Welcome to the Slot Machine Zone… It’s like the Twilight Zone where space-time is suspended and it’s impossible to escape.
Gamblers can fall into a hypnotic state without realising it. The problem is especially acute with problem gamblers who may be susceptible to suggestion.
The tricks that Casino operators use to encourage people to gamble are well known. There are no clocks in gambling environments and little or no natural light, so gamblers are more likely to lose track of time. The trays into which winners’ coins are dispensed are made of a special kind of metal that makes a lot of noise every time the machine pays out – this encourages other gamblers to keep playing.
Wins are celebrated with bells and whistles that are audible all over the gambling floor and this also encourages others to keep gambling. That’s not all – the reels in the machine – for example two lemons and a barrel – are arranged in such a way that players can just see a third lemon – and the brain interprets this a ‘near’ win, something that excites the pleasure centres in the brain just as much as an actual win. This encourages the gambler to keep gambling.
These are just some of the tricks designed to keep people feeding money into one-armed bandits. Modern technology has made playing slot machines even easier – the old fashioned mechanical workings of the machines have been replaced by electronics – so the barrels spin faster and stop sooner and thus increase the frequency and opportunity of play.
Frequency of play makes gambling even more addictive – no one gets addicted to a lottery you can only play twice a week. Of all the gambling opportunities, slot machines are the most popular – and the most pernicious. Slot machines are the major magnet of gambling addiction. Problem gamblers prefer slot machines because they’re fast and allow continuous play.
Repeating the same actions over and over again, in a darkened environment where the brightest light comes from the machine itself, seduces players into an immersed state – exactly like hypnosis – where they can escape from feelings of stress or boredom. (Boredom is a big cause of problem gambling, as it is with drug addiction.)
A new study, carried out at the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia (UBC) involved two groups of participants. One group consisted of UBC undergraduate students, most of whom had never played a slot machine. The other group was made up of experienced slot machine players.
Both groups played the machine in the UBC ‘casino’ for 30 minutes. The machine had been modified with panels mounted on each side that showed moving geometric shapes – a white circle and a red square. Participants were told to press a button whenever they noticed the shapes change.
Members of both groups said they felt higher levels of immersion while playing. This is strikingly similar to the experience of participants in stage hypnosis shows who report exactly the same sense of immersion. They also find themselves in an artificial environment with bright lights, no indicators of the passage of time like natural light, and perform a series of repetitive tasks in quick succession.
The researchers measured the volunteer’s heart rates both during and after play. Players were asked if they felt like they were in a trance or had lost track of time.
The experienced slot players – those at higher risk of problem gambling – were more likely to miss a shape change on the side of the machine. They also felt they lost track of time and their surroundings.
Again, this is the same phenomenon experienced by participants in stage hypnosis shows. Both volunteers in stage hypnosis and those who play slot machines are attention focussed, concentrating hard on the task in hand, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that time flies by.
Being immersed in the game leads to paying less attention to the visual world outside the machine – as with stage hypnosis. It also means paying less attention to how much money they’re losing.
The researchers suggest that slot machines could be designed in such a way that promotes more responsible gambling by disrupting the slot machine zone state, but given the ethos of the gambling industry – to take as much money as possible from as many suckers as possible – the introduction of any device to inhibit gambling looks unlikely.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.