Aussie Senator: Games Are Gambling Training

Nick Xenophon, independent senator in South Australia, has opened up a new front in his war on pokie machines to include arcade games that offer prizes. Such games supposedly teach kids that gambling is a normal activity and condition them to pokies venues and gameplay.

Specifically, Xenophon is talking about what he calls "redemption" games, which includes anything that involves redeeming tickets for prizes. Games like the classic Claw Crane, despite having an element of skill over pokie machines. The Senator is calling for these to be reclassified as gambling machines.

Talking to the Age, he said ''Legislation needs to change because these machines are a training ground for pokies. It puts kids at risk.''

Xenophon is especially against the positioning of these games near pokies venues; the farther away, the better.

He mentions a study of 2500 teenagers by the University of Adelaide, which found a correlation between arcade/video gamers and anti-social behaviours that could lead to problem gambling.

Adelaide Now spoke to anti-pokies activist Paul Bendat, who says certain games give a "false sense of skill, when it's really just luck." Bendat offers the arcade game Stacker as evidence, and after a quick Youtube search, it's easy to find examples of the game not functioning as it should. Note the second try here, when the box moves too fast the moment the button is pressed:

It seems that if it weren't for their proximity to genuine pokie machines, the proper comparison would be to carnival games. But as Independent Gambling Authority Director Robert Chappell tells Adelaide Now, "...if the games are not pure games of skill, they will be illegal lotteries."

Senator Xenophon has been a long-time opposer of pokie machines. On his website, he calls for a "complete ban of banknote acceptors" on the machines, as well as the introduction of smartcard technology, and the reduction of maximum bets and the speed of betting. He says 50% of pokie revenues are made from problem gamblers, and with $4b in industry tax revenues coming in each year, our states are addicted to the machines as well.

One of Xenophon's quotes stuck out: "If the game has the features of a gambling game it should be taken off the market, so it needs to be assessed independently."

Obviously, more than a few of our favourite video games have the "features of a gambling game". Whether you're talking aesthetics or mechanics, video games borrow heavily from the gambling industry. There's the small chances of great rewards in RPGs - whether they be a critical hit, or discovering a gem while mining. There's the carrot-on-a-stick manipulation of rewards, always being so close to gaining a level, ability, or item.

Casual games have possibly the thinnest veil between them and gambling. Be they the happy cascades of Puzzle Quest, or the rising pitch of chimes in Faerie Solitaire. And it's hard to deny that many genres are now blending with RPG mechanics to provide a sense of persistent reward, such as levelling up your prestige in Modern Warfare.

Except, aside from subscription fees, you've only been spending time in these games, not money. Assuming one can get addicted to a video game, does this mean games are a less destructive addiction? Do they take advantage of the same addictive personality traits, just to a lesser extent?

If a Senator can crusade against Claw Crane, how long before the crusade against Farmville? If Stacker trains kids to gamble, and should be reclassified, what should be done with your average MMO?


Comments

    Before anyone says he's full of it, he's not. He's quite correct in a few ways.

    I used to work in Brisbane Cities Timezone in the Queenstreet mall, I was one of it's opening crew when it first started. I hated those damn games. Our manager would go into them and loosen the claws himself, it was so dodgy. This was around 97/98. The night I quit, I was on duty, the AM was in the backroom drunk off his ass and I was sick of seeing the same damn prizes in these things for months on end never being won. I went in and tightened every claw (4 machines) to a near vice like grip. Now it really WAS a game of skill. Not a robbery machine. Almost Every person who played and lined up the claws got something if it grabbed onto something. I hated those skilltesters.

    I know most people will say I'm over reacting but when you watch so many kids go through day in and day out wasting their money on that crap and not a more fulfilling game in an arcade, you'd come to understand why I did it.

    Anyhow, I quit that night, it was a lot of factors, it was a dodgy job, and that just seemed like a neat way to stick it back to Leisure and Allied Industries who despite running these arcades, really screwed proposing of their dollar with cheap tricks like that...

