As a country where gambling is legal and widely available, Canada has always been at the forefront of gambling developments. When a new game or new technology becomes available, Canadians have direct access to it through the many land-based casinos, racing tracks, poker rooms and all of the online gambling destinations open to them.
The slot machine industry has advanced at a tremendous pace over the last few years. Believe it or not, these machines have been around for over one hundred years, but it is only recently that they have morphed into the advanced gambling machines that we know them as today. In the early days they were all mechanical, working on a system of internal gears and cogs. In fact, this is how they got their name, because when a lever “slotted” into a preset gear, then the jackpot was triggered.
Slot machines became common in Canada during the gambling revival in the 1970s. They had caught the imagination of many players for a couple of decades, as they had been associated with the lives of high-flying, hard-living Las Vegas gamblers. The seventies were when gambling was unleashed upon this country and when slot machines began to find their way into the dozens of casinos that sprang up around the country.
Slot machines began to use computer interfaces more than a decade ago, but it was when they moved into the online world that the changes really began and the potential was truly realized. These days, with providers like BetSoft and IGT leading the way, slot machines are like advanced games, similar to the sort that you pay several dollars for to download from the Apple App or Google Play Store. They use 3D graphics, fun little bonus rounds, random features and progressive jackpots. They also have a team of people working just on the sounds, ensuring that they are enticing and that they convince players to keep on plugging away, even when they don’t hit the jackpot.
They no longer use the old method of “slots” of course, and instead they work on a random number generator. This is put into action with every spin, every click of the mouse. Essentially, it means that every time a player places his bet and takes a spin, the outcome is quickly decided by a very complex and entirely random number generator. To ensure legitimacy, these number generators are audited by third-parties who also tend to license and regulate the online casinos that provide them.
The future for online slots is a very exciting one, and the beauty of this is that all Canadians will be able to play the latest games when they become available, providing online gambling remains legal, of course. Reports suggest that developers are doing their best to turn slot machines into mini-RPGs, with players able to build characters, unlock new features and generally enjoy the experience like they would with a video game. This seems like a lot of effort to go to, but it is one that will come with huge reward for those developers, as it means the games will be played more and for longer, and they may also be shared more and talked about more. There is also the chance of attracting a different, as yet un-tapped, audience. In fact, with certain variations of the Monopoly slot machine game, and with some superhero slot machines, there is evidence of such features being introduced already.
What is certain is that as online slot players begin to outnumber offline ones, and as the revenue generated by these players continues to exceed the revenue gathered from the biggest casino floors in Vegas, Macau and Atlantic City, the focus will shift entirely to the online world and that’s when the gambling world will take notice, and when we will see some amazing developments.
Video Lottery Terminals
Often shortened to VLT, these machines are essentially video games that players can bet on. They are not too different from many of the advanced modern slot machines discussed above, but they are somewhat unique to Canada and tend to outnumber slots. In fact, there are around 25% more of these machines in Canada — located in casinos and in other venues — than there are slot machines.
The first Video Lottery Terminals were introduced in the 1990s, and by 2001 it was reported that there were close to 40,000 of them in operation in Canada. Video Lottery Terminals are also relatively popular in the United States, although slot machines tend to head the bill south of the border. Video Lottery Terminals, like slot machines, are getting more and more advanced, essentially combining the beauty and complexity of online slot machines with the familiarity of a bulky terminal.
Video Lottery Terminals are available in all provinces except British Columbia and Ontario, which is odd (to say the least) considering these provinces typically have more gambling destinations, slot machines and race tracks than anywhere else in the country. It has been suggested that Video Lottery Terminals will be legal in Ontario in the near future, and by the time you read this article it may even be the case that they are already legal in that province. No such suggestion has been made for British Columbia, but it seems likely that they will not be the last province left standing.
Video Lottery Terminals, unlike many other forms of gambling, are available outside of casinos. The only regulation involving their placement is that the premises are licensed and only allow adults to enter. These machines have caused a lot of social issues over the years, with many Canadians becoming addicted to them and many reports suggesting that the social cost of gambling addition associated with Video Lottery Terminals does not offset the tax income that these machines generate.
This means that rather than becoming legal in BC and ON, which would mean they are legal across the country, Video Lottery Terminals might well become illegal across Canada. That would be a development that few gamblers want to see, and one that could have a negative knock-on effect for all forms of gambling in the country.
