Image for Ka-Ching: pokies documentary reveals what makes the machines so addictive

Australia has about 400,000 problem gamblers, most addicted to pokies. The industry pushes a ‘gamble responsibly’ message, but the truth is the design of the machines, rather than personal responsibility, is the core problem

For a time in the late 90s, a group of Sydney businessmen were the toast of Las Vegas.

They worked for the North Ryde poker machine manufacturer Aristocrat. “And they really were like the aristocrats of these gaming conferences,” says Natasha Schull, a professor in anthropology at MIT. “They were treated like kings.”

The company had pioneered a new kind of poker machine. It encouraged people to bet smaller amounts. It paid out more often. The design broke all the rules – and made Aristocrat billions.

Today, the model the company introduced in 1987 – the video multi-line multiplier – is the most popular in the United States, where it is still called an “Australian-format machine”.

Fixing the spotlight on machines such as Aristocrat’s is the next frontier for anti-pokies campaigners in Australia – beginning with Ka-Ching, an ABC documentary that screens on Tuesday at 9.30pm.

Building a better mousetrap

In the 1930s, not long after the first rudimentary slot machines began appearing in the United States, the behavioural psychologist BF Skinner was conducting experiments with rats. He would put them inside specially designed boxes with a tube and button. The rats soon discerned the pattern: each time they pressed the button, a pellet of food would drop.

Then Skinner changed the rules. Sometimes pressing the button would deliver food; others times it wouldn’t. The animal had no way of knowing when. It would stand at the button entranced – sometimes neglecting to eat or drink – pressing it over, and over again …

Read the full Guardian article here where there are full hyperlinks

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