A recovering gambling addict who claims that slot machines (pokies, or poker machines in Australia) are misleading players and should be outlawed is having her day in court. Shonica Guy, who lost a lot of money on machines like Aristocrats’ Dolphin Treasure slot game, is suing the slot developer along with Crown Resorts, who have more than 30 of those machines on their Melbourne casino floor.
At the heart of the matter are the machines’ stated RTP, or theoretical return to player percentage, and the fact that the fifth reel has more non-winning symbols on it than the first four do. In order to win the big prize, a player must line up five matching top-tier symbols.
The allegations also state that lights, sounds, and images generated by the machines are designed to make players think they have won money when they have actually only recovered a part of their bet.
The defense maintains that the RTP is plainly posted on all of the games as required by law and that regulators have full knowledge of the game’s features.
Peter Jopling, speaking for Aristocrat asked the court, “How could it be said that we were acting in an unconscionable way when all these things have been considered … and taken into account by government and then produced legislation that we’ve complied by?” according to a report on abc.net.au.
Video bonus slots with free spins and other features do not operate like the 3-reel “one-armed-bandits” of old. These particular machines have reel strips with various distributions of symbols. The first four reels have 30 symbols each while the last reel has 44 symbols.
A punter with a notepad and plenty of time can actually map the reels on slots like these to determine the odds of winning any given spin. Taken into account along with the paytable’s award values, it is possible to confirm or challenge the theoretical number as well as to determine the variance or volatility of a slot game – and to predict whether the same game title is indeed the same game from one venue to the next.
Aristocrat doesn’t deny that it is more difficult to land a particular high tier symbol on the last reel than it is on the first four.
“We say that we’ve followed the standards to a tee and nobody has said that we haven’t,” Jopling said.
Without the need to become a statistical analyst, common sense might dictate to a player who repeatedly experiences the “near miss” phenomenon that one of two things is occurring; they are either extremely unlucky or the machine is designed in such a way as to deliver winning symbols on the fifth reel different to how they are delivered on the first four. It’s unclear from available court transcripts so far how many times the plaintiff may have played the game or the extent of her former gambling problem.
Another element of the lawsuit before Melbourne Federal Court Justice Debbie Mortimer is the industry standard statement of RTP. Lawyers for Guy say that the posted return to player percentage of 87.8% is misleading. Maurice Blackburn lawyers claim that the posted theoritical statistic, (which as noted above is determined by the reel strips and pay table on this particular game and confirmed over millions of simulations) gives players the impression they only risk losing 12.2% of the money they bet
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Principal lawyer Jacob Varghese said last year that the RTP is misleading.
“The so-called ‘return to player’ is just an average on any given spin. If you play multiple games – as the machines encourage – the return to the player often ends up approaching zero, because you lose an average of 12.17 per cent each spin. Calling it a ‘return to player’ is just false.
“So if you put money into the machine and have multiple spins, you likely will be left with nothing.”
According to some observers, the trial could go as long as three weeks and have a major impact on the pokies industry in Australia. The government there recently passed an amended law effectively outlawing all online casino and poker games. The new law went into effect this week. While it doesn’t ban players from accessing the website, it does levy criminal and civil penalties on providers who operate in Australia without a state or territorial license. The outcome of this case could affect whether those government bodies ever decide to issue such licenses as well as the sort of games that would be authorized if and when they do.