Online Pokies: The Crack Cocaine of Casino Games?

Both physical and online pokies are often maligned by politicians looking for votes, by family members who have ‘lost’ a loved one to an addiction, and sometimes by scientists. Recently, they have been called the ‘crack cocaine’ of casino games – presumably a game that is both more instantly addictive and more destructive than all the other ‘drugs’ in a physical or online casino. So, why are they calling you a crack addict? Is there a way to offset the ‘addictive nature’ of online pokies? We explore some of the issues surrounding this designation of ‘pokies as crack’ today.

Why Are Online Pokies Likened to Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is an especially addictive form of the drug, cheaper than pure cocaine but also more damaging to an addict’s health.

The analogy of online pokies as the ‘crack cocaine’ comes about because online pokies are:

  • Widely available
  • Continuously played – there is no break from the game, as there is when you buy a lottery ticket
  • Considered hypnotic by some because of their flashing lights and bleeps
  • Intermittently reinforce the behaviour (putting money in the slots), by providing a win sometimes but not all the time
  • Utilise ‘moving images’, one of the stimuli that the brain is hardwired to pay the most attention to

Nigel Turner, from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, recently said that “Any form of gambling is addictive, but slots tend to be more addictive … Slots tend to be the game format most widely associated with help line calls, in part because they’re the most widely available continuous games out there”.

The End of Sensationalism, The Beginning of Balance

It is true that the brain is hardwired to pay attention to moving pictures, and it is true that online pokies can be continuously played. However, let’s consider why these two factors alone don’t make online pokies a recipe for family breakdown and social disaster!

Many non-addicts enjoy online pokies

Only some people are susceptible to online pokies addiction – the majority of players are not considered ‘addicted’.

Online casino table games can also be played continuously

If it were true that continuous play was a major factor in addiction, online casino table games should constitute an equal percentage of helpline calls – they are effectively played continuously. It is true that the smaller bets (as low a 1c per spin) allow longer game play in online pokies – however this should also allow for lower amounts of cash to be lost in many cases.

Table games also provide intermittent reinforcement

Just about all games provide intermittent reinforcement, supposedly the ultra-seductive tool of the online pokies temptress! Table games, horse betting, sports betting and even lottery tickets allow you to win sometimes, but not all the time.

Breaks are forced to allow deposits to go through

In both physical and online pokies play, players must take a break when they run out of money. In online pokies, it takes time for a deposit to be processed; in physical pokies the customer must get up and go to the ATM for cash (which are now usually located outside a pokies venue).

Online Pokies as Self Medication

Pokies addicts often speak of using the machines, whether online pokies games or physical machines at the local sports bar, as a way to escape their problems. The lights and sounds are considered soothing, people go into a trance while playing the game and forget what ails them. In a way, this is just what would happen with a drug like cocaine.

It takes a certain level of self-awareness to realise that you’re ‘self-medicating’ with online pokies. Once you realise, though, the solution is simple – choose a different, non-monetary game to make yourself feel better in the meantime. Then go look for a REAL solution to your real problems.

Near Misses as Good As Wins

Mark Griffiths is a professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University in England, and has found that the psychological buzz that we get from winning is replicated when we ‘almost’ win as well. However, if the near-misses constitute more than 40% of the spins in online pokies, we become frustrated.

The solution to this psychological quirk? Keep records of how much money you spend on online pokies, and how much you walk away with. Look at your averages over the week and the year to see how you’re really doing.

Yes, online pokies can be addictive to some people – for a variety of reasons. However, a far higher percentage of people are able to walk away from online pokies losses than would be able to walk away from (even a short-term) crack cocaine habit! Don’t worry that you’re going to end up an addict. Just utilise careful planning and a bit of discipline, and the ENJOY your online pokies!