Posts Tagged ‘Casino’

If you watch any free to air TV you are likely to have seen a Sportsbet Ad – “Hey fellas!”  These are on regularly over the weekend and during footy games that are broadcast by Ch 7.  If you listen to SEN1116, every morning they cross to someone from Sportsbet, or whoever is paying them for time to get an update on the odds for the next round.  This has become so normalised that betting and the AFL have become synonymous with each other.  The AFL lists Crownbet as one of their Official partners (while ironically also having Carlton Draft and Drinkwise as partners), so when you look at the upcoming games on their website, Crownbet have the odds ready for you, and if you click on one of the odds by mistake, you get taken straight to a betslip on the Crownbet page.  I wonder how many kids have done that, wishing they had $10 to bet on their favourite team….



Sport and betting don’t have to go together, but kids don’t know that

By Louise Glanville

22nd July 2018

By the time they are teens, and certainly before they reach adulthood, kids in Victoria are being influenced by an industry with deep pockets.

Awkward conversations with tweens about everything from smoking and alcohol to sex and drugs have become a fact of life. Uncomfortable? Maybe. Necessary? Without a doubt.

And so it is these days with yet another, perhaps less obvious, public health issue; gambling.

Remember when you could watch sport without seeing a gambling ad? The thing is, kids don’t.

Bombarded by an excess of ads, invitations, promotions and inducements delivered via smartphone, TV, computer, billboards and at matches, a large majority — 75 per cent — of kids aged 8–16 years believe that betting on sport is normal.

By 18, many have started betting themselves, unaware or ill-equipped to manage the associated risks and potential harms, which range in manifestation and severity but typically involve one or a combination of financial hardship, emotional distress, family conflict and difficulty with work or study.

Sport-related gambling turnover soaring

The turnover from sport-related gambling in Victoria has increased significantly over the past decade and is putting young men, especially, at greater risk of gambling harm.

This is borne out by newly released research led by Dr Rebecca Jenkinson of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Weighing up the odds: Young men, sports and betting, which looked at the motivations, attitudes and behaviours of 18–35-year-old men exposed to gambling advertising.

An alarming, but not surprisingly high proportion (70 per cent) of the 335 bettors in the quantitative study of more than 400 young men were found to be at risk of, or already experiencing, gambling harm. Of these, 15 per cent were considered to be over the threshold for “problem gambling” as measured by the Problem Gambling Severity Index, a tool for estimating a person’s risk of gambling problems and, consequently, harm.

Eighty-one per cent reported having used at least one form of betting promotion in the previous 12 months, such as sign-up bonuses (58 per cent) and multi-bets (49 per cent). And two-thirds (64 per cent) said they had bet on sports while affected by alcohol, half of whom spent more money or placed more bets than they would have had they not been drinking.

Bettors who gambled weekly were significantly more likely to spend more on bets across more sports, use multiple online betting accounts, be motivated by boredom and chase losses — all warning signs of harm.

So what does this tell us?

Kids targeted by gambling industry with deep pockets

By the time they are teens, and certainly before they reach adulthood, kids are being influenced by an industry with deep pockets that, according to the Standard Media Index, spent $234.5 million on gambling advertising in Australia in 2016, up from $89.7 million in 2011, excluding sponsorships and in-program content. It’s no wonder young adults are engaging in risky gambling and experiencing harm.

While both state and Commonwealth governments have recently taken action to address where and when the gambling industry can promote its products, the community too has a responsibility to ensure that young people have the knowledge and tools they need to think critically, and make informed choices, about gambling.

As part of her research, Dr Jenkinson also conducted interviews with a small sample of CEOs and regional general managers of Victorian sporting clubs and leagues, parents and bettors.

The majority felt there was a need for greater regulation of sports betting advertising, and most noted that sports betting was too easily accessible, especially for those who might be experiencing harm.

Clubs must help members make informed gambling choices

Interestingly, all of the sports administrators interviewed believed that sporting leagues and clubs should play a role in supporting members to make informed choices about gambling.

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation is partnering, through our Love the Game program, with elite soccer, rugby union, cricket and all 10 Victorian AFL clubs, as well as 300 community sporting clubs, to counter the normalisation of gambling in sport.

The decision by these clubs to reduce the exposure of fans and players to sports betting advertising, and thereby challenge the assumption that sport and betting go hand-in-hand, demonstrates the importance they place on this issue. I applaud their commitment.

This weekend’s dedicated AFL Victoria Love the Game Round provides an opportunity for all Victorians — fans and players alike — to share and celebrate as a community all the things we enjoy about footy, which have nothing to do with gambling.

And it offers an ideal opening for parents, teachers, coaches and other influential adults to talk to the kids in their care about gambling risks and harms so that they can develop a balanced, realistic understanding of how gambling works.

You and I know that sport and betting don’t have to go together. It’s time to let kids know that, too.

Love the game, not the odds.

Louise Glanville is CEO of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

It is sad to see that governments in some states and territories are making it easy for people with gambling addictions to blow their money.  The gambling industry was opposed to the reforms of the previous Gillard government, and now that the LNP are in charge, those reforms are all but gone or being ignored as problem gamblers are once again encouraged to spend their money on poker machines and the TAB in venues, pubs and clubs.  The power of the gambling industry is making this possible, where they have made large donations to governments at state and federal levels to win government support, where in return the government takes no action on recommended reforms and guidelines to help problem gamblers and people with gambling addictions as the increase in gambling revenue equates to an increase in their tax revenue.  This article poses the pertinent question; if Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry?  And the simple answer is that governments are themselves addicted and reliant on the tax generated from the gambling industry, to the point where the cost of reforms and restrictions to help problem gamblers outweighs their need to generate revenue from this insidious source.

Gambling pays off … for Australian governments

By Mike Steketee

State and territory governments increasingly rely on gambling tax for revenue, which helps explain why Australia is currently going backwards on the issue despite clear evidence of a public health threat, writes Mike Steketee.

Two weeks ago, the Baird Government in NSW introduced changes to make life easier for serious poker machine players. That is part of a trend, with governments in Canberra, Queensland and the Northern Territory going down the same path. After its comprehensive demolition of the Gillard government’s reforms to tackle problem gambling, the gambling industry has pressed home its advantage by extracting further concessions to increase its profits, guarantee its further expansion, and increase the misery of the estimated 115,000 mainly low-income Australians with a serious gambling addiction – one mostly caused by the pokies. However, there are signs of pushback.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has been formed to co-ordinate the activities of church and community groups who speak for the 70 per cent of Australians who said in 2011 that gambling should be more tightly controlled. Separately, Neil Lawrence, the ad man who created the Kevin 07 campaign, has left a significant legacy after his sudden death this week in the Maldives: a powerful documentary, scheduled to be shown on the ABC, revealing how pokies are specifically engineered to encourage addiction. In the meantime, as a result of the most recent changes, gamblers in NSW clubs can now store $5,000 in an account or a smart card – a 25-fold increase from the previous standard limit of $200. As well, they can receive up to $5,000 of their winnings in cash, whereas previously amounts over $2,000 had to be paid by cheque or electronic funds transfer.

