I would not go to a casino because of the effort of getting dressed up and going to a venue, but there are at least seven on the high street in Barry and you cannot go into a betting shop without seeing a machine. I'll go weeks without food and neglect my health. I haven't left the house for 15 days as I try to force myself to go cold turkey. I am scared of going grocery shopping in case I end up in a betting shop and I am getting no help or therapy for my illness.
I still have a compulsion to go into betting shops. The limits on winnings are also a problem. As a gambler there's a compulsion to win your money back but you need to win twice to win back 10 spins. Gamble Aware have a motto: "When the fun stops - stop". But gambling is not fun.
When you're gambling your wages, your benefits or your life savings it cannot possibly be fun. But the moment the credit is in the machine in front of me I am relaxed. When it is gone I am just thinking about where my next amount of money is coming from. I hope people realise this can happen to anybody. I like to think I'm an intelligent person but this compulsion has ruined my life.
Gamblers 'need help to beat addiction'. Bookies brace for possible sales hit. He shares his story:. Gamblers need help to beat problem, says addict. My message is to stop going into these places, because you cannot beat them. Related Topics. More on this story. Published 31 October Related Internet Links.
This is obviously a short-hand version, it's a complex business but what I'm trying to do today is to explain some of the more basic principles and give people a reasonable understanding. And on top of that, I'm also going to talk about what are called the accoutrements that have increased the harmful effects of EGMs, that is, in a sense their so called addictive qualities, what it is that makes them as addictive as they are and how that has been accentuated in recent years.
And finally, I'll talk a little bit about what we think can be done to reduce the harm associated with EGMs, there's plenty of things that can be done because, after all, EGMs are, at their core, just a computer. So, most of the changes that me and other people have been talking about now for some years can be done simply by software changes, it's not a matter of, you know, vast expense or difficulty to do these things, it's really a matter of political will and regulatory power which, in all Australian jurisdictions, you know, we can find, I think.
The first point, I think, about EGMs is that they operate on a principle of randomness. Some people mistakenly thing that the machines have this predetermined outcome and that they will periodically deliver prizes. This is not, in fact, correct, they are actually random, they are what I call highly articulated random number generators.
A way of remembering that is to think about them as a set of dice on speed, so to speak, they are constantly - while the machine is turned on, the random number generators in the machine are constantly generating numbers at the speed of nanoseconds. So, when the user pushes the button to, you know, place a bet, then the machine grabs one of those numbers from each reel, or four each reel, and converts it into a series of patterns on the screen.
Now, the way most machines operate is that they provide the illusion of spinning, so you have a series of what, in most cases, are five apparent reels spinning across the screen and they usually stop one by one. And these spins, of course, are associated with a series of clicking noises as though the machine were an old-style mechanical device which operated by a series of mechanical stops. They're not spinning, the result is known the instant you push the button, there is nothing that you can do to change that result and it is also unknowable in the short-term, that is to say, in the instant in which you push the button, you cannot predict what the number will be.
In the case of the machine I'll talk about a bit more today, imagine a device with 35,, marbles in it, a huge barrel, and every time you push the button what you're effectively doing is reaching into that barrel, pulling out one of those 35 and a half million marbles, looking at it, and then putting it back in and then turning the barrel over again and doing that.
So, it's not as though there was a conveyor belt with all the results coming out at you in a orderly manner, it is much more like a giant barrel of marbles with a very large number of marbles in it and with the capacity for any of the results to be repeated time and time again but, of course, at very long odds.
So, what we see is a set of random numbers being converted to a set of symbols on the screen of the machine. Now, because of the randomness we don't know what the result will be for any single button pusher, indeed, for a series of button pushes. But because the machine is operating within certain parameters, that is, it has a certain number of available symbols for each so called reel and a certain combination of pay tables and so on, then it is consistent with what we call the law of large numbers, that, over a long period of time, the device will produce the results that have been mathematically determined as its outcome.
So, as I say on the slide, the number and type of symbols are predetermined and consistent. So, there's a huge number of outcomes possible with an electronic gambling machine. I've seen machines which have, you know, more than 50 million possible outcomes. I understand in some jurisdictions there are now requirements that that has been reduced to as little as one in seven million, but to put that into perspective, that's roughly the odds of winning a super prize on a gigantic lottery such as, you know, lotto.
