Slot Machine Near Misses Will Not Keep You Playing

Two Casino Slot Machines
If you play slots for real money, then you’ll barely miss out on big payouts all too often. You may have even had heartbreaking experiences where you got a payout, but just missed a big jackpot or bonus.

These instances are referred to as “near misses.” They describe the times where you’re just one symbol away from getting paid or earning a much bigger prize.

The conventional wisdom has always been that near misses keep you spinning the reels longer. However, new research shows that this long-held belief is completely untrue.

Below, I’ll cover this research along with why people ever believed that near misses held some power in the first place.

Common Thinking Regarding Slot Near Misses

Slot machines are designed to award you payouts for landing a specific number of symbols in a payline. For example, you may receive a prize as long as you get three or more icons in a line.

However, you’ll experience plenty of times where you only get two symbols. In these cases, you’ll narrowly miss out on scoring a prize.

These near misses have always been thought to make you play longer. You’re supposedly more likely to believe that a payout is right around the corner in these situations.

Just missing out on a prize isn’t the only scenario where near misses come into play. You may need three scatter symbols for a bonus and land two of them.

Again, you’ll allegedly want to continue gambling when considering that you almost triggered the bonus. You might think that the slot machine is “getting closer” to offering more orbigger prizes.

The question, though, is whether or not you’ll truly be motivated to log more time on slots just because you’ve almost won.

Research Reveals the Truth About Near Misses

The University of Alberta recently conducted a study regarding the near miss concept. Their results show that near misses may not actually motivate people or animals to continue a particular activity.

Their research used the habits of pigeons to determine whether mankind is fueled by narrowly missing out on a payout. Pigeons were used because they’re considered among the most impulsive lab animals.

Jeffrey Pisklak, one of the researchers involved with the study, noted that pigeons have addictive personalities. They’re similar to a compulsive gambler who can’t stop playing slot machines. He likens them to nature’s “problem gambler.”

Row of Casino Slot Machines, Two Laptops, Taking Notes

The pigeons were set in front of food. Researchers watched to see if the birds pecked more to get food following a near miss.

They discovered that the pigeons didn’t increase their pecking rate following close calls. Therefore, it can be assumed that neither they, nor compulsive gamblers, are motivated by near misses.

Pisklak believes that this phenomenon does hold merit in certain instances. For example, a basketball player who narrowly misses a shot may be more inclined to keep practicing. They can use the previous botched shot as information on how they can improve the next attempt.

However, slot machines are different because they don’t feature skill. A gambler who nearly misses on a spin can’t use this info to boost their chances the next time.

Will This Research Convince US Casinos to Operate Differently?

Slot machine developers use several tricks (covered later) to keep people playing for longer hours. Near misses, however, don’t appear to be a useful trick.

It was often thought that developers purposely programmed games to have close calls more often. The logic here is that more near misses offer more encouragement that a big prize is coming up.

Slots providers and US real money casinos can simply refer to the University of Alberta’s study to see that near wins don’t have any impact on gambling behavior. Then again, though, the gambling industry may have already known this for a long time.

Assuming this is the case, then they won’t change anything about slot machines regarding near misses. They’ll just keep the rate of these incidents at a normal level.

But if any developers do actually design slots to feature more close calls, then they’ll likely stop. The Alberta research team has proven that designing games in this manner is a waste of time.

Four Things That Will Convince You to Play Slots Longer

Near misses may not actually do anything with regard to convincing you to play more slots. However, the following four factors do have an impact. You should be mindful of these aspects at all times.

1 – Slots Trance

Modern slot machines feature a nice mix of good graphics, flashing lights, and fun soundtracks. These elements are seemingly harmless ways of increasing the entertainment value surrounding a slot.

The reality, though, is that they can combine to put you into a trance. Research suggests that the flashing lights and soundtracks can especially cause you to play more.

You can fall into a “slot machine zone” while spinning the reels. This zone causes you to become fully immersed in a game and forget about your surroundings and responsibilities.

Slot Machine, Trance

The University of British Columbia (UBC) performed research on this subject. They divided players into two groups, including casual players and problem gamblers.

The team then had the gamblers play slots for 30 minutes apiece. Each slot machine featured side panels with moving white circles.

Players were asked to push a button when a white circle turned into a red square. Problem gamblers missed the red square more often than the casual players. They also reported falling into trances while spinning the reels.

