Why do people get addicted to slot machines?

The initial attraction to slot machines

Many gambling addicts are addicted to slot machines – or at least for many that is their first experience of gambling. Slot machines encourage players with the flashing light display, arcade sounds and the chance of a big jackpot; all these can have a psychological effect on the player. Add these to what we perceive as a relatively small initial stake and you have the perfect recipe to encourage play. However, due to the guaranteed high jackpot, slot machines are designed and programmed to pay out much less often to cover the high prize on offer. Therefore, the odds of winning on a slot machine are programmed to be extremely low. So by a careful preconditioned design we are lured to the slot machine and then should not be surprised that we lose as the machine is the farthest from a “game of chance” as possible.

Secondly, the machines are generally altered to play in favour of the operators.  For example, unbalanced reels with more jackpot symbols on some reels than others. Reels can also be weighted so that low paying symbols come up more frequently and not the jackpot symbols.

A slot machine will generate large sums of money for the operator and potentially high losses for the user.  A known fact.

Playing slot machines is one of the most popular forms of gambling addiction

However, even with this knowledge, Slot Machine play is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the world and is potentially the most harmful and addictive. They contribute to more problem gambling and addictive behaviour than any other gambling activity. Electronic gaming machines have become known as “the crack cocaine” of gambling. Slot machines are designed to play on many reward mechanisms of the brain. Thus gambling can be compared to taking drugs as the same neurotransmitters get released when you play.

Slot machines are widely available

When you hear the words slot machines, there was a time when you would associate them as being sited solely in Casinos. Not now. They can be found in pubs, amusement arcades, leisure facilities and even motorway service stations.  So, in this day and age the call of flashing lights and the promise of a big jackpot is never far away thus enabling the addictive behaviour to become more widespread and play more accessible. The siting of slot machines in a motorway service station are not in an enclosed room. They are behind glass for all to see and on a main walkway. I have spoken to children, who were stopping off at a service station with their parents, who state that the lure of the  flashing lights, loud arcade noises and the promise of a money jackpot was there very first attraction, from a young age, to wanting to play slot machines.  You have to question, who in their right mind allowed these inappropriate premises to have a gaming licence for machines which are so visible to such young and vulnerable children in the first place?

Chasing the losses

Most gamblers will say that it was one of their early presses on a start button that then had a small pay out that encouraged them to continue with more bets, chasing that big jackpot.  Also, with slot machines the play is rapid and what we might have considered as our initial stake soon escalates to be higher. There starts a feeling that” I have put so much money in, it just has to pay out soon”. An unrealistic expectation of something that is programmed to do just the opposite. It is the start of chasing our losses. However, the reluctance to leave a machine that you have been feeding with your money so someone else can play it, and possibly win, is also understandably high. This rapid spin of the wheels and the quickness of each game is proven to be more addictive and pushes the gambling addict to spending more money and with an increased reluctance to stop playing. In fact, it mentally changes us and it becomes less about winning and more about the addictive act of playing – the very mental and addictive need to just keep playing.

Addiction to the simple act of playing

Slot machines, in any environment including Casinos, play faster than any other game.  They are set up to perform a massive 500 spins or more each hour. This is against a hand played casino card game of Blackjack at 60 to 90 hands an hour and the difference is obvious.  Slot machines have a higher percentage profit back to the casino. Therefore, this fast play rate combined with a larger casino advantage can lead to serious losses over a short period of time. Then we continue playing as, mentally, the misconceived thought comes that as we have put so much money in, then it has to pay out soon. That just does not happen, we are playing against something carefully electronically programmed and designed to always beat the player.

The machines are carefully designed from their shape, colour, flashing lights and sounds to encourage play and the rapid play furthers more stimulation of the brain. The player starts to lose awareness of their surroundings and they become more immersed in the machine itself. There is also a definite lack of awareness of time spent playing, there are no clocks in a casino and even the true reality of the amount of money being spent is lost. There are also no windows in a casino, so day easily merges in to night.

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The harm caused by addiction to slot machines

Addictive and problematic playing of slot machines ultimately leads to harm in the player’s personal life and not just financially. The feelings of guilt and remorse and depressive moods are transferred to our loved ones.  They are unaware as to why our moods have changed, we are constantly absent from home, spending more time away playing on a slot machine. We have family arguments related to anything to