Now, you know, that's not particularly good odds particularly since you win much, much more on the lottery. So, you know, in a way, what the machine is doing is providing you fairly poor returns for what can often be a very considerable outcome — sorry, investment, if I can use those terms. Now, the table that I've put up shows the real patterns and the pay table for this Dolphin Treasure machine, this is from a paper which was led by Kevin Harrigan, a colleague from Canada, and on which I was a co-author, and it shows some analysis that we did of the Dolphin Treasure.
So, the important thing to look at here is the number of symbols on each reel. So, if you look at the second set of five columns on the right of that table you will see that, on reel one, if you go down to the king symbol, there is one king on reel one, there are two kings on reel two, four on reel three, five on reel four and three on the last reel.
So what that suggests is that the odds of winning are altered considerably by the placement of the symbols. If you look at the pay table, which is the left-hand part of that figure, then what you will see is that to get a winning combo of kings you need to get three in a row. Now, the other thing to remember is that most poker machines, and Dolphin Treasure is an example, pay from left to right.
So that means, in order to get the minimum prize you can get for a series of kings, you would have to get a king on reel one, a king on reel two, and a king on reel three. So, try to remember those figures, I know it's probably a little bit confusing, we can go back to it. In Australia, the order in which symbols appear has to stay the same. In some jurisdictions they allow what's called, "Virtual real mapping" which is the symbols on the screen don't necessarily have to reflect what is on the reel strip in the machine's internal workings.
But in Australia, the order in which symbols appear stays the same and the symbols on that strip have to maintain their number and order. But because there are different numbers of symbols on each reel, because that possibility is available to designers, the odds of a specific symbol appearing may vary from reel to reel. And that has a very deliberate effect on the odds of winning a prize, and we'll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. So, I guess the lesson from this is that the outcome is predictable in the long run but unknowable in the short-term.
So, over the long run, then, we know what the machine will do, it will deliver a certain proportion of prizes back to individuals who are using the machine, but it will collect a highly predictable amount of money from those users which it hands to the operators of the machine. And it's important to remember that the long run is a minimum of So, the short-term you don't know what's going on and you cannot predict it, in the long-term it's highly predictable, the machine will produce the outcome that has been programmed into it, and the programming consists of a combination of the pay table, that is, the order in which prizes are delivered and how much those prizes will be and the reel strips, that is, the order of symbols on the apparent reels and the way in which they are selected.
Now, this gives rise to consideration in what we call the return to player ratio, so, again, this is something which is a product of the interaction of the pay tables and the reel strips, and it can be calculated with reasonable precision over the long hau.
In Australia, the minimum amount of RTP is 85 per cent, that is, the least that the machine has to return to users over the long haul. Now, this varies between states and venue types, in some states it's higher than 85 per cent, I think in South Australia it's 87 per cent, and it varies if you're in a casino or in a pub or club. In pubs the RTP generally is higher, in casinos it's generally higher because they have less restrictions on how much you can spend.
Now, what this means is that the average loss of a bet will be 15 per cent. What it doesn't mean is that you will get 85 per cent of your stake back even over the long haul. As I say, the RTP is a function of the relationship between pay tables and the reel strip configuration.
So, I'll try to explain that a little bit more. How do we measure RTP? Now, what that suggests is that there is likely to be some volatility in games, that is, some of them might not adhere to their predicted performance over the relatively short-term, and in the life of a poker machine, a year can be a relatively short-term. In most other Australian jurisdictions, and in most overseas jurisdictions, RTP is measured by the theoretical performance of the game over its game cycle.
Now, game cycle isn't well-defined in most jurisdictions, but what it means is that the cycle of all the possible combinations of outcomes of the game, the time it takes for that to occur. That can be many years. If, for example, you played the Dolphin Treasure game 24 hours a day at five second intervals on a single line, then it would take you 5. So, what we're talking about is a very long period of time indeed. Indeed, it's quite possible that, over a five year period, the highest prize in a particular machine would not be awarded which would, of course, affect to some degree its RTP performance.
