Vice Squad
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Electronic Gaming Machines

Vice Squad has an established, long-term interest in slot machines. Fueling our compulsion is a review article in the January issue of Addiction. The article is "Electronic Gaming Machines: Are They the 'Crack-Cocaine' of Gambling?", and it is written by Nicki Dowling, David Smith, and Trang Thomas. Here is a more-or-less random sample of tidbits drawn from the article.

The majority of gaming machines across the world are not slots, but pachinko machines. These machines, especially popular in Japan, have lower play rates and lower maximum bets than do typical slots or video lottery terminals ("high-intensity gaming machines"). Most of the world's slots (er, high-intensity gaming machines) are located in the US, but in per-capita terms, Australia is unsurpassed. The per-adult frequency of such machines is more than twice as high in Australia as it is in the US. Per-capita expenditure on electronic gaming machines in the late 1990s was about $420 in Australia, and between $80 and $160 in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand.

Did you ever wonder if those virtual reels spinning on modern slot machines actually are like mechanical reels, in the sense that the relative position of the symbols is fixed? Turns out they are: "the symbols on any given reel are always in the same relative position on every 'spin' [reference omitted]."

The answer to the question in the title of the article concerning the relative addictiveness of electronic gaming machines is "not proven". Now researchers conduct more-or-less controlled trials, trying to determine what features of a machine render it more reinforcing. Machines that accept banknotes tend to do much better (in terms of collecting bets) than machines without bill acceptors.

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