A government-commissioned study suggested that the Victoria government unable to cope with the social risks of addictive poker machine use.
Sensitive to criticism about the creeping tide of poker machine addiction in the state, the Bracks government Victorian Gambling Research Panel undertook a study of "The Changing Electronic Gaming Machine Industry and Technology". Published in June 2006, the study is ostensibly about technological aspects of the electronic gaming machine industry in Victoria.
Money for the research came out of the Community Support Fund and, indirectly therefore, gambling industry tax inflows. The proponent was the Australian Institute for Primary Care at La Trobe University in the capital.
Interestingly, the commission also interviewed self-confessed "problem gamblers". For the truth is the human factor serves as the underpinning of this extensive review of technological innovations. The researchers took into account both gambling regulation and a "special kind of consumption... de-materialised and potentially continuous�with no apparent physical limitation." Gambling is, in short, addictive.
The Institute observed that technology gives the gaming and wagering industry every advantage. Continuous product and design development, for example, makes trying a new video poker machine model a compelling experience. Secondly, the fact that poker machines in Victoria are all liked to a wide area network makes marketing opportunities all too easy to collate and act on. New model or not, poker machines bear features that increase the likelihood of compulsive use. These include 'free' spin features, multi-line betting, and accepting both coins and bank notes. As well, the researchers blamed venue operators for giving customers ready access to ATMs.
The playing public is not adequately informed, the research panel went on to say, that poker machine technology effectively lengthens the odds against their getting "faire returns."
But perhaps the most alarming datum was that residents of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods were prone to spend much more on poker machines. That this makes sociological sense - low wage earners have fewer options for improving their lives - does not prevent a remorselessly high concentration of poker machines in such residential areas. More than any other, it is this finding that must have compelled Victoria Gaming Minister John Pandazopoulos to declare earlier this month a cap on establishing more poker machines in relatively destitute zones.
A question that must be addressed, the researchers note, is whether the authorities are able to establish a judicious balance between widespread use of poker machines for entertainment and "management of the social harms" brought about by such consumption. Sadly, this is not the case.
In the end, the Institute offers the wan hope that since the government lacks a "real commitment" to redressing social harms, technological innovations could be found that minimize the risks of indulging in poker machines.
August 01, 2006