And that's why in Victoria the RTP is actually measured by the performance of all the machines in a venue over that given year, and it's also why, in other jurisdictions, what is really being assessed is not the actual RTP, but its theoretical RTP.
Now, in most cases the theoretical and the actual RTP conform very closely to one another, but that is not necessarily the case. The other problem with all of this is that there is plenty of evidence that users, the people who are using machines, have little conception of the price. You might have quite a long period of time, the probability is that you'll have a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, if you go to a cinema and you buy two tickets for a film you know how much the tickets cost and how much time you're going to have from the entertainment provided by that film, hopefully it's a good film, but in the end, it is at least predictable.
Unfortunately, the evidence is fairly convincing that people who use EGMs have no real conception of the price, so we tend to use RTP as a proxy for the price. But it's important to remember that the 85 per cent RTP also includes the amount that people are being re-staked. So, in any — in the course of any EGM session you will lose a bit, then you will win a little bit, then you will lose a bit, then you will win a little bit, but, overtime, the trajectory of your stake is downwards.
So, a way of thinking of that is, even if you do get in front and keep using the device, it will inexorably eat away at your stake until it's gone, and that's almost invariable experience of many people who use EGMs and certainly those who use them regularly and seriously. So, a way of summarising that is that a user operating an EGM which has a price of 15 per cent, that is, one way of thinking of price is by deducting the RTP from one, so if the RTP is 85 per cent then one minus.
So, in any event, what it means is you're going to lose that much money every time you push the button on average, and it doesn't take a lot of thought to realise that, over a period of time, you are actually going to lose your stake because the machine mostly takes rather than gives. So, you know, what we're talking about is a machine that has a very, very good capacity to devour considerable sums of money even though the bets seem to be very modest.
All right, so that's some of the background I guess, it's important that we understand why it is that people use EGMs. One of the things that most — my colleagues ask me is, "Why is it that people get sucked into these things? So there's two well-known psychological principles that apply to the operation of EGMs, they're called operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Now, these two principles apply to any mechanical gambling device, including electronic gambling machines and old-fashioned one-armed bandits of the type which proliferated in New South Wales from the s onward.
What has changed, however, since the early devices is that all of the facilities available via electronic computers have been incorporated in EGMs, and so they've been very much enhanced over the last 50 to 60 years. We'll talk about operant conditioning. Some of you may remember this from your psychology studies but, essentially, B. Skinner, an American psychologist and researcher demonstrated in the s using animal studies, rats and pigeons mostly, that animals, including humans, will respond to unpredictable stimuli, a pattern of unpredictability is important to this, rewards in a sense, but developing patterns of behaviour that are difficult to extinguish.
In other words, if you give someone a prize every second time they press a lever, they get bored and they only press the lever when they want the prize, when they want the reward, and this is what he discovered with pigeons and with rats.
But if you randomise that schedule it creates habitual behaviour, the animal will keep pushing away at a lever often under extremely difficult circumstances involving electrified grids on which they're standing and so on, and they will continue at that until the behaviour becomes so established that it's very hard to extinguish.
And this is much, much more likely if you have a random sequence of rewards than if you have a predictable reward sequence. Now, this has been well-known since at least the s and this illustration with our little ratty friend in there is a Skinner box, this is a little box which was designed for Skinner's experiments and which has been elaborated upon many times in the last half century in which, as you can see, the animal pushes down on a lever, it's taught to push down on the lever because, every now and then whilst operating the lever, a little pallet of food comes in and it gets a buzz and continues to push the lever.
And often animals will do this to exhaustion, they will keep pushing a lever until they're exhausted or they'll keep pushing the lever even though they also are getting an electric shock. So, it establishes behaviour which is very hard to extinguish and, unfortunately for those of us who think that we're better than animals in many respects, humans operate on exactly the same principle, if you give a human a set of unpredictable rewards, that will establish behaviour associated with that reward which is very difficult to extinguish.
Classical conditioning has been known since the 19th Century and Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist demonstrated that animals, and again, including humans, will respond to stimuli that are associated with a reward. So, in Pavlov's classic experiments he played a metronome, he set a metronome off when he fed a dog and he had a little device that measured the extent to which the dog was salivating, and eventually, what happens if you feed the dog and played a metronome, the dog comes to associate the sound of the metronome with the reward, the food, and eventually you can play the metronome, not give the dog any food, and the dog will also salivate.
