into profits. If the customer had been able to play earlier, "Who knows what he would have spent?

As it turned out, the high roller returned a day later, played the new game and wound up winning money. But a lot of money is left on the table with low rollers as well. It's just a matter of giving them what they want when they want it, Mr. At night, we might have more slots," he said. Beltram said he expected the system to be in place by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Ed Rogich, spokesman for International Gaming Technology, said a similar test was taking place at a casino operated by the Barona Indian tribe, just outside of San Diego.

Most casinos already link their slot machines and can view their performance from a central server. The difference is that the latest advance is the first time casinos can push information out to all their machines, creating the potential for "dumb terminals," as they are known outside gambling, on which the software can be modified centrally, easily and instantly. The concept of networked slot machines is undergoing a different kind of test down the street from Treasure Island at a casino called the Barbary Coast.

There, near the front door, sits an enormous circular wheel of fortune slot machine with seats around it for nine players. In front of each player is a monitor on which they play an individualized version of the game. The twist is that a monitor in the center of the game, viewable by all, indicates which players have hit the bonus round.

At various points, those players who have hit the bonus round -- meaning they are eligible to increase their winnings by a certain multiple -- can cause the wheel of fortune in the center to spin; whatever number lands in front of each eligible player indicates the bonus amount. The individual players are not affecting each other's outcomes, but the game creates a feeling of community, almost like craps players cheering for each other at the table.

Regular slot players say they have mixed feelings about the potential for the centrally controlled games.

Rexie Lestrange, who lives in Lodi, Calif.

Vegas features REAL

If regulators approve, casino operators will be able to centrally adjust the slots to cater to different crowds -- older players and regulars during the day and younger tourists and people with bigger budgets at night.

That could mean testing consumer confidence as well. Some critics wonder whether centrally controlled slots are not a few steps away from the distant, but instant and unchecked control enjoyed by Internet casino operators. Beltram insists he does not plan to capriciously change the odds, which he said would be bad for repeat business and could run afoul of regulators.

The development of networked slots underscores the growing convergence of gambling and technology. Slot machines, once highly mechanized, are now highly computerized; only about half the machines have actual spinning cylinders. The rest are computer-generated facsimiles that allow gamblers to play numerous animated reels at once, and induce them with the promise of bonus rounds.

Gamblers now insert debit slips that track how much money they have, making the coins people once collected in buckets a distant memory. Coming soon are high-definition screens that will enhance the animation to keep gamblers engaged and draw bigger crowds, and even better speakers to project crisp sound right at players. More generally, casino operators have sought in recent years to use technology to offer new games and make a science of their business.

They are experimenting with stocking blackjack tables with money chips embedded with digital tags that can automatically measure how much a gambler has wagered and on what kinds of hands.

Casinos also are testing wireless devices that would allow people to play games like Keno and eventually blackjack while sitting in public areas, like the swimming pool.

But these advances are raising some eyebrows. In the case of the new slot machines, regulators want to make sure the systems cannot be invaded by outsiders, while consumers want to know casino operators cannot too easily manipulate the odds, said David G.

Schwartz said, adding that he wondered how much latitude casino operators would have to change their returns. He also worries that some players could receive preferential odds if, for instance, they are high rollers, thus creating an uneven gambling field. By law, Nevada casinos must on average return at least 75 percent of slot machine wagers.

The reality is they return more than 90 percent, casino operators say, though they do not publicize the figures. Also under the law, they cannot modify the payback percentages while someone is playing. State law allows them to change the odds after a machine has been idle for four minutes, and then they must not allow anyone to play the machine for four more minutes.

During that time, the screen must indicate a change is being made to the game's configuration, said Travis Foley, laboratory manager for the technology division of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, who is overseeing the Treasure Island test.

View all New York Times newsletters. Typically, those changes now are made in the middle of the night when there are fewer players in the casino.

Foley said the technology "does expedite the change" to a new theme, wager denomination or payback percentage. For his part, Mr. Beltram said fierce competition for slot machine players would keep him from playing fast and loose with his odds. The bigger goal, he said, is to cater inexpensively to consumer demand. He cites as evidence a recent visit by a high roller from Rhode Island. Beltram ordered the computer chip and glass plate from International Game Technology, which makes the machine, and had them in place 24 hours later.

The lost day potentially cut into profits. If the customer had been able to play earlier, "Who knows what he would have spent? As it turned out, the high roller returned a day later, played the new game and wound up winning money. But a lot of money is left on the table with low rollers as well. Of course, classic, spinning-reel slot machines make up only a fraction of the electronic gaming machines available at most casinos.

Technology has evolved such that many machines lack physical reels altogether, instead merely projecting the likenesses of spinning symbols onto a video screen. Instead of betting on one simple payline, players are able to bet on multiple patterns of paylines—as many as on some machines. This allows for more opportunities to win, but the results are often deceptive. You can get to of these false wins, which we also call losses , an hour. Because the machine is telling the player he or she is winning, the gradual siphoning is less noticeable.

