Published: 06 February 2020

This year a significant legislative change will be debated to alter the arrangements related to gaming machines or pokies in this state. The government has made its policy clear with regard to gaming machines. Despite the significant harm caused to many families in our community, gaming machines will not be removed from pubs and clubs.

Details of the future operating, network and taxation arrangements are yet to be revealed. However, these are not the only matters that need to be considered. What some users of gaming machines are unaware of is the fact that gaming machines are programmed to be addictive. They disguise losses as wins; they are programmed to give small wins that keep people at the machine longer as they lose even more money.

The machines use an unpredictable reward schedule that means the time until a reward, or some return for money spent, is given is uncertain. This keeps people interested in playing as they believe a big win can't be far away and, therefore, they keep playing longer.

The anticipation of a win is what triggers the release of the hormone dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or a chemical that helps transmit signals in the brain. When dopamine is released into the brain people (and animals) anticipate a reward, telling the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of.

Dopamine also has a reinforcing effort and motivates a person to do something again and again. The release of dopamine makes a person feel good.

The anticipation of a reward, or win on the pokies, is associated with feeling good and creates a "high" that can lead to addiction.

Most people don't know or understand how addictive these machines are designed to be. They don't understand they are designed to ensure the player has regular releases of dopamine in anticipation of a win, rather than a win itself, enhancing the addictive nature of the machine.

When used as intended, there is a real risk that users will become addicted very quickly. The machines are designed to maximise the amount of time and money people put into them.

These design features can be removed. Legislation to ensure this occurs must be part of the conversation and way ahead.


The Advocate Thursday 6 February, 2020

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