World-first research reveals children’s attitudes towards pokies

Pokies researchA world-first study conducted by Deakin University into children’s attitudes regarding electronic gaming machines has revealed more needs to be done to protect kids from the dangers of the pokies.

Research was conducted by interviewing 45 children between the ages of six and 16 who attended clubs containing electronic gaming machines in the regional New South Wales town of Illawarra. The report revealed more than half the children wanted to try playing the pokies once they were of legal age, and that they were familiar with the features of the machines despite not legally being able to enter the gaming areas.

One boy aged 12, who attended clubs less than three times per year, described pokies as machines where, “You hear the money hitting the metal and then you hear, ‘Ding, ding, ding, ding’. Then the big winner sign lights up on the top of the pokie machine and everybody screams, ‘GET THE MONEY!’”

Another boy aged 10, who also attended clubs less than three times per year, said he thought individuals could become addicted to the pokies because, “You’re trying to win. You never know if you could win or not. And you want to win! If you win you can go home to your children and say, ‘Oh, look what I won on the pokies. You might be able to do this when you’re older’.”

The same boy described pokies as a way “to give the family money.”

Associate Professor Samantha Thomas from Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development, who acted as the project supervisor for this research, says the report reveals the separation of kids from entering gaming floors is not enough to protect them.

She said, “Some children described how the sounds from the machines were the loudest sound that they could hear when in the restaurant. Children also made physical gestures such as pulling down a lever on the side of the machine, or ‘pressing a button’ to make the reels spin. The same features that we know are dangerous for adult gamblers are even more exaggerated for kids – those ‘winning’ sounds and flashing lights – kids only hear the positive noises, not the losses.”

The research showed that even children who didn’t attend the clubs with their parents were aware of electronic gaming machines through their parent’s discussions with other adults. These descriptions related to the parent’s wins and losses, with children mostly being aware of the small losses and the big wins.

One 10-year-old boy recalled, “[Mum] put $50 in and she came home with no money and the next day she came here and put $25 in and bang, smack, came home with $1,000.”

The report concludes the government fund further research into the behavioural impact of gaming venue layouts and product design to ensure public health policy is effective in preventing children’s exposure to adult gambling products within family-friendly venues.

Associate Professor Thomas says, “We need a broader community discussion about how appropriate it is to have poker machines in environments that also provide children’s facilities, such as playgrounds. We cannot assume that just because children are not physically entering the gaming room or sitting at a machine pushing buttons, that they will not be exposed in some way to these products.”

In addition, the report suggests children can be better protected from the harm caused by the pokies by:

  • Reducing the volume of sounds on machines, making them sound free, or ensuring that they play negative sounds when people lose on a spin.
  • Ensuring that gaming rooms are located away from dining areas or club entrances.
  • Developing school-based education, independent from industry, about electronic gambling machines, particularly in communities where there are high concentrations of clubs.

You can read the full report published by the Harm Reduction Journal.