Related to the video slot machines are video-poker terminals, which IGT began popularizing in The standard five-card-draw game shows five cards, each offering players the option to hold or replace by drawing a card from the 47 remaining in the virtual deck. The games require more skill—or at least a basic understanding of probabilities—than the slot machines do. As such, they appeal to people who want to have some sense of exerting control over the outcome.

They saw, for instance, patrons going more often for four of a kind than the royal flush, a rarer but more lucrative hand, and they adjusted the machines accordingly. Video poker also offers its own version of losses disguised as wins. Whatever the exact figure, the house odds make it such that if a player plays long enough, she will eventually lose her money.

T echnological innovations have not only rendered electronic gaming machines wildly profitable; they have also, according to experts, made them more addictive. A crucial element in modern gambling machines is speed. Individual hands or spins can be completed in just three or four seconds. For many gambling addicts, the zone itself becomes more desirable even than winning.

Players have gone for 14, 15, 16 hours or more playing continuously. They have become so absorbed in the machines that they left their young children unattended in cars, wet themselves without noticing, and neglected to eat for hours. Casinos and game designers have come up with many ways to keep patrons at their machines and playing rapidly. The chairs are ergonomically designed so that someone can sit comfortably for long stretches.

Winnings can be converted back to credits or printed on vouchers to be redeemed later. Waitresses come by to take drink orders, obviating the need for players to get up at all. Public-policy advocates compare slot machines to cigarettes. Both, they claim, are products specifically and deliberately engineered to have addictive properties that are known to hook users. Eubanks was the lead counsel for the Justice Department in successful federal litigation against the tobacco industry between and She joined Noffsinger in representing Stacy Stevens after he convinced her that the deception used by the gambling industry paralleled that of the tobacco industry.

The data they track in real time on player cards alert them to these pain points: Hosts are also on the lookout for telling behavior, such as someone striking a machine in frustration or slumping over it in discouragement.

When hosts spot someone in a state like this, they may swoop in and offer a voucher for some free credits, a drink, or perhaps a meal in the restaurant, where the player can take a break until the resistance passes and he can resume gambling.

When players do exhaust all their funds, casinos will sometimes loan them additional money. In , she spent an entire night gambling at Caesars Riverboat Casino, drinking strong alcoholic beverages provided for free. When she eventually came to the end of her money playing blackjack, the casino offered her a counter check, basically a promissory note, to enable her to keep playing.

She signed the check and gambled away the money. That happened five more times. Noffsinger countersued on her behalf. Experts say casinos should be aware that when they extend credit to losing patrons, they are by definition enabling problem gamblers.

Casinos might similarly be held liable for the financial consequences suffered by gamblers to whom they extend credit beyond a certain limit. In , the widow of a man who killed himself after racking up insurmountable debt at a Mississippi casino sued the casino under an extrapolation of dramshop laws. So far, no U.

Nor should they, according to the gambling industry. Nothing of that sort exists to measure what the level is to have gambled too much. Mountaineer Casino and IGT both declined repeated requests for comment.

It does not, however, prevent them from losing money if they visit a casino despite the restriction. Some experts believe self-exclusion lists are not effective, because they seem to be erratically enforced. Despite the presence of sophisticated surveillance technology, patrons are not routinely screened for their self-exclusion status. Given that casino operators and slot-machine manufacturers are adamant that the blame for gambling addiction resides with the individual, it is not surprising that research by the industry-funded National Center for Responsible Gaming favors studies directed toward confirming this conclusion.

Members of the board of directors, she asserts, do not make research decisions, and the center has a separate scientific advisory board. She says that the problem is rooted in the individual. Independent research not funded by the NCRG has shown how false wins, near misses, and other such features influence gamblers, especially the way they perceive expected outcomes.

Most of them are making correct conclusions based on deceptive information. Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says that although the industry should have a role in research and public-education efforts, it cannot be effective on its own.

The group, which maintains a neutral stance toward legal gambling, receives a large share of its funding from the industry. A lmost a decade after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act launched the dramatic expansion of casino gambling into new jurisdictions, the federal government appointed a commission to study the impact of the proliferation. Despite that warning, states have been unable to resist the continued expansion of casino gambling.

One reason for the ongoing growth is the financial clout of the industry itself. Many states provide tribal casinos with regional monopolies in exchange for revenues skimmed off the top of casino profits—as much as 30 to 40 percent in some places. Kansas actually owns the games and operations of nontribal casinos. New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island have all provided financial bailouts to faltering casinos.

Communities typically build casinos based on a mirage of false promises: It should not be allowed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. In defense of its products and practices, the gambling industry insists that it is heavily regulated and therefore safe.

Nelson Rose, the author of Gambling and the Law. Each state in which gambling is legal has set up its own commission to regulate the industry, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between regulators and the industry. Many gaming-commission members—including those who approve applications for casino licenses—are advised by consultants for private companies also on casino payrolls. Yet such essential disclosure is not required of electronic gaming machines.

As it happens, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board addressed exactly this question during its hearings on virtual-reel technology. They seem unwilling to deal with the social costs. Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling agrees that the close relationship between the state and its gambling interests was crucial: Essentially what the West Virginia Supreme Court has said is that gambling interests in West Virginia are immune from liability.

