every poker machine player has a gambling problem

For decades now, Australia’s poker machine industry has hammered home a number of self-serving points. Don’t blame us, they say. We’re simply providing a legal form of entertainment that most people enjoy without harm. It’s the few who can’t control themselves who ruin it for everyone else. And hardly anyone who plays the pokies really has a gambling problem anyway. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that it’s all a lie. All of it. Everyone who regularly plays a poker machine suffers as a consequence… every single person.


Every regular poker machine player suffers harm.

The key to this is conditioning. As human beings, we are creatures of habit and tremendously open to suggestion. It’s why advertising works so well. And once we get used to something, we no longer think anything of it.

Poker machines work this way. Many people find them boring or pointless and either never play, or play once or twice and never go back. But many others get a kick out of the lights, the sounds, the wins and yes, the sense that they’re doing something a little bit risky. Heck, they’re gambling! These new players go back time and time again, long after the initial excitement has gone. They become regular players.

They’ve been conditioned.

Think, for a moment, what it means to be a regular poker machine player. You sit on a stool in front of a machine for two, three, four hours or more, pressing the “Bet Now” button over and over again. You might do this once a month, or once a week, or even (as I did when I was addicted) several times a week.

But you’re not just pressing a button. You’re placing a bet. And even just one hour of gambling on a poker machine equates to hundreds of individual bets placed, and hundreds of dollars wagered.

It doesn’t matter how much money you put in the machine; you’re gambling with virtual money, all your wins recycled and re-gambled until you finally walk away.

And it doesn’t even matter whether you win or lose. You might walk away with an extra $50 in your pocket for your hour’s play, but you’ve still paid for it. You’ve been conditioned. And you’ll be back.

Those thousands of bets, placed one after the other only seconds apart, over and over again for an hour or more, condition players to think it’s normal. And once a player has been conditioned, they’ve got a problem. The way they think, their emotional state, has been changed and influenced by the machines they play. They are effectively no longer the same person.

Think about it. Someone might tell you that they’re “going to play the pokies for a couple of hours” and you’d think nothing of it. It’s a thing, a single event. No big deal.

But if that same someone told you that they were going to go down to their local pub or club to place thousands of bets worth thousands of dollars, most of which were going to lose… what would you say then? It sounds insane but it’s exactly the same activity; the difference is the level of detail.

Sadly, the poker machine industry hates details. So they continue to reinforce the lie that poker machines are good clean fun for most of us, and they continue to rake in billions of dollars each and every year. They know all about conditioning, and regular customers, and how much their profits depend on our losses. So they hide the truth.

And we’re still counting the cost.

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1 Response

  1. Kate Sommerville says:

    Great article. You have explained a difficult concept beautifully.

    The repetitive sensory stimulation of the machines elevates dopamine levels in the brain. We associate that experience with a feeling of reward or satisfaction. And we can return repeatedly seeking that feeling. It is not the same feeling one gets from drinking alcohol, injecting a drug or taking a pill but it can be just as powerful.

    And because it is none of the usual things we associate with ‘addiction’ people don’t know they are becoming addicted.

    The manufactures of pokie machines know that this happens. They design the machines specifically for this purpose.

    Cunning stuff.

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