      Nah man thats fair enough.

      I've done the responsible service of gaming, and they tell you that Pokies are completely and utterly random...and that people come up with justifications about machines giving out more prizes than others and that jackpots go off at certain times and shit...but its all just random with no systems in place (I don't know, I wouldn't trust the machine makers anyway, but yeah)

      But what you're saying is that managers are deliberately rigging the game so you cant win...by fixing the odds in favor of the house. That shit ain't on, and it is akin to robbery.

      I agree with him on some points, but others...like "Any game that has gambling in it should be taken off the market." Thats a bit rich, what about education of young adults about the dangers of Gambling?

      You can't protect them from everything forever...so instead of just banning everything that has the potential to harm...why don't start providing people with education and information...and if they choose to ignore it, well that is their god given right to do so.

        I think Nick has a point. I work for one of the two big Victorian pokies operators, and the pokies software is audited by the state government. The bottom line is that these machines make so much money that they don't need to cheat to make $$$ for the operator and the state govt. But I don't see any sort of oversight of the stacker etc games, they could easily be rigged. Also, worryingly, some pokies venues (not us, the operator) are installing these "skill" games for kids to play while mum/dad plays the "grown-up" pokies game. That's pretty loathesome ... pretty much grooming the kids to be pokies players.

          Rod, oh they *are* rigged. They definitely are. When your manager boasts about loosening the tension on the claw so it wont lift the heavy prizes without having superglue applied to the pincers?

          That's definitely rigged...

    I love those machines.

    I was at Galaxy World on George St in Sydney and once managed to get 5 animals in a row from 2 machines.

    Still, those electronic block machines (try and line a whole column) are probably the most rigged things available.

      I know a guy who's so good at Stacker that he's made a lot of money by winning consoles (I think he's won 2 PS3s so far) and selling them on Ebay.

    Come now, no need to have such a sensational article title, you make it sound like he's claiming all games lead to gambling

    I think Xenophon has a good point. Paying out 'tickets' and exchanging them for prizes is very similar to gambling and cashing out.

    The carnival games comparison is also apt, but you can't be sure how much randomness has been introduced by the computer unseen. At least carnies are bound by physics (hidden tricks or not) and can't just alter the throw of your die with a pseudo-random number generator.

    As someone who fondly remembers arcades, I too hate those ticket machines. When they started being introduced they quickly took up most of the arcade floors. Winning at them is very difficult and does seem predominantly luck-based.

      I'm not sure if its still the case, but about 10 years ago the "tickets and prize redemption" was actually how some pokies in the UK worked, presumably as a way of getting around gambling legislation.

    Good on him!

    I'm with you, perhaps the headline sounds sensational but I don't actually think Xenophon is wrong here. Given recent studies (which usually use bogus science and consist of 200 uni students, but this was 2,500 teenagers) and the fact that some games hire gambling experts to help with development, I don't think it's a stretch to expect this type of campaign to reach more mainstream games before long.

    Stacker isn't rigged, as it can be won every time it's played. Problem is, the window of opportunity to get the blocks lined up gets smaller and smaller every time. By the end, it's such a precise location, that, unless you get it just right, it's gonna fall either side.

      That's what the machine makers and the premises' owners would like you to think, but it isn't the case.
      The Stacker has a specific setting to change the frequency of winning to anywhere up to one in 1000 (that's frequency, not odds). The game is nearly impossible to win unless you are that 500th, 700th or 1000th (or whatever other number the machine is set to) customer to reach the major prize line, at which point the machine reverts to actual skill in the manner you describe.

      They are rigged, there's even technical documents available on the net describing how they're rigged for the stacker machines. Regardless how accurate you are, it will still move you over one square if it's not ready to pay out yet.

      It is actually able to be won every time it is played. Sure, the accuracy is dialed up to keep the payout low enough, but it can be won every time. The time you have to get the block right on is a fraction of a second, but it's still doable.