Former West Virginia House Majority Leader Rick Staton has expressed regret over his role in expanding legalized gambling in the state.

There have been more people who have lost a lot of money, there have been more people who have had to file bankruptcy, there have been more people who have embezzled, there have been more people who have committed suicide.

And that, according to several experts, is what it will probably take—a court trial, which would open access to private industry documents. They cannot afford to have that made public, because it would confirm what everybody knows: The more lawyers read about it, the more they are going to start smelling blood in the water. It just takes for a case to be brought up in the right jurisdiction. A photograph of him later that week, when he was deep-sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas, a place that usually brought him happiness, reveals the heaviness in his expression—his eyes defeated, his smile gone.

In the months after he was fired, Stevens tried taking the antidepressant Paxil and saw a therapist, but he did not admit to Stacy that he was still gambling almost every day.

As spring turned into summer, he knew that charges from the IRS were forthcoming following its investigation into his embezzlement and that even after serving time in prison, he would likely still be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owed in back taxes and penalties. His former employer seemed close to pressing charges, having put the police on notice.

He would never be able to work in the financial sector again. Once the affair hit the papers, his family would be dragged through the gantlet of small-town gossip and censure. He could see no way to spare them other than to sacrifice himself. By mid-afternoon on August 13, , Stacy had started to worry.

But she got no response until about an hour later, when he sent his last text to her: Stevens had just called him. Bender had tried to talk him out of killing himself, but Stevens had hung up. Bender said he would call They found Stevens sitting on the railroad tie by his Jeep. The condition has long been considered untreatable.

Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope. This is a good day, Samantha tells me: But today promises unalloyed joy. The girl needs supplies: Listen to the audio version of this article: Feature stories, read aloud: At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze.

She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject history , and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite math. She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2, miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands.

The editor of the right-wing news site admitted that its coverage of a major political campaign was dishonest, but the news barely made a blip in conservative media outlets. The suburbs of the American west are struggling, too. This is not one of them. A decade after the start of the Great Recession, it struggles with pervasive crime and poverty. A fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, up from 13 percent in Hemet is not alone in its troubles.

They also lost jobs and businesses between and In the first novel ever written about Sherlock Homes, we learn something peculiar about the London detective. Holmes, supposedly a modern man and a keen expert in the workings of the world, does not know how the solar system works.

Specifically he is unfamiliar with the heliocentric Copernican model, which, upon its slow acceptance in the 17th century, revolutionized Western thought about the place of our species in the universe.

If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work. The arctic freeze over the United States this week is producing the kind of frigid temperatures typical for the red planet. On Thursday morning, Adam Gill stepped outside in a heavy, bright-yellow coat, bulky gloves, and a ski mask to brace himself against the blistering wind. He brought with him a metal teakettle full of boiling water.

As he tipped the kettle over, the piping-hot liquid turned instantly into snow and blew away in the wind. The video of Gill , a meteorologist at the observatory, conducting this little presentation received thousands of sympathetic likes on Facebook. The temperature that day at the observatory hit a bone-chilling low of degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius —and that was without accounting for wind chill.

The day broke the previous record of degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius , set in Activists are disrupting lectures to protest "white supremacy," but many students are taking steps to stop them. At Reed College, a small liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon, a year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist.

All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed. But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. She told me more: The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface. Will the growing demand for multilingual early-childhood programs push out the students these programs were designed to serve?

Students chatter with one another as they work, smiling and joking and wiggling in and out of their chairs. But this one is different. Smiles break out on an array of faces, and the chatter spills out in English and Spanish. See all of their coverage here.

Its fourth season begins with an opposite horror: He can conjure nightmares from anywhere. People stranded at Disneyland, a spectacular rocket launch in California, polar bears dance for the Pope, Christmas on an Australian beach, and much more.

People stranded at Disneyland; a spectacular rocket launch in California; polar bears dance for the Pope; violent attacks in Afghanistan and Mexico; a ridiculous amount of snow buries Erie, Pennsylvania; Christmas on an Australian beach; and much more. This year, podcasts got funnier, sharper, and even more niche. Our recommendations here pass a vigorous audio smell test. First, the arrival of a new podcast episode must send you into an ethical quandary:

step that

T echnological innovations have not only rendered electronic gaming machines wildly profitable; they have also, according to experts, made them more addictive. A crucial element in modern gambling machines is speed. Individual hands or spins can be completed in just three or four seconds. For many gambling addicts, the zone itself becomes more desirable even than winning. Players have gone for 14, 15, 16 hours or more playing continuously.

They have become so absorbed in the machines that they left their young children unattended in cars, wet themselves without noticing, and neglected to eat for hours. Casinos and game designers have come up with many ways to keep patrons at their machines and playing rapidly. The chairs are ergonomically designed so that someone can sit comfortably for long stretches. Winnings can be converted back to credits or printed on vouchers to be redeemed later.

Waitresses come by to take drink orders, obviating the need for players to get up at all. Public-policy advocates compare slot machines to cigarettes. Both, they claim, are products specifically and deliberately engineered to have addictive properties that are known to hook users.

