Sunday, May 26, 2024

Odds always stacked


IT is a statistical fact that poker machine operators can’t possibly lose . . . meaning punters can’t possibly win.

That’s because every one of Victoria’s 27,500 poker machines is programmed to give the operators between 10c and 13c of every dollar that goes in.

So while some gamblers obviously get the occasional lucky break, the money they win comes from other players.

Those winnings don’t come out of the amply-lined pockets of Tattersall’s or Tabcorp.

And the odds dictate that if winning punters don’t quickly walk away with their cash they will soon lose it.

Put simply, all poker machine punters do is turn every dollar they spend into 87c-90c. They are throwing their money away.

But the 10c-13c the operators gets from every dollar that goes into their machines adds up to $2.4 billion in pokie revenue every year.

State Government coffers get almost $1 billion of that in tax.

The Productivity Commission says the price of playing poker machines in Victoria — set at a minimum 87 per cent return — is misleading.

It has found that 50 per cent of players would get less than the 87 per cent return unless they were willing to stand at a machine and press the button millions of times.

“Except by some colossal fluke, no single player will experience the average (return) during a play session,” it said.

For true returns of 87c on every dollar spent on Lion Dance and Double Play machines, a player needs to play five million games. That equates to playing non-stop 12 hours a day for

2 1/2 years.

“The hapless player would have to be prepared to lose $50,000 for the privilege of the experience,” the commission says.

The simple fact is the only real winners are the State Government and the pokies operators, Tattersall’s and Tabcorp.

Poker machines are legislated to provide an expected average 87 per cent return to players. In some cases, they are set to return an expected average 90 per cent.

To say a machine is “set” to return 90 per cent simply means that game mathematics are structured to give the expectation that over a long period the machine is likely to average a 90 per cent return of the total bets made on it.

For individual games, the figure is not very useful; almost useless. This is because of the enormous number of possible outcomes that can occur in any one game on a poker machine.

If we look at a simple game of tossing a coin, there are only two possible outcomes. Using the rules of chance, heads can be expected to occur at a rate of 50 per cent.

But there is no guarantee that 50 heads will occur. In fact, it is easily possible to get more than 50 or less than 50.

For gaming machines, the total possible outcomes are astronomical by comparison.

For a game with, say, 144 million possible outcomes, which is by no means unusual, there can be no reasonable expectation that it will tend to operate according to its averages in 100 games, or even 1000 games, or even 10,000 games.

A player will almost certainly not play sufficient games to have any reasonable expectation of experiencing the set player return percentage of between 87 per cent and 90 per cent.

“People who play gaming machines to increase their income are either misinformed about the nature of machines or just plain foolish,” according to the Australian Gaming Machine Manufacturers Association, a non-profit industry organisation.

“Gaming machines are not designed to enable people to supplement their incomes.”

Many players will experience sessions when prizes won exceed the amount spent but, in the long term, in all but the most unusual circumstances, this outcome is virtually impossible.

A Productivity Commission study of the popular Black Rhino machine found the odds of lining up five rhinos on the reel and getting a payout of $5450 were a staggering one in 10 million.

Playing a one-line bet per button push, the punter would need to stand at the machine for 188 years and spend $330,000 on 6.7 million games to have a 50 per cent chance of winning.

This compares with a one in 7.059 million chance of winning Pengeluaran SGP  Lotto and a one in 500,000 chance of taking out the $250,000 prize with a $5 instant scratchie.

Macquarie University statistician John Croucher said no one should play poker machines with an expectation of winning.

“Poker machines are really for entertainment; they are not there for an easy win,” he said.

“You shouldn’t expect to make a living out of them and, if you do win, you should walk away, otherwise you are going to give it back.”

The Productivity Commission noted a common reason for continued gambling was to chase losses.

“Given the odds, this is a self-defeating strategy, which in itself points to a consumer awareness problem,” it said.




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