      Stacker games were originally rigged, but changed back to a skill base.

        This is only half-correct.

        Stacker is skill-based. But it is still rigged. Whatever it's set to, the game has to be lost so many times before a win will be paid. If it's set to 1000, then 1000 people have to lose first. After those 1000 people have lost, then it actually becomes a game of skill. People can continue losing, but anyone at that point who is good enough can win the major prize.
        For anyone playing before the quota is met, winning the major prize is impossible, regardless of skill.

    You have to remember though, Xenophon was elected on almost a single platform - anti pokies. He has to do something to stay relevant, and what works better than a moral panic?

      You obviously aren't from SA then. He is quite well respected by the voters here. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with limiting the impacts pf gambling anyway.

    Well dang, I know I got hooked on gambling after my first encounter with a scratch-and-sniff.

    Going by the cost + time + effort = reward scale on the arcades, I'd say it teaches them not to gamble.

    I totally agree with him. These machines are pokies for kids.

    One argument I'll put out there is that games, even stupid ones like these claw machines, can lessen the appeal of pokies by making people expect more than just a chair to zone out on.
    My mum was never a problem gambler or anything, but she would play them if she was there for whatever reason. However SNES and PC games have sort of ruined them for her. Thanks to games like Mario World, Donkey Kong Country or more recently Plants vs Zombies, pokies simply can't hold her attention anymore.
    I guess it comes down to whether you see these sorts of machines as raising the players expectations above what they get from pokies or dragging their expectations down to what they get from pokies.

    Also they do teach kids that these machines are dodgy and even though the main prize is an XBOX 720 made of iPhones the best prize anybody walks away with is a stupid mustache comb. I'm sure that has an impact on their feelings towards pokies.
    I know the arcades make heaps off the dodgy ticket based games, but I've never seen anyone put more than $5 in before giving up and going off to play something like air hockey or a fighter instead.

      I've seen grown people go to places like Market City Galaxy World, buy $20 worth of tokens and dump them into those token pushing games. It absolutely baffles me, 'cause they're in they 40s and will have absolutely zero use for those tokens even if they were to win a million of them. They're not reedemable, and even if you could sell them back to some kid (no doubt at a lower price), you still have to win them in the first place.

    All that those prize redemption games ever taught me is that you never get out what you put in. Thank you whack a croc for teaching me a valuable life lesson about the futility of gambling.

    God I hate those "skilltester" claw machines. Not just because even if they were fair I'd suck. Mostly for breaking my little girl's heart when I tell her that even though there's a whole bunch of Yoshis in there, I'm not going to try and win one for her.
    Or the chocolate ones. !'m not paying $2+ for the chance to get chocolate for her, when I could just go buy her some from the supermarket for that price.

    In the end, gambling is a matter of financial risk/reward.
    The senator is worried because games like the crane games, stacker games or games that give tickets are primarily about money in-ticket out, with the occasional illusion of skill.
    There is cost with no guarantee of reward, and that is gambling.
    General arcade games offer entertainment for the cost with no pretense of a physical reward, while video games like those mentioned at the end of the article only require a one time or, in the case of mmo, a monthly fee sold as a product and playable for as long as you want.

    Oh I agree completely.

    You know what's (not) fun?
    Go to some big Family restaurant or pub bistro that has one of these machines in the corner.

    Watch your kids going "Daddy, daddy, one more dollar, PLEEEASE", as they try to win a stuffed Homer Simpson doll. And when you say no, aunty or grandma says "Oh go on" and gives them another buck.

    It's definitely gambling.

    If it's a game where you play and eventually it's over and you've just paid for a bucks worth of entertainment, then that's fine. The illusion that you are going to win is the nasty part.

    Ban them, IMHO.

    Part 2.
    There is NOTHING more pathetic than some guy racking up tickets to redeem on a crappy prize, while his girlfriend stands there bored as all hell waiting for him to finish.