Eubanks was the lead counsel for the Justice Department in successful federal litigation against the tobacco industry between and She joined Noffsinger in representing Stacy Stevens after he convinced her that the deception used by the gambling industry paralleled that of the tobacco industry. The data they track in real time on player cards alert them to these pain points: Hosts are also on the lookout for telling behavior, such as someone striking a machine in frustration or slumping over it in discouragement.

When hosts spot someone in a state like this, they may swoop in and offer a voucher for some free credits, a drink, or perhaps a meal in the restaurant, where the player can take a break until the resistance passes and he can resume gambling.

When players do exhaust all their funds, casinos will sometimes loan them additional money. In , she spent an entire night gambling at Caesars Riverboat Casino, drinking strong alcoholic beverages provided for free. When she eventually came to the end of her money playing blackjack, the casino offered her a counter check, basically a promissory note, to enable her to keep playing. She signed the check and gambled away the money. That happened five more times.

Noffsinger countersued on her behalf. Experts say casinos should be aware that when they extend credit to losing patrons, they are by definition enabling problem gamblers. Casinos might similarly be held liable for the financial consequences suffered by gamblers to whom they extend credit beyond a certain limit.

In , the widow of a man who killed himself after racking up insurmountable debt at a Mississippi casino sued the casino under an extrapolation of dramshop laws. So far, no U. Nor should they, according to the gambling industry. Nothing of that sort exists to measure what the level is to have gambled too much.

Mountaineer Casino and IGT both declined repeated requests for comment. It does not, however, prevent them from losing money if they visit a casino despite the restriction. Some experts believe self-exclusion lists are not effective, because they seem to be erratically enforced. Despite the presence of sophisticated surveillance technology, patrons are not routinely screened for their self-exclusion status.

Given that casino operators and slot-machine manufacturers are adamant that the blame for gambling addiction resides with the individual, it is not surprising that research by the industry-funded National Center for Responsible Gaming favors studies directed toward confirming this conclusion. Members of the board of directors, she asserts, do not make research decisions, and the center has a separate scientific advisory board. She says that the problem is rooted in the individual. Independent research not funded by the NCRG has shown how false wins, near misses, and other such features influence gamblers, especially the way they perceive expected outcomes.

Most of them are making correct conclusions based on deceptive information. Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says that although the industry should have a role in research and public-education efforts, it cannot be effective on its own. The group, which maintains a neutral stance toward legal gambling, receives a large share of its funding from the industry.

A lmost a decade after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act launched the dramatic expansion of casino gambling into new jurisdictions, the federal government appointed a commission to study the impact of the proliferation. Despite that warning, states have been unable to resist the continued expansion of casino gambling. One reason for the ongoing growth is the financial clout of the industry itself.

Many states provide tribal casinos with regional monopolies in exchange for revenues skimmed off the top of casino profits—as much as 30 to 40 percent in some places. Kansas actually owns the games and operations of nontribal casinos. New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island have all provided financial bailouts to faltering casinos. Communities typically build casinos based on a mirage of false promises: It should not be allowed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In defense of its products and practices, the gambling industry insists that it is heavily regulated and therefore safe. Nelson Rose, the author of Gambling and the Law. Each state in which gambling is legal has set up its own commission to regulate the industry, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between regulators and the industry.

Many gaming-commission members—including those who approve applications for casino licenses—are advised by consultants for private companies also on casino payrolls. Yet such essential disclosure is not required of electronic gaming machines.

As it happens, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board addressed exactly this question during its hearings on virtual-reel technology. They seem unwilling to deal with the social costs. Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling agrees that the close relationship between the state and its gambling interests was crucial: Essentially what the West Virginia Supreme Court has said is that gambling interests in West Virginia are immune from liability.

Former West Virginia House Majority Leader Rick Staton has expressed regret over his role in expanding legalized gambling in the state. There have been more people who have lost a lot of money, there have been more people who have had to file bankruptcy, there have been more people who have embezzled, there have been more people who have committed suicide. And that, according to several experts, is what it will probably take—a court trial, which would open access to private industry documents.

They cannot afford to have that made public, because it would confirm what everybody knows: The more lawyers read about it, the more they are going to start smelling blood in the water.

It just takes for a case to be brought up in the right jurisdiction. A photograph of him later that week, when he was deep-sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas, a place that usually brought him happiness, reveals the heaviness in his expression—his eyes defeated, his smile gone. In the months after he was fired, Stevens tried taking the antidepressant Paxil and saw a therapist, but he did not admit to Stacy that he was still gambling almost every day.

As spring turned into summer, he knew that charges from the IRS were forthcoming following its investigation into his embezzlement and that even after serving time in prison, he would likely still be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owed in back taxes and penalties.

His former employer seemed close to pressing charges, having put the police on notice. He would never be able to work in the financial sector again. Once the affair hit the papers, his family would be dragged through the gantlet of small-town gossip and censure.

He could see no way to spare them other than to sacrifice himself. By mid-afternoon on August 13, , Stacy had started to worry. But she got no response until about an hour later, when he sent his last text to her: Stevens had just called him.