Monash University’s Charles Livingstone, an authority on gambling issues, says it is hard to fathom why a player would want $5,000 so readily at hand unless they had a very serious issue with poker machine gambling. He describes the other measure – raising the threshold for cheques or EFT to $5,000 – as “a recipe to ensure that problem gamblers … simply pour their winnings back into the machine ASAP”. But wait, that’s not all. In what the government argues is a counter-balance, there is a reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 in the maximum amount pokie players can insert and store in machines and an increase from three to six months in the minimum period problem gamblers can ban themselves from venues. If that looks like tokenism, that is because it is. Livingstone told me that the reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 is meaningless: This is supposed to be a harmless entertainment. Why on earth would you need to put $7,500 in a poker machine in a club or pub if it were genuinely merely harmless fun?

The only impact of this is to make money laundering slightly more difficult, but only slightly. He describes self-exclusion as a useful strategy for a small number of people, but says it is far more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The changes stem from a pre-election commitment by the NSW Liberals and Nationals to secure the support of Clubs NSW, the most powerful part of the lobby that mounted an expensive campaign to torpedo the Gillard government’s plans for gambling reform. The measures are spelled out in a memorandum of understanding that also includes a promise to “retain existing gaming machine operating conditions”, with any proposals for change requiring “rigorous assessment” and consultation. In other words, don’t dare lift a finger without telling us or we’ll hit you with another campaign. Needless to say, the public were not party to this agreement. There are some common themes in the backsliding by governments.

In Queensland, the Newman government also changed the rules to allow winnings of up to $5,000 to be paid in cash. Previously, jackpots could only be paid out by cheque and the cheque could not be cashed at the gambling venue for at least 24 hours – tougher rules than those that used to apply in NSW. Like the Baird Government, the Newman government justified this and a raft of other changes in the name of reducing red tape. Livingstone and his Monash University colleague Louise Francis had a different explanation in a report last year commissioned by the Anglican Church: This is clearly in the interests of EGM [electronic gaming machine or poker machine] venue operators and against the interests of people experiencing issues with gambling… In our opinion, this is a wholly detrimental measure that cannot be justified on ‘red tape reduction’ principles. Instead it appears intended to increase the likelihood that EGM users, especially problem gamblers who win substantial amounts, will, in all likelihood, lose those funds at the same venue.

The Queensland changes also increase the number of poker machines allowed under a club licence from 280 to 500, with a maximum of 300 at one venue. Livingstone and Francis said the likely effect would be to increase the average size of venues with poker machines and that it was well established that larger establishments generated more revenue per machine. “There is significant potential for exacerbating gambling related harm in vulnerable communities as a result of increasing allowable machine numbers in venues,” they said.

Last December, the Northern Territory Government announced an increase in the number of poker machines allowed in hotels from 10 to 20 and in clubs from 45 to 55. What of the $150,000 donation by the Australian Hotels Association to the governing Country Liberal Party before the last election? We have the word of Gaming Minister Peter Styles that it did not influence the Government’s decision. These measures are on top of the Abbott Government’s repeal last year, with Labor’s support, of the few measures that survived the onslaught from the clubs on the Gillard government.

They included limits on withdrawals from ATMs, the installation of so-called pre-commitment technology on replacement poker machines so as to allow players to nominate beforehand the maximum amount they were prepared to lose, and a trial of a mandatory pre-commitment scheme. Together, these decisions represent a big step in the wrong direction at a time when studies by the Productivity Commission and others have confronted us with the reality of problem gambling – bankruptcies, family break-ups, crime and suicide. Addiction to gambling is as much a public health issue as smoking or drug addiction. What governments have done is akin to re-introducing smoking in restaurants and bars.

Total gambling expenditure per head in Australia grew after inflation from $577 in 1986-87 to $1,179 in 2011-12. That meant total gambling losses of $20.5 billion in 2011-12, 84 per cent of it on gaming, with the rest on racing and sports betting. Considering Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry? Because government policy on gambling is compromised on multiple fronts. State and territory governments increasingly have relied on it for revenue, with their takings almost doubling after inflation to $5.5 billion in the 25 years to 2011-12.

With the growth of the industry has come the increase in the power of the clubs and hotel lobbies, and that power has included making political donations. In the Northern Territory, the Australian Hotels Association gave the same amount – $150,000 – to the Labor Party before the last election as to the Country Liberal Party. The last time there were meaningful measures to control gambling was in Victoria more than five years ago. They included a $5 maximum bet – a change Livingstone says was introduced without industry opposition. He adds that a $1 maximum would reduce the harmful effects of gambling, given that 80 per cent of problem gambling stems from poker machines. Among the politicians, only independents like Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie are prepared these days to stand up to the gambling lobby.

Wilkie put a bill for $1 bets, among other measures, before Parliament last November but the Abbott Government refused to allow it to come up for debate. Xenophon plans to introduce into the spring session of Parliament a bill to apply restrictions to online gambling. This is emerging as a threat, even while the much larger one from poker machines remains to be tackled.

This was a radio broadcast on Radio National 621am on Sunday the 5th July 2015.  I happened to hear it while driving to a 10-pin bowling tournament.  It isn’t dealing with sports betting, but it examines the trend that is emerging between using free game apps to introduce kids and teenagers to gambling.  This early introduction combined with massive gambling advertising campaigns on radio, TV and the internet is grooming the next generation of problem gamblers by normalising the industry to be a part of everyday life.  It is all about getting people to spend money, to gamble on winning more money, or in the case of the game apps, to win prizes within the game itself that have no monetary value.

The broadcast can be located here, with the full transcript below.

Gambling techniques are permeating free online and mobile app games. Social casino games that mimic real slot machines are among the most popular, with no restrictions on children playing. Ann Arnold investigates the convergence of gambling and gaming, which is rendering Australia’s interactive gambling laws obsolete.

A couple of years ago Arthur, who’s now 13, got slightly obsessed with a particular electronic game. He wasted a fair bit of money on it.

‘There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes.’

In this free game, you had to pay to unlock the mystery box. Arthur gradually became disillusioned.

‘They’re the really crazy cars, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them,’ the Melbourne teenager said.

Arthur spent ‘probably a couple of hundred dollars’, provided by his parents in small amounts over time, trying to get those amazing cars. But after a bit of research, he concluded no one was winning those cars, anywhere.

Arthur’s not the only one who’s found themselves wasting money amid an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages.

Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still include its imagery and concepts.

Then there are social casino games—played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry.

Advertisements for either virtual or real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon says: ‘I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow.’

He despairs that Australia’s laws and regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

‘The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.’

