Vice Squad
Monday, March 17, 2008
Designing Slot Machines for Harm Reduction

The designers of slot machines are amazingly adept at prodding gamblers to have another spin. Are there any modifications that can be mandated for slot machines that would lower the harms that arise when gambling addicts interact with these machines, without appreciably diminishing the enjoyment of recreational gamblers? (Such mandates would be consistent with vice policy robustness.) Maybe. A November, 2005 article in International Gambling Studies reported on an Australian experiment which tweaked three features of slot machines, alone and in combination: (1) the maximum rate of play; (2) the maximum bet size; and (3) the maximum value of banknotes that could be read by the slot machine's banknote acceptor. (Previously it has been shown that allowing slot machines to accept banknotes directly (instead of coins or tokens or some such contrivance) is a good way to increase the amount that gamblers spend. Allowing smoking, too, seems to help.) As it turned out, most gamblers didn't even notice the different set-ups of the machines. (Each gambler played a control machine and a tweaked version.) Another finding was that problem gamblers -- after they played, the participants filled out a standard survey designed to uncover troubled gambling behaviours -- received less enjoyment from playing, relative to non-problem gamblers. Smaller bet limits combined with lower denominations for bill acceptors didn't appreciably reduce gambler satisfaction. There was a small decrease in enjoyment associated with playing slower machines. Nevertheless, there was no difference in players' reported interests in continuing to play the control or tweaked machines. In some settings, problem gamblers preferred lower maximum bets, even when recreational gamblers did not -- as if the problem gamblers are sophisticated about their control problems, and appreciate machine alterations that help them combat those problems or lower the harm from succumbing.

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