Bender had tried to talk him out of killing himself, but Stevens had hung up. Bender said he would call They found Stevens sitting on the railroad tie by his Jeep. The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope. This is a good day, Samantha tells me: But today promises unalloyed joy.

The girl needs supplies: Listen to the audio version of this article: Feature stories, read aloud: At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject history , and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite math. She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2, miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands.

The editor of the right-wing news site admitted that its coverage of a major political campaign was dishonest, but the news barely made a blip in conservative media outlets. The suburbs of the American west are struggling, too. This is not one of them. A decade after the start of the Great Recession, it struggles with pervasive crime and poverty.

A fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, up from 13 percent in Hemet is not alone in its troubles. They also lost jobs and businesses between and In the first novel ever written about Sherlock Homes, we learn something peculiar about the London detective.

Holmes, supposedly a modern man and a keen expert in the workings of the world, does not know how the solar system works. Specifically he is unfamiliar with the heliocentric Copernican model, which, upon its slow acceptance in the 17th century, revolutionized Western thought about the place of our species in the universe.

If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work. The arctic freeze over the United States this week is producing the kind of frigid temperatures typical for the red planet. On Thursday morning, Adam Gill stepped outside in a heavy, bright-yellow coat, bulky gloves, and a ski mask to brace himself against the blistering wind.

He brought with him a metal teakettle full of boiling water. As he tipped the kettle over, the piping-hot liquid turned instantly into snow and blew away in the wind.

The video of Gill , a meteorologist at the observatory, conducting this little presentation received thousands of sympathetic likes on Facebook. The temperature that day at the observatory hit a bone-chilling low of degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius —and that was without accounting for wind chill. The day broke the previous record of degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius , set in Activists are disrupting lectures to protest "white supremacy," but many students are taking steps to stop them.

At Reed College, a small liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon, a year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. She told me more: The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface. Will the growing demand for multilingual early-childhood programs push out the students these programs were designed to serve?

Students chatter with one another as they work, smiling and joking and wiggling in and out of their chairs. But this one is different. Smiles break out on an array of faces, and the chatter spills out in English and Spanish.

See all of their coverage here. Its fourth season begins with an opposite horror: He can conjure nightmares from anywhere. People stranded at Disneyland, a spectacular rocket launch in California, polar bears dance for the Pope, Christmas on an Australian beach, and much more. People stranded at Disneyland; a spectacular rocket launch in California; polar bears dance for the Pope; violent attacks in Afghanistan and Mexico; a ridiculous amount of snow buries Erie, Pennsylvania; Christmas on an Australian beach; and much more.

This year, podcasts got funnier, sharper, and even more niche. Our recommendations here pass a vigorous audio smell test.

First, the arrival of a new podcast episode must send you into an ethical quandary: How do I get out of at least some of my obligations today to listen to this? Second, you must be able to recommend this to a colleague with the knowledge that your reputation is at stake. Finally, the podcast world, like any other sphere, is about what have you done for me lately.

These shows generated maximum buzz, kept us refreshing our apps, broke boundaries, and made our future selves romanticize the golden years of podcasting. Magazine Current issue All issues Manage subscription Subscribe. Subscribe Subscribe Give a Gift. How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts Modern slot machines develop an unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even, as in the case of Scott Stevens, their lives.

The Hero of Heroes. Most Popular Presented by. These figures are not marginal. The shows that kept listeners refreshing their apps this year This year, podcasts got funnier, sharper, and even more niche. The science behind that cringeworthy feeling. American history is rarely as straightforward as it is taught.

Schwartz said, adding that he wondered how much latitude casino operators would have to change their returns. He also worries that some players could receive preferential odds if, for instance, they are high rollers, thus creating an uneven gambling field. By law, Nevada casinos must on average return at least 75 percent of slot machine wagers. The reality is they return more than 90 percent, casino operators say, though they do not publicize the figures.

Also under the law, they cannot modify the payback percentages while someone is playing. State law allows them to change the odds after a machine has been idle for four minutes, and then they must not allow anyone to play the machine for four more minutes.

During that time, the screen must indicate a change is being made to the game's configuration, said Travis Foley, laboratory manager for the technology division of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, who is overseeing the Treasure Island test.

View all New York Times newsletters. Typically, those changes now are made in the middle of the night when there are fewer players in the casino.

Foley said the technology "does expedite the change" to a new theme, wager denomination or payback percentage.

For his part, Mr. Beltram said fierce competition for slot machine players would keep him from playing fast and loose with his odds. The bigger goal, he said, is to cater inexpensively to consumer demand. He cites as evidence a recent visit by a high roller from Rhode Island. Beltram ordered the computer chip and glass plate from International Game Technology, which makes the machine, and had them in place 24 hours later.

The lost day potentially cut into profits. If the customer had been able to play earlier, "Who knows what he would have spent? As it turned out, the high roller returned a day later, played the new game and wound up winning money. But a lot of money is left on the table with low rollers as well. It's just a matter of giving them what they want when they want it, Mr. At night, we might have more slots," he said. Beltram said he expected the system to be in place by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Ed Rogich, spokesman for International Gaming Technology, said a similar test was taking place at a casino operated by the Barona Indian tribe, just outside of San Diego. Most casinos already link their slot machines and can view their performance from a central server.