The convergence of gambling and gaming is happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University, has led a ground-breaking research project, commissioned by Gambling Research Australia.

‘It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia,’ she says.

The full report will be released by the federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing.

A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed: over 1,500 adults, and 560 adolescents.

Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One third of the respondents had played social casino games, with virtual currency, in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money.

For adolescents, it was more than a quarter who went on to actually gamble. They played pokies and casino-style card games, and bet on the races or other sports.

People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say their gambling increased after playing social casino games. Others said, however, that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them.

For this project, Dr Gainsbury led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

‘This is the first study. In fact, it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide,’ she said.

The aim was to get a ‘really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble’.

As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casinos sites online, hosted offshore. These sites are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Dr Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. She points out that the Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries, and wagering—such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling.

But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, and electronic game machines, Dr Gainsbury says.

‘There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or defrauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.’

The study also looked at the proliferation of social media promotions for gambling and virtual gambling.

At one stage 13-year-old Arthur was playing a game called Temple Run. If you ‘died’ in the game, he says, you could watch an ad to get a second life. They were often ads for gambling games.

‘And I know they’re gambling games,’ he said, ‘because it shows pictures of slots, and they say you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.’

Arthur has a relative with gambling problems, so his father Danny says he’s made a point of alerting Arthur to the risks. But he wonders how many parents are aware of the extent of exposure to gambling in their children’s game play.

Ann Arnold: It’s been one of the most popular mobile games in the world, Crossy Road. You have to get a series of colourful, block-like characters—Scruffy Dog, Mad Bull, Unihorse and the rest—across a busy road. And a river. And a railway. If your character dies, you go again.

Released late last year, it’s a big hit with primary school age kids, like Mika.

Mika: It’s kind of addictive, kinda. It’s just, like, so fast and you’re always trying to get between little gaps, and really fast fingers, and all sorts of cool stuff. And you can collect coins and different things, like they have new versions, they have lots of little upgrades and you can get new characters. And there’s some where…oh…I just died and I got a free gift as well. I just got 50 coins.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road went to straight to number one in the family category charts in a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, France, Russia and South Korea. Little known outside the gaming world is the fact that it’s Australian-made.

It was created by a Victorian duo, calling themselves Hipster Whale. They’ve just won a coveted Apple design award in San Francisco:

Woman: Next up, a game from a classic genre. The winner is, Crossy Road, by Hipster Whale.

Man [voiceover]: Based in Australia, Hipster Whale was founded by Matthew Hall and Andrew Sum. The game was popular from day one, but it really struck a chord in schoolyards around the world. Since launching…

Ann Arnold: In its first 90 days, the game reportedly made $10 million. There’s a lot of buzz, and a lot of pride. But for some observers, Crossy Road is not ideal child’s play. Collecting characters in the game becomes a major focus for many younger players.

Ben Riley: The only way to get those characters is to essentially gamble for them, using the coins, the virtual currency within the game, feed them into the gaming machine, and pull the handle and see what you get.

Ann Arnold: Problem gambling therapist Ben Riley. While most players get their characters through the prize machine, as it’s called, they can also purchase them directly, with real money. But with Crossy Road‘s repetitive random chance, and a children’s version of a poker machine at its core, Ben Riley sees it as part of a growing trend.

It’s been little documented, but gambling or gambling ideas are permeating electronic games; video games, social media games, and mobile apps.

Mika: So I’m gonna win a prize…yeah, I just got a new one called the Grey Bunny. It might just be one that you’ve already got or one that you haven’t got. It comes up with random ones.

Ann Arnold: Hello, this is Background Briefing and I’m Ann Arnold.

There’s an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages. Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still have elements of it; imagery and concepts. Then there are social casino games, played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry. Advertisements for both virtual and real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Nick Xenophon: I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow. Our current legislative framework is simply outdated.

Ann Arnold: Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon despairs that Australia’s laws and the regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

Nick Xenophon: The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.

Ann Arnold: There’s a convergence of gambling and gaming. It’s happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury has led a ground-breaking research project.

Sally Gainsbury: This study is commissioned by Gambling Research Australia. It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia.

Ann Arnold: The full report will be released by the Federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing. A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed, over 1,500 adults and 560 adolescents. Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One-third of the respondents had played social casino games with virtual currency in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money. For young people, it was one in three who went on to actually gamble. Adolescents bet on the races or other sports, and played pokies and casino-style card games. People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say that their gambling had increased as a result of playing social casino games.

Sally Gainsbury is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University. For this project, she led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

Sally Gainsbury: This is the first study, in fact it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide. It took three years. It consisted of eight different studies. We’ve really looked at this issue across adults, across adolescents, to get a really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling-themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble.

Ann Arnold: As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casino sites online. These are hosted offshore and are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Sally Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. The Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries and wagering, such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling. But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

Sally Gainsbury: There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, electronic game machines. There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill-advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or frauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.

Ann Arnold: Beyond these more overt gambling options, there are more subtle mechanisms at play in the fast-moving world of games.

Nich Richardson is the presenter of the ABC’s internet program Good Game Pocket, a daily update of game news and reviews. An ardent gamer, he is not happy about some of the techniques used by game developers to extract money out of players who’ve downloaded free or very cheap games. People are lured into paying to advance themselves within a game. And sometimes they’re simply buying the chance to progress. It’s a gamble.

Nich Richardson: It is worrying for me as a gamer of seeing how the industry is shifting towards those sorts of models that I go…it’s like a second form of gambling. It doesn’t necessarily need to lead you into the one where you’re throwing your life savings away in a casino, it can lead you into one where you just constantly are getting these huge credit card debts because you are just paying a bunch of money for something that isn’t a tangible experience.

Ann Arnold: Nich Richardson says in the games industry there is a term for the people who are willing to make significant or frequent in-game purchases.

Nich Richardson: Most players will not put any money into these sort of games but what developers are looking for are people called whales who are the people who will sink $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 a month into a game because they just are getting in that loop.

Ann Arnold: It’s no surprise to him that ‘whales’ is also the gambling industry’s term for big spenders.

Nich Richardson: It doesn’t surprise me. They both work off the same core idea of keeping you in an ecosystem in order to keep putting money into it.

Ann Arnold: Social casino games are providing a bonanza—for their operators. The players get no payouts, ever.

Sally Gainsbury: Social casino games are based on a social network site or through a mobile app, but they’re predominantly a gambling-themed game.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury, from Southern Cross University:

Sally Gainsbury: These are things that look like slot machines. They look like poker or blackjack. They really look at lot like…they’re actually referred to as simulated gambling games, so in some cases you can’t tell the difference between these games and actual gambling. But they also have really bright imagery, bright colours. They often have youth themes, so they might have lots of baby animals within them. So a slot machine with baby animals and lots of gold coins. So they’re very visually attractive and appealing.

