“It’s a big problem this place. I’ve lost a lot of money. I lost about a million five years ago. So, I stopped for five years. I learned a lesson. Why did they build this place here? To give money away? They’re here to make money. It’s not to give you money. ” - Anonymous.
“All that the capital city needed and more! Pretty awesome.” - Facebook commenter.
These were the mixed reactions to Africa’s second-largest casino. Sun Times Square, a casino that cost USD$289 million to build, opened its doors on the first of April 2017. A monument to capitalism erected in the city of Pretoria, a city that is regenerating and renovating using current civil engineering practices. It promises to be a hotbed of social activity thanks to these endeavours.
In the construction phase of the casino, 10,000 jobs were created, and upon completion, 2,200 permanent jobs will remain. An 8,500 seat arena and a hotel are also being constructed. The casino, however, is open for business.
The casino has 2,000 slot machines with the latest in engineered gaming technology in its arsenal, and there are 100 tables set out for run of the mill card games, roulette, etc.
Our skills for sale – for better or for worse
Natasha Dow Schull, a cultural anthropologist and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a book in 2012 entitled: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. She outlines how modern day slot machines came to be. She writes:
“This process involves up to three hundred people, including script writers, graphic artists, marketers, mathematicians, and mechanical, video, and software engineers -- not to mention designers of auxiliary components like touchscreens, bill validators, and machine cabinets.”
Slot machines are basically just random number generators. In 1993, all slot machines were microprocessor driven. Now, they are linked via interconnected networks that are plugged into a central server, with unprecedented data-gathering technology that also monitors players.
The modern slot machine is carefully engineered against the players. They are warned, but still struggle to resist the lure of possible winnings.
In the 1970s revenue figures for casinos in the United States revealed that 50% or less was garnered from the slots. And now, despite those warnings, gaming machines are responsible for between 70 and 80% of their revenue; they are becoming more popular.
It’s modernized, but is it fair?
In 2010, The American Gaming Association (AGA) issued a white paper named: Demystifying Slot Machines and Their Impact in the United States. The company wrote that slot manufacturers “need to build devices for a society with a decreasing attention span and an increasing demand for exciting, fast-paced entertainment, all in a marketplace overflowing with competing entertainment options.”
Little is said about how they are pitted against the players, but much about how they can be upgraded to reflect the advances in technology of the modern world.
Gone are coins and paper-money slot machines. Gambling machines in modern casinos now work on credit card-like technology, utilizing magnetic stripes with informational data, unique to each gambler, stored on them.
Another shift in design, for ease of use, is the touch screen in place of the lever. And the reels that usually housed the numbers have been replaced by digitally displayed graphics.
The modernization of the gambling machine will only become more powerful as the fourth industrial revolution plods along: the Internet of Things and 5G-connected technologies. It will increase a casino’s ability to monitor its risk, against that of the player.
Schull concluded that it is no longer about risk or volatility with slot machines. It is simply an engineered algorithm which the players believe may just work in their favour and which offers a pleasant diversion and distraction. She said:
“When you look at contemporary slot machines, they don’t operate on volatility. One designer of the mathematics and algorithm of these games said we want an algorithm that makes you feel like you are reclining on a couch.”
Mitch Hedberg, an American stand-up comedian, is recorded as saying, “I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semi-circle.” The humor is not lost, but the designers of these gaming machines seem to be on a winner with players finding them increasingly tantalizing and irresistible.
Schüll, Natasha Dow. Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. Print.
Thompson, Andrew. "Slot Machines Perfected Addictive Gaming. Now, Tech Wants Their Tricks." The Verge. 06 May 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.