The difference is that the latest advance is the first time casinos can push information out to all their machines, creating the potential for "dumb terminals," as they are known outside gambling, on which the software can be modified centrally, easily and instantly. The concept of networked slot machines is undergoing a different kind of test down the street from Treasure Island at a casino called the Barbary Coast.

There, near the front door, sits an enormous circular wheel of fortune slot machine with seats around it for nine players. In front of each player is a monitor on which they play an individualized version of the game. The twist is that a monitor in the center of the game, viewable by all, indicates which players have hit the bonus round. At various points, those players who have hit the bonus round -- meaning they are eligible to increase their winnings by a certain multiple -- can cause the wheel of fortune in the center to spin; whatever number lands in front of each eligible player indicates the bonus amount.

The individual players are not affecting each other's outcomes, but the game creates a feeling of community, almost like craps players cheering for each other at the table. Regular slot players say they have mixed feelings about the potential for the centrally controlled games. Rexie Lestrange, who lives in Lodi, Calif.

you dont

Casinos know exactly who their biggest spenders are. According to a article in Time magazine, back in the s casino operators bought records from credit-card companies and mailing lists from direct-mail marketers.

These days, the casinos have their own internal methods for determining who their most attractive customers are. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas , 70 percent of patrons now use loyalty cards, which allow the casinos to track such data points as how frequently they play electronic gaming machines, how long they play, how much they bet, how often they win and lose, what times of day they visit, and so on.

Each time a patron hits the Spin or the Deal button, which can be as frequently as to 1, times an hour, the casino registers the data. In some machines, miniature cameras watch their faces and track their playing behavior. Several companies supply casinos with ATMs that allow patrons to withdraw funds through both debit and cash-advance functions, in some cases without ever leaving the machines they are playing.

Some of the companies also sell information on their ATM customers to the casinos. All of these data have enabled casinos to specifically target their most reliable spenders, primarily problem gamblers and outright addicts. They also employ hosts who befriend large spenders and use special offers to encourage them to stay longer or return soon. Some hosts receive bonuses that are tied to the amount customers spend beyond their expected losses, which are calculated using the data gathered from previous visits.

The business plan for casinos is based on the addicted gambler. It increased the limits on some slot machines so that she could spend more on single games. It also made a new machine off-limits to other customers so that Richardson could be the first to play it.

Management assigned Richardson an executive host, who offered her free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and tickets to entertainment events. In , Richardson, then 54, was sentenced to 14 to 20 years in prison for the crime. The thefts ultimately put the company out of business. A representative for Ameristar Casino declined to comment on the lawsuit. District Court for Nebraska agreed that Colombo had sufficiently proved its initial claim of unjust enrichment, which the casino would have to defend itself against.

W alk into the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia, and the slot machines overwhelm you—more than 1, of them, lights blinking, animated screens flashing, the simulated sound of clinking coins blaring across the floor. But the vast majority sit at the slot machines. Slots and video poker have become the lifeblood of the American casino.

They generate nearly 70 percent of casino revenues, according to a American Gaming Association report, up from 45 percent four decades ago. Three out of five casino visitors say their favorite activity is playing electronic gaming machines.

Their popularity spells profits not only for casinos but for manufacturers as well. Old-fashioned three-reel slot machines consisted of physical reels that were set spinning by the pull of a lever. If the same symbol aligned on the payline on all three reels when they stopped spinning, the player would win a jackpot that varied in size depending on the symbol.

The odds were straightforward and not terribly hard to calculate. But where each reel stops is no longer determined by the force of a good pull of the lever. The physical reels are not spinning until they run out of momentum, as it might appear.

Thus it is possible for game designers to reduce the odds of hitting a big jackpot from 1 in 10, to 1 in million. Moreover, it is almost impossible for a slots player to have any idea of the actual odds of winning any jackpot, however large or small.

The intent is to give the player the impression of having almost won—when, in fact, he or she is no closer to having won than if the symbol had not appeared on the reel at all. Some slot machines are specifically programmed to offer up this near-miss result far more often than they would if they operated by sheer chance, and the psychological impact can be powerful, leading players to think, I was so close.

Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School and the author of Gambling and the Law , has written, Nevada regulations operate on the theory that a sophisticated player would be able to tell the real odds of winning by playing a machine long enough. Research has shown that an elevated number of near-miss results does increase playing time. Indeed, as early as , B. Astonishingly, the patent application for virtual reel mapping, the technology that made all these deceptive practices possible, was straightforward about its intended use: In the United States, by contrast, the federal government granted the patent for virtual reel mapping in IGT purchased the rights to it in and later licensed the patent to other companies.

Of course, classic, spinning-reel slot machines make up only a fraction of the electronic gaming machines available at most casinos. Technology has evolved such that many machines lack physical reels altogether, instead merely projecting the likenesses of spinning symbols onto a video screen.