Daniel Golding: If I go into the App Store and I actually look at this category called ‘top grossing’, so the games that have actually made the most money, we can see that the number one in Australia at the moment is an app called ‘Heart of Vegas: play free casino slots’.

Ann Arnold: Daniel Golding is a game reviewer and writer who lectures at Melbourne’s Swinburne University. Heart of Vegas is free to download. The spending comes later.

Daniel Golding: It’s a slot machine application where you pull the lever and the fruit rotates and you may or may not win. Now, of course this being an app you don’t actually win anything, you don’t get money out of this game. But you do have the option of putting money in. So if I look now at the list of in-app purchases, so the kinds of ways that you can put money into this game once you’ve downloaded it for free on your phone, we can see that it starts at like…you can buy a package of 150,000 coins for $3.79, all the way up to the quite phenomenal… you can buy a package of 105 million coins for $129.99. That $129 purchase is the eighth out of ten most popular purchase in this app. And so I think actually that is a real problem.

Ann Arnold: Game critic Dan Golding.

Heart of Vegas is owned by Aristocrat. Aristocrat is an Australian company which makes many of the poker machines you see in pubs and clubs around the country. It now has a strong foothold in the American pokies’ market as well. Aristocrat announced a 73% revenue growth in the six months to March this year. In the company’s latest annual report, the online portion of its business had the biggest increase on the previous year. The company attributed this to Heart of Vegas.

Researcher Sally Gainsbury says the growth of the social casino sector has been spectacular.

Sally Gainsbury: There was a study a few years ago that estimated that social casino games are played by about 173 million people worldwide. They’re hugely popular. It’s a massive market.

Ann Arnold: It’s also literally a money-spinner.

Sally Gainsbury: The social casino games (and keep in mind these are free-to-play games) is a hugely lucrative market. It’s estimated these games will make $3.4 billion this year worldwide.

Ann Arnold: Some social casino games encourage you to become a ‘VIP’ or a ‘high roller’ by buying virtual credits. Social casino games are more lucrative than any of the other games you find on Facebook and other social media. And slot casino games are the most popular of all.

Sally Gainsbury: So slot casino games look a lot like a regular slot machine. In fact, in many cases the makers of slot machines, including in Australia companies like IGT and Aristocrat that provide slot machines within gambling venues, they also provide free-play versions of these that are social casino games. The games look in some cases identical to the ones you’d see on the floor of a gambling venue.

Ann Arnold: Online games are a handy marketing tool for the gambling companies. And they can reach the punters of the future.

Sally Gainsbury: They’re often used as a promotional tool for companies who want to promote their gambling games, but when they are social casino games, they’re not age restricted at all. So young people can access these slot machine games as well.

Ann Arnold: The Aristocrat company refused an interview request.

Australians are especially inclined to spend money within these free games. Sally Gainsbury says they’re twice as likely to pay up as players in other countries.

Sally Gainsbury: Although in most countries around 2% of players actually pay, in Australia it’s closer to 4%.

Ann Arnold: In the Gambling Research Australia study, many social media players reported that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them; they weren’t gambling real money. But there’s a concern that some people, especially younger people, will be misled by their success with virtual gambling.

Sally Gainsbury: The odds aren’t always the same as in gambling. Often the odds are over-inflated to make them fun, you’re more likely to win.

Ann Arnold: The study found a subset of people thought their social gaming experience would make them more likely to be successful at real-world gambling. Sally Gainsbury says social casino games are based on algorithms that give you a greater chance at winning than actual gambling does.

Sally Gainsbury: You might actually think that they’re the same as gambling and then go to gamble and then find out that you lose a lot more than what you thought.

Ann Arnold: Other kinds of electronic games which are not obviously associated with gambling were not part of the gambling research project. But they too increasingly have elements of random chance. Players can spend either virtual money or real money in the hope of a reward that they may or may not get.

Arthur: There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes. Then they’re the really crazy cars and stuff, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur spent a lot of money trying to get those amazing cars from the mystery box. This was back when he was 11. He eventually wised up.

Arthur: I just figured, you know, you can’t get it. You don’t see it on YouTube, you don’t see them anywhere. It’s just you can’t get them.

Ann Arnold: You keep putting the money in, in hope?

Arthur: I stopped after a while because there was no point.

Ann Arnold: Do you know how much you would have spent?

Arthur: Hundreds I guess.

Ann Arnold: Hundreds of dollars, real dollars?

Arthur: Yeah.

Ann Arnold: How do you get the hundreds of dollars?

Arthur: I’d ask my mum or my dad to pay for it, over time though, not at once, they wouldn’t buy it like that.

Ann Arnold: This is called the freemium model, a free game with built-in but optional costs. Melbourne-based games critic Daniel Golding:

Daniel Golding: Now, this can be on a huge scale from the relatively benign where you might just pay to unlock an extra character or something like that. It ranges from that to the relatively pernicious in some ways, where you might need to essentially pay to continue playing the game, or to progress past a certain point once the game has started to get its hooks into you.

Ann Arnold: Because mobile games are often free, developers have to make money from them somehow.

Jack: Today I’m going to be trying to get characters on Crossy Road. You can see I’ve got 46 out of 53. I’ve not bought any of them. Apart from the piggy bank, which I bought yesterday.

Ann Arnold: The creators of Crossy Road have been congratulated for their approach to the freemium model. Money is made by small purchases, you can buy characters, but they’re not essential to advance in the game. The main revenue is from ads, which play before you can advance in the game. But there are no gambling or social casino ads. They pay very well, but Crossy Road‘s creators say they don’t allow them.

With in-game purchases also it was important to Matt Hall, one of the developers, to not be exploitative.

Matt Hall: With free-to-play games, there is somewhat of a…there’s starting to develop a stigma, like people are beginning to see through them a little bit and understand the tricks that they’re employing. There was quite a famous episode of South Park three months ago where they dissected the free-to-play market and exposed it for all to see.

[South Park excerpt]

Matt Hall: I think people are slowly becoming wary of that. We took a very different approach with monetisation, as in getting people to pay for things within the game. We only sell characters for somewhere between 99c or $3.99. There is no big $99 transactions in our game and people seem to really appreciate that. In that way they were happier to share Crossy Road with their friends.

Ann Arnold: Within a week of launching last November, Crossy Road had had more than 2.5 million downloads.

Matt Hall: We were trying to work out what it was and then we realised, it was Monday and all the school kids were starting to play and talk about it in the school yard, and from there it just went up and up and up.

Ann Arnold: And was that in Australia or around the world?

Matt Hall: All around the world, yep.

Ann Arnold: The characters are quirky and appealing, but most players don’t buy them. They prefer to earn or win virtual coins in the game, which they put into a ‘prize machine’ in the hope of getting a character they want.

