Pigeon and rat experiments in the 1950s found that providing an occasional, unpredictable reward for pressing a lever resulted in the rats obsessively pressing the lever, hoping for food. This behavioural psychology also applies to humans and is the foundation of what makes poker machines addictive.
The poker machines of 2015 have virtual ‘reels’ of apparently spinning symbols, evoking older ‘one armed bandits’ that had physical reels. Today’s computer programmed machines are designed to mislead users by ‘weighting’ the virtual reels, or making them of unequal lengths, so that ‘near misses’ appear to occur more frequently than otherwise.
These are designed to give users the impression that they almost won. In fact they are no ‘closer’ to a win than any other push of the button; this feature is designed to give users false hope that if they keep gambling, they are more likely to win.
LOSSES DISGUISED AS WINS
A gambler places a bet of $1 using multiple lines and hits the button. Whilst they don’t hit the ‘jackpot’, they do get a match of symbols on one line and are told that they’ve ‘won’ $0.20. Lights flash and applause rings out from the machine – but in truth the gambler just lost $0.80. The visual and audio reinforcement that the gambler experiences trigger chemical reactions n the brain which keep them playing.
In other forms of gambling, you have to wait at least a few minutes for the horse race to finish or the roulette wheel to stop spinning. On a poker machine you can place a bet every few seconds. A $10 bet on the Melbourne cup means you could lose $10 on cup day. Placing $10 bets on poker machines results in average losses of $1200 an hour .
There’s no fun in losing your life savings to poker machines. It’s no accident, and it’s not a lifestyle choice when you’re losing thousands of dollars every time you use the machines. In 2015 “Gambling disorder” was listed as a mental disorder in the “bible” of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5) . Predatory poker machines are like cigarettes - addictive and harmful – but profitable for the industry that creates them. Like tobacco, it’s time government stepped in with strong laws to keep us safe.