Slot-machine maker asked to halt subliminal messages

What are video slot-machines telling you?

Charges that video slot machines were programmed to flash subliminal signals of jackpot messages to gamblers has led a casino operator to temporarily pull several types of the devices off the floor.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG), the Canadian government agency that operates the province's casinos, temporarily took 87 machines from casino floors on Feb. 22 after the Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) filmed the machines and recorded images of them flashing jackpot signals for a fraction of a second while in use. Some officials feared that the messages may have been aimed at convincing gamblers to remain at the machines.

The three shuttered video slot-machine models, called Sgt. Fritters, Most Wanted and Billionaires, are all manufactured by Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming.

An OLG spokeswoman said Friday that that the machines were carried from the casino floors after the agency was informed of the messages by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the province's gaming regulator. "There are 87 machines out of 22,000 across Ontario," she said. "It's a very small number. In no way does it interfere with the integrity of the machines, and nobody has said that it had any effect on the outcome of the games."

The spokeswoman said the machines are expected to be returned to the casino floors after Konami "produces a software upgrade to eliminate the potential glitch."

The jackpot messages were discovered during a slow-motion viewing of a CBC film of machines being operated at Ontario casinos, said a spokesman for the AGCO. The news organization showed the film to the regulatory agency early last month, then aired the footage on television during a news segment on Feb. 26.

The slow-motion video revealed that the image of five alike symbols -- the winning hand -- was flashed for a fifth of a second as gamblers started the machine, the spokesman said. Such messages could signal to a gambler's unconscious mind that he has won the jackpot no matter what the true outcome of the spin, he said.

The spokesman said the image is invisible to the naked eye. "You can stand there for 20 hours and never see it," he said. "Some experts say that it's subliminal. The gambler supposedly sees it [unknowingly], and it induces them to play more and more. We don't condone subliminal messaging."

The AGCO doesn't test for subliminal messaging in gaming devices, the spokesman noted. After viewing the film, AGCO officials immediately contacted Konami about the matter, he said. A software patch that corrects the "coding error" is expected to be shipped to the casinos within a few days, the AGCO spokesman said.

A Konami spokesman denied that the machines send subliminal messages to convince people to use the devices. "There is no subliminal message in the software," he said. Nevertheless, the company is developing a software patch that will scatter the symbols before the reel starts, the spokesman added.

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Marc L. Songini

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