Jack: So you know when I’ve got a new character because it says ‘new’ at the bottom. So here you can see it says ‘try again’. That’s because it’s not a new character. [Sigh] Oh, what is it with bunnies!

Ann Arnold: That’s Jack. One of the many reasons for Crossy Road‘s success is the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Let’s Play’, where game players film their own screens and narrate their moves.

Part of Crossy Road‘s appeal to adults is nostalgia. It looks like and has a similar road-crossing theme to a popular 1980s game called Frogger.

Ben Riley: I had a little bit of a play of the game myself, and it all looked pretty benign, and reminded me of my old Frogger days.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley works at South Australia’s Statewide Gambling Therapy Service, where he’s a cognitive behavioural therapist. He’s also doing a PhD on gambling problems. At home, he monitors pretty closely what his two young daughters have access to on their screens. But he says Crossy Road caught him out.

Ben Riley: It was one Sunday evening, I was rinsing toothbrushes in the bathroom, and I heard these familiar sounds to me in their bedroom. They share a bedroom. I heard the clear sound of what sounded like a poker machine, a gaming machine. I walked in to the young one, she was six at the time, had a look on her iPad was a full-sized image of what looked like a one-armed bandit. She was pushing a button and pulling the handle, and it made all these noises that sounded just like a poker machine. She called it a prize machine, that’s what the game refers to it as. Pull the handle, and then it randomly distributes a little prize, so that’s the reward.

Jack: Try again. I’m not getting very lucky here guys. Oh, try again. Okay, I’ve spent 500 coins now. Spent 500 coins and not got anyone I need. Try again? Really?

Ann Arnold: The prize machine, has anyone suggested to you or are you conscious that it looks like and sounds like a slot machine, a poker machine?

Matt Hall: A slot machine, exactly.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road developer Matt Hall.

Matt Hall: We made it look like a slot machine so that people knew that this part of the game, this is the grey area part of the game, yeah, but we wanted to be very upfront with it so that people knew exactly what they were seeing.

Ann Arnold: And are you comfortable with kids using a virtual slot machine?

Matt Hall: That’s an excellent question. We wanted to make sure that the prize machine doesn’t give out money. It’s just like those Gacha machines, those little toy machines where you put your coin in and a prize pops out. That’s probably a closer analogy.

Ann Arnold: You hear the tumbling coins.

Matt Hall: Yeah, but then the prize pops out of course, yeah. No, I am a parent myself, I have a six-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old. I’m very conscious of that, like I really do not like gambling. I do not gamble myself, for example. So the idea in this was not to promote gambling but to use that visual as a way of informing the player, the parent and the kid exactly what’s going on there.

Ann Arnold: A therapist who works in a gambling treatment centre in Adelaide who is also a father, he’s got two young daughters, says his girls have been totally hooked on Crossy Road and he was pretty annoyed though when he heard the sounds of a poker machine, as he thought, coming from his six-year-old daughter’s iPad.

Matt Hall: Right, yeah. I’ve had no complaints about that come through. We have a very open email line. The support system is very easy to get to. I’ve actually had no complaints from parents, believe it or not.

Jack: Right, come on chicken, come on lucky chicken. Try again. Come on. Oh my goodness, I needed him, now I get him twice? Wow. Come on chicken. Yay, someone new.

Ann Arnold: The Game Developers Association of Australia contacted Background Briefing, concerned about the way Crossy Road may be portrayed in this program. The CEO of the association, Tony Reed, said there are other games which use much more literal gambling techniques. He suggested the Crossy Road prize machine was more akin to a machine filled with toys in a shopping arcade, where you put coins in the slot and get a random selection.

I put that to gambling treatment therapist Ben Riley, in Adelaide.

Ben Riley: I would argue that that too is a form of gambling. Unlike the arcade, a parent might feed a coin in and allow their child to get a chocolate bar or a little fluffy toy or whatever it might be. That’s one dose of a random outcome or one dose of a gamble, if you like. With the Crossy Road game, there are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of doses within a pretty short period. While the child’s sitting there playing the game, they’re continually interacting with this simulated gambling-type game. The exposure to it is a lot different.

Ann Arnold: While Ben Riley sees Crossy Road as the thin edge of the wedge, other games he’s encountered have more overt gambling devices. He saw an adult client last year who was referred with an apparent addiction to the Castle Clash game. Castle Clash is a multiplayer online game.

Ben Riley: Our first response was, ‘Well, it’s not our area, we work with gambling, not gaming.’ The person said, ‘Yes,’ informed us that they’d lost some $20,000 in the previous six months.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley says that in Castle Clash, players use the virtual currency of gems to gamble on a rolling screen similar to a poker machine. The man had spent $20,000 on gems.

Ben Riley: Those gems were used to spin the…it’s like a virtual slot machine, and the characters would all tumble around, and then you would win a certain character. This was the part of the game that this particular individual became addicted to. He was addicted to the game itself, but also the gambling element within the game. If you end up with a character that you don’t want, you don’t get the currency back, you don’t get your money back. You have to go again, just like in real-world gambling. He met criteria for both a gaming disorder, so addiction with a computer game, but also a gambling disorder.

Ann Arnold: This extraction of a vulnerable player’s money while they’re in the vortex of a game concerns Nich Richardson, the presenter of Good Game Pocket.

Nich Richardson: There’s a corruption of the games that we like. Some big franchises have started releasing games that have elements within them that you need to pay for to unlock more of, but you’ve already bought the game up front. So that’s bringing in that micro-transaction idea, about; I’ve already paid $60 for this game, why now do I need to pay another $15 to unlock more content within it?

It’s also just a really bad image. The gaming industry is constantly dealing with image from people who don’t play games and a lot of people who don’t understand them and this image of it being like gambling is not something that’s particularly helpful to gaming being accepted.

Ann Arnold: Why are the gambling elements there? Cognitive behaviour therapist Ben Riley:

Ben Riley: We know one of the most powerful forms of conditioning is what we call random reinforcement or intermittent scheduling. I guess if you build an activity within a game that is based on chance, it has that random element, it could potentially hook people in and make it difficult for them to stop playing or they’ll play it to excess.

Ann Arnold: There’s not yet conclusive evidence about the connection between problems with game playing and gambling. But Background Briefing has talked to health and youth workers who say they see obvious overlaps within a vulnerable population. Some services are either beginning to treat people for both issues, or educating young people about the risks.

Arthur: Post-apocalyptic survival game, it’s called The Fifth Day. Survive as a robot in a heap of other robots in a post-apocalyptic world. You craft weapons to defend yourself, find ammunition, and you can be detected by the enemy bots because of your radiation, and you can use solar panels as well if you don’t want to be seen.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur in Melbourne has been attending a computer group for young people organised by Headspace, the mental health service.

Arthur: I guess, yeah, it’s a bit of an addiction.

Ann Arnold: Does it stop you doing things like going to school or anything else that you should be doing?

