I love coin pusher machines. The lights, the sounds, the expectation that, at any moment, dozens of shimmering quarters will collapse into my eager hands—are all glorious enticements. Unlike traditional slot machines with levers or buttons, coin pusher machines have quarters—hundreds of them—right there where I can see them. The quarters overlap the lip, millimeters from the aperture that delivers the winnings to the skillful gambler.
The inserted quarter falls down a path and is “pushed” into other quarters. The herd of quarters moves imperceptibly forward until—Clank! Swoosh! Boom!—a cascade of quarter descends out of the machine and into the waiting cup.
Or do they?
Because upon reflection it occurs to anyone over the age of eight that the billion dollar casino was not built on the premise of giving money away. Indeed all those cocktail waitresses earn a salary and that salary—stop me if you’ve already figured this out—comes from all the quarters that don’t plummet out of the coin pusher machine.
The catch—”scam” is such an ugly word—is that there are gaping holes on the sides of the coin pusher machines. The player can’t see them. Quarters slide unseen off the path never to reappear. These vanishing quarters make up what is known as “profit” for the owner of the casino.
Coin pusher machines make slot machines, their better-known cousins, seem generous. Slot machines return around 95 cents on the dollar. Coin pusher machines take two quarters and return only one. It seems like inserting just one more quarter will produce a torrent of plunging coins. Except of course the gushing outpouring of coins never happens.
Long time readers will anticipate that there is an analogy coming. Not wanting to disappoint in Blog Number 553, here it is:
I met an articulate 23-year-old working at IKEA. He had run out of money after three years of college. He had 90 credits out of the 120 needed to be graduated and $90,000 of student loan debt. Earning $36,000 a year moving boxes of furniture, living with his parents, not owning a car, and eating very little, he will be able to pay of his loans by Y3K. Unless of course he wants to go on a date or buy a soda in which case there is some remote possibility that he might get out of debt by 4000 CE.
Could it be said that this young man has inserted his quarters in good faith only to have the coin pusher machine secret his coins unseen off to the side? Would paying for one more semester make all the difference?
The Attorney General’s Office said that the machines actually cheat customers because they have hidden compartments: Some of the coins that fall into the bin never make it to the customer but instead remain in the machine.
“These devices are a fraud on the public,” Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a prepared statement. “They are built cleverly to deceive the player into thinking that coins or other valuables are about to fall into the collection bin as winnings, but players can’t see how they really work.” (EastValley.com)
I love college. I recommend college. The professors are almost uniformly brilliant, competent, compelling, committed, enticing, and compassionate. The other students are consistently articulate, attractive, and frequently worth bringing home to mother. And don’t get me started about the libraries, the lectures, the concerts, the food, the extra-curricular opportunities, and the Ultimate Frisbee Teams. Make no mistakes: I have sent all four of my children to college.
College admission is a match to be made not a game to be won is one fundamental truth. Understanding that a college education is a purchase to be considered not a guarantee of future earnings is another.
College is awesome and is almost always a good investment. Coin pusher machines are dishonest, designed to separate the naive from their quarters. Before plunking down coins in either venue, it’s a good idea to know the odds of obtaining something worthwhile. Because I’m pretty sure that bright young man pushing boxes could have qualified for that same job three years and $90,000 of debt ago. His outlook, had he done so, would be even brighter than hundreds of shimmering but unaccessible quarters.