Canadian Casino Developments
The land-based casinos are where there action is. These are the money-spinners that the government and the people love, and Canada has no shortage of these on the go. The casino industry in Canada has been growing over the last few years and continues to do so, expanding to fit the ever-growing need provided by locals and tourists.
The Saskatchewan casino, the Gold Eagle, recently announced an expansion. It might not have been the biggest casino in Canada, but its plans show just how its popularity is increasing. It has been said that there are plans to add another 5,000 square feet of space to the casino, which would go a long way to cramming more slot machines, Video Lottery Terminals, table games and more into it. There are also plans to have two different entrances, one for smokers and one for non-smokers. The full details of these plans are still a little unclear, but they will be revealed in the summer of this year.
At the same time as this announcement, it was reported that the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario, had been given a “green” seal of approval. This is unusual for a casino but it bodes well for the future of what is one of Canada’s most popular gambling destinations. Green Key Global were the ones handing over the accolade, which praises the Fallsview Casino for a number of things that go into helping the environment. These include the ways it uses energy, the ways it handles water and waste, and the air quality of the casino. Casinos have typically faced opposition from many different groups, including those who see them as a polluting blot on the landscape, but the Fallsview Casino could set a precedent that brings about an interesting and unexpected change, and one that changes the opinion that many environmentalists have about casinos.
Canadians love poker, with a huge number of us on sites such as Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker. With a number of World Series of Poker champions calling Canadian their home, we’re also fairly good at it.
At the beginning of 2015, scientists at the University of Alberta decided to use this knowledge and love of the game to their advantage, creating a poker bot that they said would be better than the best poker professionals in the world. If you have ever played online poker then there is a good chance you will have run into a bot. It’s not always easy to spot them, but there is no doubt that they exist. These “bots” are basically pieces of software that have been programmed to understand the ins and outs of poker, and to use statistical probabilities to decide how to play each hand. This might sound far-fetched, but the truth is that whilst there is some psychological elements to poker, most professionals play the same way, understanding the chances they have for each outcome and playing for them.
This particular bot, known as Cepheus, was said to be the best ever, but it was evident early on that it had one major flaw. The bot was tested by a poker player and writer, who ran the tests on behalf of The Guardian newspaper. To begin with the writer was astounded at how good the bot was. The bot was aggressive and almost impossible to bluff. Therein lied the flaw though and the one thing that can stump any bot.
In poker, if you face-off against an aggressive player who calls all of your bluffs, then you simply turn into a passive player and ensure that you never bluff. It is this ability to adapt that sets the average players apart from the best, and it seems it also sets the fake players apart from the real ones. The bot was not able to adapt, it was not able to change its play based on its opponent.
Cepheus was supposed to be unbeatable, but it seems that this tester found a way to beat it and to rebuff those claims. It is still a very good bot though and it could set a precedent that few poker players will be happy with. However, if there does come a time when these bots take over, a time when you can’t play a handful of cash games without bumping into a bot or two, then at least poker professionals the world over can take solace in the fact that they will always have the upper hand, because they can always change, adapt and play the player as opposed to the game.
There is a widespread ban on slot machines in North Vancouver, which is odd when you consider how common these machines are in other parts of the province and the country on the whole. Towards the end of April, 2015, it was reported that Playtime Gaming wanted the local authorities to reconsider this ban. Obviously, their reasons were entirely personal as their intentions are to flood the city with slot machines of their own making, beginning by putting slots in a community centre in the Shipyard District. The proposal was referred, but there is little hope of it going through. It seems that once a government makes up their mind about these machines, they are hard to shake. The same goes for Video Lottery Terminals which, as we mentioned above, have caused a lot of controversy in Canada, with suggestions that they could be banned.
Over the last few decades, gamblers in Canada have worried that the tide would change. In recent years this has been perpetuated by what’s been happening south of the border, with players from the US having very limited choices when it comes to legal gambling sites. Overall though, we have to assume that the government will approach it rationally. They have to ask themselves whether the social cost of problem gambling will be greater than the tax revenue and the tourist dollars that it attracts, and whilst there are reports that Video Lottery Terminals might be bucking this trend, it seems unlikely that the same will happen to sports betting, poker, slot machines and other forms of gambling currently legal in Canada.
Gambling is legal now and will be for the immediate future. That’s all we need to worry about, but just incase the unthinkable does happen, let’s make sure that we enjoy it whilst we can.