Arthur: A bit it stopped me going to school. I was also having quite a hard time at school. But I haven’t really been taking care of myself much.

Ann Arnold: You haven’t been taking care of yourself?

Arthur: Not that well, no, not really.

Ann Arnold: What do you mean by that? What aren’t you doing?

Arthur: A lot of the time I haven’t been taking a shower or brushing my teeth and just simple things.

Ann Arnold: When he’s on social media and mobile phone games, Arthur often sees ads for gambling and virtual gambling, in games like Temple Run.

Arthur: You’ll die in the games I guess, ones like Temple Run and stuff where you have to run and if you die you can watch an ad to get a second life and do it again, just once. A lot of the time they are gambling ads in that game though. And I know they’re gambling games because it shows pictures of slots and saying you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.

Ann Arnold: Arthur’s father Danny has made a point of alerting his son to gambling risks.

Danny: Ever since he was young we’ve had lots of discussions around gambling and gambling games because we had a relative who was a heavy gambler and I grew up learning about it and it was one of my hopes that he wouldn’t become a gambler.

Ann Arnold: Not all young people have had those warnings.

Danny: I just wonder about children who are out there who haven’t got parents who are telling them about this. I guess also that I didn’t realise that these gambling games were there for children and available to them, because I’m a parent who…I look at what he plays and I’m interested to see, but I don’t follow it all the time and I don’t know that these things are there.

Ann Arnold: The new Gambling Research Australia study found young people were particularly susceptible to gambling promotions. Overall, one in ten people said they gambled more as a result of seeing social media promotions.

The researchers analysed the Facebook page of a 35-year-old male. Lead researcher Sally Gainsbury:

Sally Gainsbury: We did a case study where we had a 35-year-old male look at his Facebook profile and capture the different types of ads he saw. He found a number of ads for gambling themed games, as well as illegal gambling sites and legal gambling sites. The illegal sites often had Australian cash in them. They were targeting Australian users. They had these fake users saying, ‘I’ve won $10,000. It’s so easy. You should join up. Click here to get straight to the site.’ They were very appealing and really looked at the winnings you could have and really pressured people into joining these sites.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury says Australian law-enforcement agencies seem unable to stop the ads. That’s down to Facebook to control the advertising of what are, in Australia, illegal online casinos.

Sally Gainsbury: Essentially they’re provided through Facebook, which is a global company. They have an Australian office, but how to get Facebook to stop displaying these ads? It’s difficult and very little action appears to be taken, which means that Australians are being exposed to these ads. They can click through and start gambling on them. This includes young people as well.

Ann Arnold: A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook prohibits gambling ads where it’s illegal. In a written statement she said: ‘We require all gambling companies who intend to advertise with us to go through a vetting process where we review their gambling licence and compliance with local laws.’

In Australia there are restrictions for gambling advertising on billboards or television, but on social media the rules are often not applied.

Sally Gainsbury: We did an audit of social media sites used by Australian gambling operators and we found that the vast majority of posts did not have any responsible gambling warning, and many of the Facebook profiles didn’t actually mention responsible gambling or this was hidden away under some sort of drill-down menu.

Ann Arnold: When it comes to virtual gambling, one new game app ups the ante, according to Senator Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon: When I was told about GiiUp, I couldn’t believe that it had been allowed on the marketplace. It’s a free app. When I opened it up, you can make a simulated bet on any horse, harness or greyhound race in the country in real time.

Ann Arnold: GiiUp is an Australian product. Senator Xenophon was alerted to GiiUp earlier this year. He believed the ease of use and the graphics (some of which have since been changed) made it accessible and available to children.

Nick Xenophon: I think that this is an insidious app. It actually pushes gambling onto kids, because there doesn’t appear to be any age limit for this app because under our current bookmaking and gambling laws, because real money isn’t actually involved, it doesn’t appear to be illegal.

Apps like GiiUp can condition kids, habituate them to take up gambling. It normalises gambling behaviour. The fact that these sorts of apps make it appear very easy for kids to think that gambling is a harmless pursuit, and as soon as they turn 18 they can open up an account with a betting agency and start using real money automatically without any barriers.

Ann Arnold: Nick Xenophon wants the Interactive Gambling Act amended to close what he sees as a loophole which allowing games that use virtual currency to be not classified as gambling.

GiiUp goes beyond the virtual. It has a link to Classic Bet, which is a betting company. In the app you can click on either ‘coin bet’ for virtual gambling, or, right next to it, ‘cash bet’ to go through to real betting.

GiiUp‘s Michael Castleman told Background Briefing that children’s access to his app is a shared responsibility between parents and his company, but he didn’t elaborate. The race betting app’s blurb is ‘learn a skill for life’.

Senator Nick Xenophon is not impressed.

Nick Xenophon: It’s in the interest of betting agencies to hook up with these seemingly harmless kids’ games, these virtual gambling apps, because there’s a clear symbiotic relation between the two.

Ann Arnold: The monitoring and regulation of game and app content falls between cracks in the regulatory system, which at this stage is lagging behind creative and technological developments. The chief responsibility for electronic media content sits with ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which, as Sally Gainsbury said earlier, has never prosecuted illegal offshore gambling sites. Background Briefing requested an interview with ACMA, which was declined.

So who’s watching the apps? Nick Xenophon says that with such a regulatory vacuum, it’s the electronic stores that sell apps that need to show corporate responsibility.

Nick Xenophon: Apple iTunes and Google Play can’t ignore the fact that many of their customers are being hurt by these apps, either directly or indirectly: directly through spending up big on virtual credits, and indirectly by being conditioned and introduced to real forms of gambling, betting agencies where people can lose their pay packets, lose an enormous amount of money very quickly. So I think that Google Play and Apple iTunes simply saying ‘we comply with current laws’, really doesn’t sit well with their corporate ethos of being socially responsible. Maybe they need to be encouraged with some legislative change to make this happen.

Ann Arnold: Background Briefing sought comment from both Google and Apple. There was no response from Apple. A Google spokesman cited policy that said ‘we don’t allow content that facilitates online gambling’. That included sports betting. GiiUp is not available in the Google Play store.

If you or anyone you know needs assistance with a gambling problem, you can get 24-hour help from the National Gambling Helpline, phone 1800 858 858.

Background Briefing‘s co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Lawrence Bull, technical production by Martin Peralta, the executive producer is Chris Bullock, and I’m Ann Arnold.

The Champ Bros see sports betting as one of the more likely ways of making a profit through gambling, as you can minimise your risk and maximise your chances of winning money over time through discipline, research and understanding the odds structures of the book makers, and most importantly, avoiding the ‘sucker bet’ (and the NRL on a Monday night).

Sports betting has its own pitfalls with the odds offered by the bookies being less than the true odds for the event, where a $1 bet on a head to head match between two evenly matched sides only returns $1.87 for either side to win (TAB) or $1.92 (Sportsbet), obviously less than $2 it should be in a perfect world.

