Several years ago, I was in Las Vegas with my wife, and her aunt and uncle. We were playing video poker and her aunt and uncle were playing the Mega-Millions slot machines that were with-in eyesight of us. All of a sudden, I see her Uncle John fall off the back of his chair. I went running over to see if he was alright, but he was already up yelling at the screen by the time I got there. I look on the screen and the first reel has the Mega-Millions symbol on the center pay line, the second reel has the Mega-Millions symbol on the center pay line, and on the third reel the Mega-Millions symbol has stopped right above the center pay line. Apparently, John got so excited and thought he won that he fell off the back of his chair. I don’t remember what the jackpot was, but it was well over a million dollars. That my friend is known as a “near miss” on a slot machine.
Researchers have done a lot of testing on the reactions people have when they receive a near miss. They’ve studied the biological reactions of the brain and the psychological effects of the player. Researchers have discovered that when a near miss occurs the brain’s reaction is similar to actually winning the jackpot. The brain releases adrenaline and endorphins just as if a person really won.
Once the realization that it really wasn’t a win sinks in, the player becomes more determined and truly believes they will soon hit the jackpot. John was no exception. He played the Mega-Millions for the rest of the trip and of course he didn’t win the jackpot. This occurs all the time and it is the natural reaction to think that you were so close that the machine has to hit soon. Unfortunately, the machines don’t work like that.
The slot machines that are programmed by a random number generator (RNG), which I’ve talked about before, produce a sequential code as soon as the spin button is pushed. That code represents a specific result on the screen. The code for the jackpot and the code for the near miss that was received could be thousands of numbers away. The near miss code is totally different than the jackpot code, and you are no more likely to hit the jackpot before or after you receive a near miss.
Casinos are well aware of these studies and the effects near misses have on players. They have been caught trying to take advantage of them in the past. In the 1980’s, several slot manufacturers were caught programming near misses to occur at a greater rate than they should occur naturally. Once word of what they were doing was delivered to the public of course everyone was outraged. Eventually the major gambling jurisdictions made it illegal to program near misses at a higher rate. They must occur randomly and not be programmed.
The fact remains that whether it is a slot machine or a video poker machine, a player who receives a near miss biochemically goes through this process. Even if you know what is going on it can be tough to convince yourself that the near miss does not mean the jackpot is close.
As slot players, the important thing to learn is DO NOT play a slot machine any longer than you intended because you received a near miss. Set your bankroll before you begin play and stick to it regardless of whether or not you receive a near miss. Casinos rely on near misses to keep players playing, but it is your job to understand what is going on and not allow it to affect you negatively.