Instead of betting on one simple payline, players are able to bet on multiple patterns of paylines—as many as on some machines. This allows for more opportunities to win, but the results are often deceptive. You can get to of these false wins, which we also call losses , an hour. Because the machine is telling the player he or she is winning, the gradual siphoning is less noticeable. Related to the video slot machines are video-poker terminals, which IGT began popularizing in The standard five-card-draw game shows five cards, each offering players the option to hold or replace by drawing a card from the 47 remaining in the virtual deck.

The games require more skill—or at least a basic understanding of probabilities—than the slot machines do. As such, they appeal to people who want to have some sense of exerting control over the outcome. They saw, for instance, patrons going more often for four of a kind than the royal flush, a rarer but more lucrative hand, and they adjusted the machines accordingly.

Video poker also offers its own version of losses disguised as wins. Whatever the exact figure, the house odds make it such that if a player plays long enough, she will eventually lose her money.

T echnological innovations have not only rendered electronic gaming machines wildly profitable; they have also, according to experts, made them more addictive. A crucial element in modern gambling machines is speed. Individual hands or spins can be completed in just three or four seconds.

For many gambling addicts, the zone itself becomes more desirable even than winning. Players have gone for 14, 15, 16 hours or more playing continuously. They have become so absorbed in the machines that they left their young children unattended in cars, wet themselves without noticing, and neglected to eat for hours.

Casinos and game designers have come up with many ways to keep patrons at their machines and playing rapidly. The chairs are ergonomically designed so that someone can sit comfortably for long stretches. Winnings can be converted back to credits or printed on vouchers to be redeemed later.

Waitresses come by to take drink orders, obviating the need for players to get up at all. Public-policy advocates compare slot machines to cigarettes. Both, they claim, are products specifically and deliberately engineered to have addictive properties that are known to hook users. Eubanks was the lead counsel for the Justice Department in successful federal litigation against the tobacco industry between and She joined Noffsinger in representing Stacy Stevens after he convinced her that the deception used by the gambling industry paralleled that of the tobacco industry.

The data they track in real time on player cards alert them to these pain points: Hosts are also on the lookout for telling behavior, such as someone striking a machine in frustration or slumping over it in discouragement. When hosts spot someone in a state like this, they may swoop in and offer a voucher for some free credits, a drink, or perhaps a meal in the restaurant, where the player can take a break until the resistance passes and he can resume gambling.

When players do exhaust all their funds, casinos will sometimes loan them additional money. In , she spent an entire night gambling at Caesars Riverboat Casino, drinking strong alcoholic beverages provided for free.

When she eventually came to the end of her money playing blackjack, the casino offered her a counter check, basically a promissory note, to enable her to keep playing. She signed the check and gambled away the money. That happened five more times. Noffsinger countersued on her behalf.

Experts say casinos should be aware that when they extend credit to losing patrons, they are by definition enabling problem gamblers. Casinos might similarly be held liable for the financial consequences suffered by gamblers to whom they extend credit beyond a certain limit. In , the widow of a man who killed himself after racking up insurmountable debt at a Mississippi casino sued the casino under an extrapolation of dramshop laws.

So far, no U. Nor should they, according to the gambling industry. Nothing of that sort exists to measure what the level is to have gambled too much.

Mountaineer Casino and IGT both declined repeated requests for comment. It does not, however, prevent them from losing money if they visit a casino despite the restriction.

Some experts believe self-exclusion lists are not effective, because they seem to be erratically enforced. Despite the presence of sophisticated surveillance technology, patrons are not routinely screened for their self-exclusion status.

Given that casino operators and slot-machine manufacturers are adamant that the blame for gambling addiction resides with the individual, it is not surprising that research by the industry-funded National Center for Responsible Gaming favors studies directed toward confirming this conclusion.

Members of the board of directors, she asserts, do not make research decisions, and the center has a separate scientific advisory board. She says that the problem is rooted in the individual. Independent research not funded by the NCRG has shown how false wins, near misses, and other such features influence gamblers, especially the way they perceive expected outcomes. Most of them are making correct conclusions based on deceptive information. Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says that although the industry should have a role in research and public-education efforts, it cannot be effective on its own.

The group, which maintains a neutral stance toward legal gambling, receives a large share of its funding from the industry. A lmost a decade after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act launched the dramatic expansion of casino gambling into new jurisdictions, the federal government appointed a commission to study the impact of the proliferation.

Despite that warning, states have been unable to resist the continued expansion of casino gambling. One reason for the ongoing growth is the financial clout of the industry itself. Many states provide tribal casinos with regional monopolies in exchange for revenues skimmed off the top of casino profits—as much as 30 to 40 percent in some places.

Kansas actually owns the games and operations of nontribal casinos. New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island have all provided financial bailouts to faltering casinos. Communities typically build casinos based on a mirage of false promises: It should not be allowed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In defense of its products and practices, the gambling industry insists that it is heavily regulated and therefore safe. Nelson Rose, the author of Gambling and the Law. Each state in which gambling is legal has set up its own commission to regulate the industry, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between regulators and the industry. Many gaming-commission members—including those who approve applications for casino licenses—are advised by consultants for private companies also on casino payrolls.

Yet such essential disclosure is not required of electronic gaming machines. As it happens, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board addressed exactly this question during its hearings on virtual-reel technology.