This view of ours is the result of years of dabbling in other forms of gambling and betting and learning how the other types of gambling and games out there function.  The following is a brief analysis of what the punter is up against when playing the pokies or gambling in the casino, and why gambling and especially poker machines can easily lead to gambling addiction.

It must be noted here that gambling addiction is very real and that no punter at any level or in any form of gambling is immune from it.  Our approach is that gambling is supposed to be fun and a challenge, where we know what we’re up against and we are trying to find the edge that gives us an advantage over the book makers.  As mentioned before, we are low ball punters who are very disciplined in not deviating from our strategies or in how much we bet, which adds to the challenge and makes turning a consistent profit all the more rewarding.

Poker Machines

How Victorian Poker Machines Work

Poker machines (pokies) are a popular form of gambling, but make no mistake, pokies are designed to earn revenue for the venue operators and not for you. This is known as the ‘House Edge’.

Each machine has an inbuilt computer program that randomly generates 1000s of possible outcomes every second.  When you press the button:

1.    The machine will randomly pick one result from the many thousands of possibilities in a millisecond.
2.    The next second it will generate thousands more.
3.    It does this continuously, every second all day and night, without thinking or remembering.

The machine accepts any credits bet. If the machine determines a win, credits are paid.  If not, the machine continues to generate outcomes until the button is pressed again, each press completely unrelated to the last.

Bonus Features

Game bonus features are designed to give you the feeling that you are getting something for nothing or a second chance to win. However, everything that happens on a poker machine, including ‘game features’ and ‘free spins’ are included in the calculations made by the poker machine manufacturer. So even when it appears that you’re getting free spins, the fact is, you have already paid for them with the losses you’ve had already on the machine.

Surely some money must return to the players?

The ‘return to player’ setting is the average amount won by players as a share of the total amount bet. By law, Victorian poker machine venues and the casino must return at least 87 percent of the total amount that is bet each year to players.

It takes millions of games for a machine to reach its ‘return to player’ setting and it’s important to note that there is no legal requirement for any individual poker machine to return the expected rate (87%) in any given period of play.

In Victoria this is a minimum of 87 per cent. This doesn’t mean that every time you play you will get 87 per cent of your money back. It means that if you could play enough spins to cover every possible combination on a machine (about 80 million) then you could expect to get 87 per cent of your money back. This also means the operator can count on 13 per cent of your money. For this reason the operator doesn’t ‘cheat’ and the machines aren’t ‘rigged’, they simply have a built in advantage for the operator—there are many more losing combinations than winning ones.

Why are poker machines so addictive?

While there is little research actually taking place in Australia about this problem, there is some research from the USA about their slot machine epidemic and the role of dopamine in the brain, and I also have my own theories related to operant conditioning.


When dopamine is released in the brain, it can give a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. E.g. Food and sex release dopamine.  These feelings of pleasure and satisfaction become desired, and to satisfy that desire a person will repeat the behaviours that release dopamine. Several studies have been conducted which targeted neural response to rewards. The results were unanimous in the fact that when someone performed an action over and over again, and was given a reward randomly, dopamine levels rose. If the reward was given consistently, i.e. every fourth time the action was performed, the dopamine levels remained constant. Finally, if no reward was given, the dopamine levels dropped. This also explains why eating new foods or eating food when travelling overseas is usually more pleasurable, and why having spontaneous sex is more exciting; the ‘freshness’ of the experience acts as an unexpected reward, releasing more dopamine into your brain.

These same random rewards can be seen in gambling and especially with poker machine payouts. Because the outcome is based on chance, a player does not know prior if he or she will win. Therefore, if the person wins (a random reward), dopamine levels increase.  From this it has been concluded by some that only people whose dopamine levels are naturally low become addicted to gambling.  When pokies players are on a losing streak though, their dopamine levels would drop (no reward being given) and this leads to them feeling miserable when they have lost their money.  Their solution? To play the pokies again trying to get the win (the unexpected reward) that will once again increase their dopamine levels.  This chasing of the pleasure and satisfaction dervied from dopamine is a losing battle though, as the brain won’t release as much dopamine when the action is repeated without something new happening, and the expectation of the reward also suppresses the release of dopamine.

This is a similar cycle that leads to cocaine addiction, as cocaine chemically inhibits the recycling of dopamine in the brain, causing a flooding of dopamine and intense pleasure in the user for about 30 minutes.  Tolerance soon builds though as dopamine is also released when something pleasurable and unexpected occurs.  Routine limits the release of dopamine, and as the cocaine user gets an expectation of the pleasure, the pleasure won’t be as intense as less dopamine is released with the similar action.

Interestingly, medications which boost dopamine can cause compulsive gambling. Parkinson’s disease results from a severe dopamine shortage caused by the death of dopamine-producing cells in mid-brain structures that are involved in bodily movement. Some Parkinson’s disease patients who received drug therapy to increase their dopamine levels developed gambling problems.  Soon after the drug therapy ceased, their gambling addiction also ended.

One patient, a 52-year-old who had only occasionally gambled before taking the Parkinson’s medication, became a compulsive player, losing $100,000 in casinos. A month after discontinuing the drug, his gambling stopped and his wife said she had her “old husband back.” Another patient who developed a compulsion to play poker machines said he saw a report on the strange side-effect of the medication on the Internet and had a “eureka!” moment. His desire to gamble vanished three days after he stopped taking the drug.

Operant Conditioning

I believe another factor at play when people become addicted to poker machines is a form of operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is a type of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour, where an association is made between behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour.

For example, a rat can be trained to push a button and get food as a reward, reinforcing the behaviour of pushing the button.  This is a Positive Reinforcement.

Now a rat in a cage will also learn very quickly that if the same portion of food is dispensed (say from a tube) each time the button is pushed, it can come back any time and push the button and the same amount of food will arrive.  In the meantime, the rat will sleep or go about its business without any stress worrying about its next meal.

An Intermittent Reinforcement is when the reward is given at random intervals, and/or the reward is a random amount.  It has been found that a participant is more likely to act when they only sometimes get what they wanted.  So when an action’s reward is unknown and not guaranteed, there is a greater response (no doubt related to the release of dopamine).

So if the rat in the cage pushes the button and starts getting random amounts of food at random intervals (not every time the button is pushed), it is going to be in a more agitated state as its next meal is not guaranteed.  The result?  The rat will keep pushing the button and waiting at the end of the tube for the food to arrive, as it no longer knows when it is coming or how much food there will be.  Does this action remind you of anything?  Why don’t they just get up and walk away…

If you push the rat one insidious step further and gave it a diminishing amount of food over time, say only 87% of what was delivered in the previous hour, what do you think would happen?

The rat would sit at the end of the tube and keep pushing the button until it starved to death.  And this is also the unfortunate fate of the poker machine player.

