Many people who experience a problem with poker machines will at some stage ask themselves the question ‘Why me?’. Why do I have this problem and not someone else? It is an important question and so let’s have a look at a couple reasons that might be at play. Before we do this, allow me to clarify that the reasons presented here are by no means exhaustive and accurate for each person but rather factors that I have found important from working in the field.
The most important reasons for developing a problem with poker machines is something called ‘early positive experience’. It seems that 9 out of 10 people who have a problem with gambling on electronic gaming machines experienced an early win that had a lasting impression. Although this idea has been around for a while, its significance for problem gambling treatment can be credited to researcher and clinician, Dr Fadi Anjoul. For the 1 out of 10, the positive first impression comes by association – for example being with a friend who had a big win. The early positive experience cements a very important belief in the person’s mind – you can win on a poker machine. Think about this, if you had lost the first 20 times you played the pokies, what would you think of them? Probably something along the lines of, ‘these things are stupid’. Whereas if you win $200 after putting in $20, what would you think?
Another important albeit secondary reason is the role of reacting to emotions. We all feel bored, sad, lonely, poor, and a whole range of other feelings. Some people can sit with such feelings and see them as part of life and remember they will pass soon while others find these feelings very uncomfortable and try anything possible to get rid of them. This includes going to the pub and playing the pokies.
Other potential reasons include genetic or biological factors. Years of research into gambling has shown that those with a certain genetic constitution are more likely to have a gambling problem than others. Brain chemicals such as noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine have also been implicated.
Drugs and alcohol can also play a role for some people. Once intoxicated, we don’t make the same rational decisions as we would normally make, which can include going to a poker machine for a slap.
Finally, not appreciating the nature of randomness can play a part, particularly in the chasing of losses. Some people with a problem with poker machines believe that once a lot of money has been put into a machine, it has to start paying soon. Having lost a large sum can lead someone with this belief to continue pouring more money into the machine with the expectation that their chances of winning have improved.
For those who think they may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.