They seem unwilling to deal with the social costs. Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling agrees that the close relationship between the state and its gambling interests was crucial: Essentially what the West Virginia Supreme Court has said is that gambling interests in West Virginia are immune from liability. Former West Virginia House Majority Leader Rick Staton has expressed regret over his role in expanding legalized gambling in the state.

There have been more people who have lost a lot of money, there have been more people who have had to file bankruptcy, there have been more people who have embezzled, there have been more people who have committed suicide.

And that, according to several experts, is what it will probably take—a court trial, which would open access to private industry documents. They cannot afford to have that made public, because it would confirm what everybody knows: The more lawyers read about it, the more they are going to start smelling blood in the water. It just takes for a case to be brought up in the right jurisdiction.

A photograph of him later that week, when he was deep-sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas, a place that usually brought him happiness, reveals the heaviness in his expression—his eyes defeated, his smile gone.

In the months after he was fired, Stevens tried taking the antidepressant Paxil and saw a therapist, but he did not admit to Stacy that he was still gambling almost every day. As spring turned into summer, he knew that charges from the IRS were forthcoming following its investigation into his embezzlement and that even after serving time in prison, he would likely still be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owed in back taxes and penalties.

His former employer seemed close to pressing charges, having put the police on notice. He would never be able to work in the financial sector again. Once the affair hit the papers, his family would be dragged through the gantlet of small-town gossip and censure. He could see no way to spare them other than to sacrifice himself.

By mid-afternoon on August 13, , Stacy had started to worry. But she got no response until about an hour later, when he sent his last text to her: Stevens had just called him. Bender had tried to talk him out of killing himself, but Stevens had hung up.

Bender said he would call They found Stevens sitting on the railroad tie by his Jeep. The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope.

This is a good day, Samantha tells me: But today promises unalloyed joy. The girl needs supplies: Listen to the audio version of this article: Feature stories, read aloud: At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze.

Beltram, a casino executive, is the point man in a high-technology experiment that could alter the face of slot machines, and their insides, too. With a few clicks of his computer mouse, Mr. Beltram can reprogram the 1, slot machines on the casino floor, adjusting the denominations required to play, payback percentages, even game themes.

Despite their growing popularity and an increase in overall gambling proceeds in recent years, casino operators want to win back more of the money their customers are now spending elsewhere -- on food, lodging and other entertainment, or at Indian casinos or for online gambling. In the past, changing out a slot machine was a complicated operation and entailed opening it, replacing the computer chip inside, then changing the glass display that markets the game's theme.

The alteration usually took a day and could cost thousands of dollars, from ordering parts to modifying the machine. The concept is being tested for the next few months under the gaze of state gambling regulators.

If regulators approve, casino operators will be able to centrally adjust the slots to cater to different crowds -- older players and regulars during the day and younger tourists and people with bigger budgets at night. That could mean testing consumer confidence as well. Some critics wonder whether centrally controlled slots are not a few steps away from the distant, but instant and unchecked control enjoyed by Internet casino operators.

Beltram insists he does not plan to capriciously change the odds, which he said would be bad for repeat business and could run afoul of regulators. The development of networked slots underscores the growing convergence of gambling and technology.

Slot machines, once highly mechanized, are now highly computerized; only about half the machines have actual spinning cylinders. The rest are computer-generated facsimiles that allow gamblers to play numerous animated reels at once, and induce them with the promise of bonus rounds.

Gamblers now insert debit slips that track how much money they have, making the coins people once collected in buckets a distant memory. Coming soon are high-definition screens that will enhance the animation to keep gamblers engaged and draw bigger crowds, and even better speakers to project crisp sound right at players. More generally, casino operators have sought in recent years to use technology to offer new games and make a science of their business.

They are experimenting with stocking blackjack tables with money chips embedded with digital tags that can automatically measure how much a gambler has wagered and on what kinds of hands. Casinos also are testing wireless devices that would allow people to play games like Keno and eventually blackjack while sitting in public areas, like the swimming pool. But these advances are raising some eyebrows.

In the case of the new slot machines, regulators want to make sure the systems cannot be invaded by outsiders, while consumers want to know casino operators cannot too easily manipulate the odds, said David G.

Schwartz said, adding that he wondered how much latitude casino operators would have to change their returns. He also worries that some players could receive preferential odds if, for instance, they are high rollers, thus creating an uneven gambling field. By law, Nevada casinos must on average return at least 75 percent of slot machine wagers.

The reality is they return more than 90 percent, casino operators say, though they do not publicize the figures. Also under the law, they cannot modify the payback percentages while someone is playing. State law allows them to change the odds after a machine has been idle for four minutes, and then they must not allow anyone to play the machine for four more minutes. During that time, the screen must indicate a change is being made to the game's configuration, said Travis Foley, laboratory manager for the technology division of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, who is overseeing the Treasure Island test.

View all New York Times newsletters. Typically, those changes now are made in the middle of the night when there are fewer players in the casino. Foley said the technology "does expedite the change" to a new theme, wager denomination or payback percentage. For his part, Mr.

Beltram said fierce competition for slot machine players would keep him from playing fast and loose with his odds.

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