Why tribes’ games aren’t slot machines

People love to play the slots.

The gambling machines at American Indian-owned casinos in Snohomish County are among the region’s most popular ways to pass the time. The flashing lights and ringing bells of the machines transport local residents to Las Vegas, and there’s always a chance of winning big.

But they’re not really slot machines.

The tribes and state gambling supervisors call them “slot-style” machines. It may seem like a nit-picky distinction, but there’s a big difference between the slot machines in Las Vegas and other gambling hot spots and the slot-style machines in Washington state.

Slot machines, like those in Las Vegas, have a random number generator inside the machine, according to the Washington Indian Gaming Association. Winnings at each machine are solely based on that machine’s number generator.

Slot-style machines are electronic versions of scratch lottery tickets. All the slot-style machines are connected to a collective number generator. At the Tulalip Casino, Angel of the Winds Casino or other gambling halls in the state, playing the “slots” means playing against everyone sitting at a machine.

“They look similar to a slot machine, but you’re actually purchasing an electronic scratch ticket,” said Ernest Stebbins, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.

When tribes in Washington State first negotiated the right to open casinos, state officials said gambling machines should operate on the same basis as the state lottery system, Stebbins said.

That means there’s no difference between sitting at a slot-style machine in a local casino and standing at the counter at a convenience store to repeatedly purchase scratch lottery tickets. But convenience store clerks don’t ring bells when someone wins or ask gamblers if they’d like a cocktail.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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