The poker machines pay out a random amount of money at random intervals, and this Intermittent Reinforcement of an action quickly leads to addiction.  And when you include the factor that poker machines only return 87% of what is invested over time, every addicted player will eventually go broke, starving to death while sitting at the machine and pushing the button.

Why do the people who are less well off tend to gamble the most?

I can’t answer this question definitively as it is a highly complex issue, but I can share a hypothetical scenario I used to present to my students when I was teaching at Swinburne University.  It was a simple proposal and it was always raised after the gambling lecture in the subject Popular Culture, when the students would inevitably want to discuss this very issue.

My proposition was that they could gamble their final grade on the flip of a coin.  They win and they get a high distinction, they lose and they get a fail.

After their initial shock and unsure laughter and then my promise that it was just a hypothetical and wouldn’t impact on their actual mark, there would always be at least one student in the class willing to risk a fail for the chance to win a high distinction.

The student would choose heads or tails and I would get another volunteer to flip the coin so there was no bias, and we would look at the result.  A win would often result in a fist pump and cheers, while a loss would be followed by a shrug of the shoulders and a, “I was going to be lucky to pass anyway” style comment.

The brighter students in the class would get my point straight away; that the ones most likely to gamble in this scenario were in fact the ones who had the least to lose.  It would be very unlikely that someone who is already heading for a distinction would risk that grade for a fail, undoing all their hard work and study on the flip of a coin.  But the same hypothetical is very enticing for a student who is looking at just a pass or a fail anyway, as they have just about nothing to lose in gambling their poor grade.

Now I understand that this analysis may be a fallacy when it comes to explaining why some people in the poorer demographics tend to gamble more than those in the richer areas, but I think for some people there would be a relationship between the respect you have for the money you’ve earned through time and hard work and the likelihood you would risk losing it all through gambling.

Casino Gambling

When you step into a casino to gamble it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of options in front of you. With rooms of pokies, card tables, dice games and spinning wheels it’s a good idea to find out how each game works before you play. Otherwise, you may find yourself losing more money than you imagined.

Each game has a house margin which is the overall percentage of money bet that is kept by the casino or house. Skilled players may be able to reduce the house margin slightly to be in their favour in games of skill, but in games of chance, the margin always remains the same.

Skill-based games are never an assurance of winning and the odds are always in favour of the house.  Just like the poker machines, this is how the casinos make their money.

BLACKJACK is a card game of chance and skill where players may improve their chance of winning by using a better strategy. After receiving two cards from the dealer, the player can choose to be dealt more cards so as to have a total score closer to 21 than the dealer’s total – without going over 21. Face (picture) cards count as 10, aces count as 1 or 11 and the cards 1 to 10 count as their face value. The house margin for Blackjack is generally less than 1% for skilled players.

CARIBBEAN STUD POKER is a game of chance and skill where an initial “ante” or “stake” is bet and players receive five cards face down. The dealer receives four cards face down and one face up. If a player thinks they can beat the dealer’s hand they must double their original bet. If they don’t think they can beat the hand, then they forfeit their original bet. The best poker hand between the player and the dealer wins. Jackpot bets are also available, but even with an allowance for the jackpot, the house margin is around 5.5 percent.

BACCARAT is a game of chance in which cards of 10 and below count as their face value, aces count as 1, and 10s and “face cards”, such as Queens and Kings count for 0. Two cards are dealt to each of the players and the banker with an optional third. The total of the hand’s value works by dropping the first digit (a hand totalling 15 would be counted as 5) the aim being to get a hand value closest to 9. Bets can be placed on the player’s or the banker’s hand, or on the hands being tied. The house margin for Baccarat is around 1.2 percent.

SIC BO is a dice game of chance in which three dice are rolled and players try to predict possible outcomes and totals of the dice rolls. Players can bet on the dice rolls amounting to particular totals, combinations of two dice, single numbers being rolled through to specific triple rolls. There are no betting strategies to reduce the margins of Sic Bo, depending on the bet placed the house margin remains between 2.8 and 16.2 percent.

ROULETTE wheels in Australia have 37 numbers on them, 18 red, 18 black and one zero. Double Zero Roulette has an additional zero to make 38 numbers. The wheel is spun and a small ball is sent spinning in the opposite direction. Bets can be placed on the ball landing on specific numbers or colours (red or black), on odd/even outcomes or on “low” or “high” numbers. The house margin is 2.7 percent for roulette and 5.26 percent for Double Zero Roulette.

PAI GOW is a chance-based game played with 32 tiles. 22 of these tiles form 11 Identical Pairs and the remaining 10 tiles form 5 mixed pairs. After the game has been dealt, each player and the Bank (house) needs to construct two separate hands with their four tiles called a Low Hand and a High Hand. The player’s hands and the Bank’s hands are then compared to determine who wins. Pai Gow has a house margin of 1.5 percent.

BIG WHEEL is a game of chance in which a wheel is divided into 52 compartments, each one showing one of seven different symbols. Players simply bet on a symbol and win if the wheel lands on that symbol. The house margin for Big Wheel remains consistently at 7.7 percent.

POKER at Crown Casino in Melbourne has become very popular since the dedicated room downstairs was started and the Aussie Millions is held there every year.  A lot of poker players believe they are playing the casino game where they have the most control over their fate, and that a good player can always make money.  In a pure cash game this may be the case, but at the casino there are some factors that make turning a consistent profit much more difficult.  With the hourly time charge and rake from every hand, the bottom line is that if players sat down with the same amount of money and no extra money was added to the table, the casino would end up with the majority of their money over time, with only one player having what was left.

As of 2012, Crown Casino in Melbourne takes the following rake per hand from the low limit cash game:

$1/$2 – 10% capped at $15 (plus $5/hour time charge)

Lottery Games

I’m not going to go into great detail about playing the lottery as it is a pure game of chance.  The following are some common Australian lotteries and the odds of your numbers actually coming up.

LOTTO draws are made on both state and national levels. 45 balls numbered 1 to 45 are combined and six balls are randomly selected to create the winning combination, with another two balls selected as the supplementary numbers. At least four games are played per Lotto card and your chance of choosing the six winning numbers and receiving the Division One prize with a single game is 1 in 8 145 060.

POWERBALL uses two machines each containing 45 balls numbered 1 to 45. Five balls are drawn at random from one machine, while one ball, the Powerball, is drawn from the second machine. You must play at least two games in a draw. Your chance of matching all five balls plus the Powerball is 1 in 54 979 155.

KENO is played in a registered venue such as a club, hotel or casino and consists of 80 numbers (1–80) where 20 numbers are drawn at random. On a $1 game players choose 10 or 15 numbers. If a player chooses between 7 – 10 numbers, a proportion of their bet is allocated to a jackpot. Your chance of winning the jackpot on the 10 number game is 1 in 8 911 711.