The old one-armed bandit style slot machines live on in our collective memories. But it is the electronic versions of these sly heist-meisters that have been taking the gambling industry to new and unprecedented heights. These modern contraptions are really more video game than mechanical device, and they can eat away bank accounts at a far faster rate than Pac-Man consumed Pac-Dots.
For the gambling industry, these push-button game boxes are big-time moneymakers. Three-fourths of the profits accumulated by the gambling industry are coming from video slot machines, and this percentage even holds true in casinos where there are a number of other options. In total, the losses video slot machine players experience are running into the billions, and while it can always be argued that people who gamble are choosing to pay for products and services they enjoy, that rationalization doesn’t really apply when gamblers are addicted and can no longer control their behavior.
Academic and government-commissioned studies in multiple countries have confirmed that as much as half of all video slot machine revenue can be traced back to the runaway habits of problem gamblers, and this is certainly common knowledge to the businesses that are installing these machines as well as to the elected officials who are passing the laws that are making the rapid expansion of gambling possible.
Perhaps because of their resemblance to video games, electronic slot machines have acquired something of a benign reputation. From the perspective of the player, they just don’t seem as hardcore somehow as blackjack tables, roulette wheels or sports books, and it would never occur to those who use them frequently that they might be placing themselves at risk. But a 2002 study performed at Brown University and published in a peer-reviewed publication called the Journal of Gambling Studies proved that video slot machines are, in a perverse sense, the best friends that the gambling industry has ever had, because it turns out they produce compulsive gamblers three-to-four times as quickly as other types of gaming or wagering activities. The Brown study found that, on average, it took dedicated card players or sports bettors about three-and-a-half years to lose control of their behavior, but video slot machine addicts tended to develop their dependencies after only about a year of regular playing. Electronic slot machines are fast and easy and have the capacity to deliver a quick flashy thrill, and because of the way they accelerate the pace of gambling activity, it appears they also accelerate the rate at which over-enthusiastic players are sent plunging over the edge of the treacherous waterfall that empties into the pit of addiction.
Is It Too Late to Put the Video Slot Machines Genie Back into the Bottle?
The attitude inside government seems to be that if prohibition is ineffective and people are going to gamble anyway, wagering and gaming might just as well be legalized and taxed so that some of the profits can be diverted to pay for gambling treatment programs. This “ends justify the means” rationalization is obviously self-serving, but also more than just a bit shortsighted, as studies show that when gambling options increase, the number of problem gamblers will inevitably grow.
Video slot machines are especially attractive to those looking to boost gambling profits—and/or tax revenues—because they are easy to install and will pay for themselves in no time. Their no-fuss/no-muss glitziness entrances gamblers and can often suck them in far deeper than they ever intended to go. But they are addiction generators extraordinaire, and if governments can’t resist the temptation to legalize video slot machines, they would be wise to place restrictions on their availability and on the amount of money a person is allowed to spend on them during any one visit to a gambling establishment. Limitations like this will not make these machines safe, but they could perhaps slow down the rising epidemic of gambling addiction.