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Slots put players in the ‘machine zone’: UBC

By Eric MacKenzie

Experiments conducted at UBC’s Centre for Gambling Research show that slot machines can make players oblivious to their surroundings. 
File photo

Experiments conducted at UBC’s Centre for Gambling Research show that slot machines can make players oblivious to their surroundings. File photo

Usually, when a player is “in the zone,” that’s a good thing. But when the game being played is in the confines of a casino, the opposite is true, according to UBC researchers.

Since the school’s Centre for Gambling Research was established in 2014, director Luke Clark and his team have focused on slot machines and their impact on behaviour.

“There’s increasing evidence that slot machines are among the more harmful forms of gambling, compared to something like a lottery,” said Clark. “At the same time, we can see that modern slots are exceptionally complex devices ... They’re very fast games, they involve a lot of lights and sounds, and involve complex payoff structures.

“A lot of (our) experiments are looking at whether the harms come from any particular features or whether it’s a cumulative effect.”

What they’ve found is a tendency for slot players to fall into what Clark calls “the machine zone” — a trance-like state where it becomes easy to lose track of what’s happening beyond the game.

In experiments where subjects played slots, researchers would make slight manipulations — such as deducting $5 from players’ balances or changing the surroundings in their peripheral vision.

“The players are so immersed in the spinning reels, and the lights and sounds of the games, that they would more or less be oblivious,” said Clark.

“What we can see is that through being in the zone, players will actually miss other things that are going on around them, inside and outside of the game.”

Clark hopes the research helps better understand problem gambling and effective treatments. He and other UBC researchers will present some of their work on Wednesday to close out the New Horizons in Responsible Gaming Conference.

“This week’s conference is really looking at how gambling products should be best made available to the public in a way that minimizes those harms,” said Clark. “I think we’re going to see a lot of cutting-edge data on how to encourage gamblers to set limits within their play and encourage them to stick within those limits.” 

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