So, that's a conditioned response. So, if you hear a specific sound when you get a reward, you will rapidly associate that sound with the reward or a smell or a sight like flashing lights or something which indicates that you've received a reward. So, if you walk into a gambling venue, a poker machine venue or a casino, you will instantly be assailed by sights and sounds that are associated with people getting rewards, machines going off, flashing lights, all the hoopla that goes into poker machine design.
And, if you walk into a casino, you will also encounter quite a distinct smell that you're unlikely to get anywhere else, and that's because most casinos pump odours through the air to develop an association with that activity. So that's classical conditioning, and here's a little illustration which shows how it works. So, before conditioning you give the dog some food and it salivates at the prospect of getting the food.
Before you've conditioned the dog, if you play a tuning fork or play a metronome, there's no response from the dog, it's not interested, it's just another sound. The picture marked three there is the process of conditioning. If you play the tuning fork and give the dog the food, then the dog will start salivating principally because the food is there. But eventually, once the dog has been conditioned, and it doesn't take that long, then playing this tuning fork will generate the same anticipation of getting a reward.
So, what this is doing, what these two principles are doing is building a very powerful model for conditioning people to particular responses, so, what's actually going on through this process. Now, you know, for many years we knew about conditioning principles and we knew that they worked.
It's only really been relatively recently with the advantage of MRI imaging and so on, that we've been able to actually look inside brains to see what's happening while this occurs. And it now appears that what's happening is, when we get a conditioned stimulus, something to which we have been acclimatised, as it were, then our brain reacts.
And it reacts in various ways, but one of the principle mechanisms is what we know as a dopamine system, this is a brain — a neurochemical which operates the reward system in our brain, it produces a pleasant, euphoric experience and that's because, you know, when we were swinging through the trees or walking across the veldts of Africa a long time ago, the idea of attaining a reward was a rare thing.
So, when we saw something that gave us the idea that there might be some game that we could catch or some food that we could eat, our brains remembered it, they were stimulated, they developed a conditioned response and we came to enjoy that response because we knew it was associated with a pleasurable outcome, whatever that might be. So, what the poker machine is doing is harnessing these, I guess, developmental principles, and all animals have them, we all have them, it's harnessing these principles to trigger the dopamine system.
And so when a reward is received or when a reward is anticipated, dopamine is released and this causes this pleasurable, euphoric experience. And it looks like both classical and operant conditioned responses derive from this. So, if you look at a poker machine, it takes no prizes, unfortunately, to understand that this is exactly what the machine is doing. The machine provides a random reinforcement schedule, as Skinner would have called it, and it provides sights and sounds and, in some cases, even smells that will condition the user to want to keep doing this.
And EGMs have become extremely good at this over the last few years in particular as they were computerised and transformed from sort of primitive but still reasonably effective devices operating on mechanical stimuli. If you think about an old-fashioned one-armed bandit, the reels would ring around providing an anticipation, there would be a sound associated with that, they would then go click, click, click and click into place, if there was a prize the coins would drop into the tray below generating another sound with which people came to associate this sort of pleasant experience of having a little win, but of course, you know, they were programmed just as electronic machines are to take a certain percentage.
But what we got with electronic and computerised poker machines was a whole new capacity for multiple tricks, you can call then, which increased the reward rate without necessarily costing the operator any more money. And I'll talk about some of these now. These include what we call near misses, losses disguised as wins, jackpots, game features and the lights and sounds.
All of these things maximise reinforcement and, as I said, many of them do it without actually costing the operators anything. Now, if you want to just understand the concept of losses disguised as wins, it's important for those of you who are not necessarily familiar with how contemporary poker machines operate to have a look at this slide here in which we portrayed the lines which you can use on a 50 line machine.
So, if you look at the top left-hand corner you'll see that line 1 goes through the middle, that is, the middle row of the three available, line 2 operates on the top row and line 3 operates on the bottom row, that's pretty straightforward. Line 4, on the other hand, starts at the top-left corner, goes down to the centre reel at the bottom and then zips up to the top-right corner, row 5 is the inverse and so on.
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