2 – Wins Disguised as Losses

Most slots today feature 20 paylines or more. The multiple lines ensure that you have lots of chances to win in each round.

However, they can also lead to a phenomenon known as losses disguised as wins (LDWs). An LDW may cause you to think that you’re a winner even if you’ve lost money.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet $0.50 on a spin.
  • You win two prizes worth $0.05 and $0.10 ($0.15 total).
  • The machine lets out loud sounds and shows flashing lights.
  • You now feel like a winner thanks to the theatrics.
  • But you’ve actually lost $0.35.

The sounds and lights aren’t the only aspects working against your better judgement. The quick pace of slot machines can also make you lose any semblance of reality.

You may fail to account for how much you’re winning and losing based on how fast you can play. Instead, you’ll just notice the lights and sounds and quickly push spin to start the next round.

3 – Chasing Comps

Casino comps are typically one of the more exciting parts of playing slot machines. However, they can also loop you into the trap of playing strictly for rewards.

You may feel that you’re actually earning something valuable. In reality, you’re risking far more than comps are worth.

The key problem is that you’re typically only rewarded at a rate of 0.1% of your total betting volume. This rate isn’t even close to your theoretical losses.

Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing a slot with a 5% house edge.
  • The casino’s comp rate is 0.1%.
  • You bet $10,000 total.
  • 10,000 x 0.05 = $500 in theoretical losses.
  • 10,000 x 0.001 = $10 in comps.
  • 500 / 10 = Your comps are worth 50x less than theoretical losses.

You should still go after rewards and promotions if you’re going to play slots anyways. But the key is to avoid extending sessions just to upgrade comps.

4 – Skill-Based Slot Machines

Skill-based slots have become more notable within the past few years. They play just like standard slot machines, with the exception of offering a bonus round with skill.

Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing a slot about cops and robbers.
  • You trigger the bonus round.
  • You need to shoot out the robbers’ tires during a highspeed chase.
  • You’ll earn a larger prize for shooting the tires quicker.

These types of slots have been given rise because casinos are looking for a new way to appeal to millennials. The latter doesn’t play regular slot machines as much as previous generations.

Ebay Slot Machine in Casino

Casinos are hoping that more interactive forms of gambling will appeal to younger crowds. They’re also banking on gamblers’ overestimating the level of skill involved.

The idea of a skill-based slot makes it seem like you have a stronger chance to win. In reality, though, the bonus round only makes up a small amount of overall payback.

Here’s an example to illustrate this point:

  • You’re playing a slot with 92% base RTP.
  • The bonus round can add another 4% payback when played perfectly.
  • Therefore, you can achieve up to a maximum of 96% RTP.

96% payback isn’t bad in the overall scheme of things. However, it’s not quite what you may envision after becoming an expert at the bonus round in question.

Skill-based slot machines should be treated as a fun novelty rather than a path towards winning gambling profits.


Near misses have long been thought to incite more slots play. Logically speaking, they can trick you into thinking bigger prizes are coming in the near future.

The truth, though, is that slots players aren’t really motivated by close calls. They’re no more likely to continue playing after just missing a bonus than they are when completely missing it.

The University of Alberta may have finally dispelled the myth that near misses lead to more play.

Their study revealed that pigeons, nature’s compulsive gamblers, don’t peck after food any more often following a near miss.

As explained by Jeffrey Pisklak, one of the researchers, players know that they can’t do anything to improve upon a losing spin.

They can only push the spin button and hope they’re lucky. This lack of skill takes away any motivation to continue playing just because of a close call.

You can see that near misses have no bearing on you playing more often. However, you should pay attention to the following factors that can make you feel like gambling more:

  • Slots trances
  • Losses disguised as wins
  • Comps
  • Skill-based play

Of these, trances are especially problematic. Slot machines use an array of lights and sounds to keep your focus on the games instead of the outside world.

LDWs contribute to the trance-like state. You may be convinced that you’re winning thanks to the lights and sound effects even after losing money.

Many gamblers inflate the value of comps and think they’re getting an incredible deal. In reality, these rewards are worth less than the theoretical losses you face while chasing them.

Skill-based play may make you overconfidence about your chances of winning. The skill element only accounts for a small amount of payback.

As long as you’re aware of the four problems above, then you’ll have a better chance at keeping your slots bankroll.