29 Sep

“Plain Packaging” of Pokies not Practical Solution to Problem Gambling

Dunne rejects Boring Poker MachinesProblem gambling has been a growing issue throughout Australia for years now. Officials have debated various ways to downgrade the problem, including everything from reducing the number of pokies licenses, to eliminating ATMs in local pubs, clubs and hotels where they’re present, to limiting bet sizes. One councilman’s latest proposal to make them “dull and boring” was not met with a positive reaction.

At a regulatory service committee meeting last Tuesday in which the panel discussed the upcoming draft class 4 gambling policy, Invercargill Councilman Ian Pottinger came up with what he thought was the perfect solution to curb problem gambling throughout the nation.

He suggested that all of the region’s licensed poker machines be manufactured with “plain packaging”.

Cr Pottinger explained his theory by comparing poker machines to cigarettes, which had their packaging altered awhile back to remove the allure of colourful marketing tactics.

“When you buy a packet of cigarettes there’s nothing exciting about it,” said Pottinger. “There’s a big image of cancer on it and a warning that smoking will kill you. Could something like that be done with poker machines?”

Pottinger proposed removing all of the glitz and glamour from poker machines, stripping them down to the bare basics. “If they didn’t have all that,” inquired the Counselor, “would as many people play them?”

Pottinger concluded that, “Some people might just think, well this is boring.”

Removing the attractive graphics, vibrant flashing lights and flavorful sound effects from pokies would almost certainly detract from their magnetism, but Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne said it would not be a practical solution to the conundrum that is problem gambling in Australia.

According to Pottinger, a reduction in the number of pokies throughout Australia will have no significant impact because if someone wants to play, they will find an open machine somewhere. Another concern voiced by Pottinger was that the number of known gambling addicts has risen year over year, despite the fact that the gambling industry allocated $18.5 million annually to the government to fund anti-problem gambling programs.

In contrast to that theory, however, George Darroch, Public Health Advisor for the Problem Gambling Foundation, says efforts to curb gambling addiction are actually working. Darrroch says the rise in the number of reported problem gamblers is a reflection of how many people are actively seeking help, and that theory is further supported by the fact that national pokies spend has dropped from $856 million in 2011 to $808 million in 2014.

“Dulling down” poker machines was not a new concept for Dunne, who’d heard similar proposals in the past. A statement given by a spokesperson for the IA Minister insisted, “It’s not practical,” raising the question, “would it end there?

“What would you do with online gambling?” the spokesperson inquired. “Would you ban colourful displays on home computers where people access those websites?”

Pottinger’s Claims backed by LDW Research

Dunne may have a good point, but according to research conducted in 2013 in Canada, Pottinger may actually be on to something. Studies found that the flashing lights and sound effects that are exhibited during wins, particularly those where the player wins less than they actually wagered, were giving players the same sensation as if they had won.

The study called them LDWs – Losses Disguised as Wins – and the sensory stimuli invoked by the machine’s reaction to a losing payout was convincing players that they had come out on top, despite having actually lost money.

Dull Pokies = Dull Communities

It would certainly be interesting to see the reaction of people who played a poker machine devoid of lights and sound effects. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the countless pokies fans who play the devices responsibly as a favorite pastime would be stripped of their entertainment as well.

If no one played the gambling devices, what would become of community funding? Territories throughout Australia rely heavily on the funding from the gambling industry to fund community programs that would collapse without that support. Surely that fact crossed Dunne’s mind before he quickly rejected the idea.