In Victoria, pokies (or electronic gaming machines – EGMs) account for around half of all spending on gambling. They are also the most commonly used product for people with gambling problems.
Although traditionally found in venues like casinos, pubs and clubs, pokies have more recently moved online. Offering anonymity and greater accessibility, online pokies are likely to be even more appealing to people with gambling problems.
Given this, it is important to know more about how gamblers use both online and offline pokies, and what features encourage or discourage the development of problem gambling.
New research on what influences pokies players
In a recent study, Central Queensland University's Associate Professor Matthew Rockloff investigated what factors are important to players when deciding to gamble on the pokies.
For example, players may consider:
- whether to gamble online or at a physical venue
- the amenities at a venue, such as the availability of food and drinks
- the characteristics of a game or machine, such as types of sounds and animations.
In the upcoming report on the study, EGM environments that contribute to excess consumption and harm,Matthew and his team assess the relative importance of each of these factors to gamblers, and whether they vary depending on problem gambling severity.
Story update November 2015: the report is now available for download
Venues versus online pokies
The social aspect of playing the pokies was important to many of the gamblers interviewed, reflected in their preference for gambling in venues rather than online. Some liked to meet up with friends they had made in a venue, others liked to discuss their play with those around them.
Gambling in a venue was also seen as more interesting, due in part to the notion that winning physical money feels more like winning real money. Some participants also felt that venues provided a safer gambling environment than online, where they could more easily set limits on their gambling and were less vulnerable to significant losses.
By comparison, online gamblers rated functionality as important, and the comfort of being able to gamble at home while doing other things.
Safe environments and flashpoints for problem gambling
The research team also conducted surveys in venues and online, presenting gamblers with a series of situations related to playing the pokies and asking them to rate them in order of importance.
The results suggest the 'ideal' situation for the average gambler involves playing:
- on a classic game
- at a club near home
- with friends
- in a relatively quiet place, with a large space to play in
- with cheap food available and pleasant air conditioning
- in an environment that feels safe and secure.
However, people with gambling problems tended to be less concerned about socialising with others while gambling or sticking to smaller bet limits. While they were also unconcerned about whether they gambled online or in venues, when they did go to venues, they preferred larger ones.
The research report groups participants into four gambling categories:
- social – those who enjoy the social aspects of gambling (34 per cent)
- internet – those who prefer online gambling (17 per cent)
- high roller – those who are less concerned about the cost of the gambling experience (25 per cent)
- value – those who want the best value for money from their gambling (24 per cent).
Those in the internet and high roller groups were more likely to be young, male and experiencing problems with gambling. The high roller category was also associated with high scores on measures of depression, anxiety and impulsivity.
While we know pokies are associated with problem gambling, this research highlights particular contexts in which pokies are especially appealing to people with gambling problems. It helps us identify where this group is most at risk of harm, and to work to address this risk through the foundation's programs and services.
EGM environments that contribute to excess consumption and harm will soon be published in recent research on the foundation's website.
You can also read in Inside gambling about a study where regular gamblers were asked what they really think about responsible gambling.