    Just go buy her something nice you fool

    I think it's just pure politics. You pick an angle and run with it - feeding the media and causing undue hysteria over something that's not going to make or break a kids life. Its the policy's people are keen for. I think their fine to use as long as parents are responsible in the amount of money spent on such items (and their not rigged).

    We used to rig the whack a croc game, 2 people with hands rather than using the hammer, but yeah even with max tickets you paid roughly twice the amount of money to win an item than you could get it from a joke/novelty store. After awhile they confiscated your tickets if you did that.

    When I was a kid and games where 20c I spent $2.40 to get a small red Teddy Bear, and thought never again.

    In adult life when I turned 18 my Elder Brother took me out to drink, see a gig and play a pokie. I only spent $1 and hated the whole experiance it was so boring, I have never played pokie machine ever again. This does not count in game pokie machines which seem to have an element of skill to them, or at least seem to be rigged in your favour.

    The most gambling I do is buy the occaisonal Lotto ticket/Scratchie and bet on the Melbourne cup. Although it's been over a year since I got the last scratchie, it was more something to do at work rather than a retirement plan.

      Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow...

      NOW I'M ANGRY!!!

    I won a Nintendo DSi from a "Skill tester" recently called Barber Cut where you need to line up the cutter with the string that holds the item in place. Took me two dollars worth of goes to get it. I noticed the items at the back went quite quickly but the items at the front were in the machine for months on end. I think the retailer realised it's much easier to get to the rear items than the front ones so now they only fill the front of the machine. There's been a DS XL at the front of the machine mocking me for months now but I know it's not worth the money bc/ of how the machine works.

    Anyone whose been to Japan will tell you that the machines are checked daily to make sure the claws aren't too strong but at least over there they will not only show you how it how it's done but they will move items for you to make it easier for you to get.

    It's all in aid of you pumping more coins into the machine. I spent over $100 in gaming areas over there trying for trinkets and soft toys. It's addictive!!!

    Having said all of this you'll never find me pumping cash into a pokie machine.

    One time I tried the claw thing and it managed to grab 2 stuffed toys at once, so I retired while I was ahead of the game.

    Another time I put a dollar into the pokies and won 11 dollars, so I also retired while I was ahead yet again.

    I think a lot of the problems would stem from the personality of the kid and how they were raised to handle money. If they're taught how to be responsible with money then I don't think these machines are too much of a problem when spending a dollar here or there for fun.

    The gambling problem runs a lot deeper than being mesmerised by shiny lights and I'd say the chances of someone becoming a problem gambler wouldn't change significantly whether they play the skilltesters as a kid or not.

    Those things are definitely rigged though!

    Those machines are in league with old fashioned carnival games, the ones that give out tickets for prizes come on, they have been around since like forever so saying they are gambling, I am anti pokies but they're not even the same thing at all. The only thing they have in common that machine in the picture above is rigged, I know someone who worked at timezone, they said the last block is set to stop not as you press the button but to stall. Anyway, this guy has always been a attention seeker look at me guy who said on Q&A abc that he would like to ban all games, I wouldn't pay too much stock in this guy, he's always saying stupid poo

    Quite funny that. My local pub/pokies venue has a Chocolate Crane game and did have the Block Stack game in in the area between the Bistro and the pokies.

    In the first week the Chocolate machine was there it made around a grand... no word of a lie

    a pack of cards is more gambling training than games. i think it is time we banned those damned evil playing cards.

    Those machines are the reason I don't visit arcades anymore - I remember when arcades would be wall to wall Tekken and Street Fighter, Time Crisis, Daytona, and great Pinball Machines (loved the Star Trek TNG machine!) nowadays it's all whac-a-croc games, dance games and buck hunter. Depressing - but something tells me the 3 consoles in my house is part of the reason for that :)

    As for being gambling training - surely they'd train you to realise that it's a futile exercise, what can you win - a slinky!?

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