Gambling

Year-Long Investigation Solves Whistling Slot Machine Mystery

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Granted, that headline makes this story sound like a much bigger deal than it is. Do you know the Internet at all?

It’s true. For more than a year, we’ve been trying to find the source of a strange sound in casinos. A whistle.

It’s possible we are the only person excited to have unraveled this enigma wrapped in a curiosity hidden behind a cloak of WTF, but, trust us, this isn’t the first time we’ve done something to satisfy ourself, so let’s dive in!

Granted, we probably need an A.I. intervention. You’re not our mom! Unless you actually are our mom. Hey, Mom! Sorry we don’t call more. Photo captions are the new phone calls and remembering birthdays. Oh, and A.I. stands for “artificial intelligence.” All the kids are doing it. Miss you!

What is this “whistle” of which we spake a few sentences ago?

Well, if you play slot machines in casinos, you may have heard it. It’s sort of a flipped version of the infamous “wolf whistle,” which has fallen out of fashion because it’s seen as cat-calling and disrespectful to women.

The whistle we’re talking about is often used to beckon. “Look over here,” the whistle suggests, with the ultimate goal in the context of a casino floor being “come over here and play me.”

The whistle sound plays when the machine is idle, in other words, when it isn’t being played—which is why a player at the machine might never hear it—for a given period of time. Good luck figuring out what that interval is.

Lots of slot machines spontaneously break into song to get the attention of players, but this is the only machine we’ve found that uses both musical interludes and this very specific whistle.

Enough teasing.

The whistle comes from one of our favorite games, Pinball.





Why did it take two years for us to figure out the source of this ingenious marketing tool?

For starters, the machine’s sound system actually “throws” the sound, making it tough to sort out exactly which slot it’s coming from. That sounds counter-intuitive. Why add a sound meant to draw players to a certain machine, but then make it challenging to associate that sound with any particular machine?

Maybe the point is to get a player looking in the general direction of the machine, and letting the popular Pinball brand do the rest. It’s an Easter egg just for Pinball fans.

The whistle doesn’t seem to have any regularity to it. It just randomly happens.

The brief but distinct whistle is easily lost in the din of a casino, especially given the introduction of new, and increasingly loud, machines that never seem to STFU.

Lookin at you, Fu Dai Lian Lian Panda.

We first noticed the Pinball whistle in The D’s high limit slot room, and proceeded to chase the sound around for a couple of hours, never sorting out its origin with any degree of certainty.

Over time, we’d hear the whistle in various casinos, and we’d sit patiently trying to trace the sound effect to its source, but we failed, over and over. This strange pursuit saved us a lot of money, as it provided a break from gambling, but it was frustrating as well.

We finally cracked the case at Red Rock Resort.

This machine’s highest denomination is $100, or $300 a spin. Gambling tip: Taking photos of slot machines is significantly less expensive than playing them.

We love casinos and casino culture, so our obsession extends to how machines are made and why they are able to cast such a spell over players.

There’s a lot of science that goes into designing slot machines, much of which goes unnoticed by recreational gamblers.

Visuals and sound effects combine to make slots irresistible. Some of these techniques exploit psychology and neuroscience. Critics aren’t thrilled about that aspect of slot development, but they need to lighten up and have more sex. Then again, that’s our solution to pretty much any complex problem, so take our advice with a grain of salt.

Anyway, we love the Pinball whistle! It may have even overtaken Buffalo’s red-tailed hawk as our favorite slot machine sound effect.

Fun fact: Slot machines have hacks to stop their idle machine musical outbursts. Here’s one for Top Dollar.

In most cases, though, slot machine sounds make the games more exciting and help celebrate wins (whether the spin is a win or not—your brain experiences losses the same way as wins if there’s enough hoopla). For those of us who play certain machines regularly, the sound effects are cues so engrained in our brains, we could play the machine with our eyes closed, based upon the sounds alone.

If you’ve ever thought someone might be whistling at you in a casino, it’s true, but it’s not a someone, it’s a something. And that something would like it if you’d sit down and played one of the best machines in the casino, Pinball!

Like you, we enjoy imagining the whistle comes out of this adorable face on the slot machine.

We wrote to IGT, the maker of Pinball, to hear their thoughts on this clever whistle sound effect. The folks at IGT are awesome, so we’ll follow-up with their reply when we hear back. We hope there’s some sexy industry jargon for such sound effects or other attention-getting ear magnets.

Slot designers continue to find ways to draw us in and keep us playing. We adore Pinball, and now we love it even more because the whistle makes it seem like we’re alluring and desirable, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Case closed, and we are always happy to answer questions you didn’t realize needed answering.

Update (3/7/24): We should’ve said “solved-ish.” We heard back from IGT, and the company said, “The whistle that you heard is not a part of IGT’s Pinball game, but is likely an attract sound employed by the operator in the slot interface.”



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