I Bet This is Wrong

An image of a rather vintage video poker machine.

An amusing campaign is being run by the South Australian government at the moment called No Game.  The central theme is that gambling is no light matter, and the proliferation of video games where the player's experience is similar to that in a casino is encouraging the proliferation of problem gamblers.

This latest example of South Australian legislators seeing a dazzling array of slippery slopes that none of the rest of us can see (even in hindsight) falls down on three main points.  The first of which is probably the most important; gambling addiction, or really any compulsive behaviour where a person is incapable of moderating themselves to the detriment of their quality of life overall, is a mental health issue.  Describing gambling addiction as the result of exposure to behaviour which is the moderated symptoms of it, is like saying that pretending to sneeze or cough makes you more likely to get a cold or eventually fatal pneumonia.  Knowing how to gamble doesn't make you a gambling addict, that takes a complicated array of things understood by medical professionals and counselors to be mental health conditions, stresses, lifestyle factors, personality, some researchers even consider that genetic factors may be at play.

The second chink in South Australia's white knight armour is their sources. The primary source is a report from Gambling Research Australia (guess what they do) and the No Game website presents a dazzling array of edge case percentage statistics, but finally brings it quietly back to reality with;

While current research has not demonstrated that engaging in simulated gambling causes someone to be a problem gambler, experts have identified there is evidence of a link between exposure of some children to simulated gambling and the development of problem gambling in adulthood.

Well... that makes sense I mean presumably they are able to actually become problem gamblers because they know how to gamble. There's ya link. Of course the complete lack of investigation into the "problem" bit leaves a bit of a gaping hole in the campaign's raison d'être.  

Finally there's empirical evidence that the No Game campaign's premise is wrong, and we can determine this through natural observation.  The problem with "computer games cause x" theory, regardless of what it is, is that computer games have been a phenomenon now for 30 years.  With the average lifepsan of an Australian being between 79.7 and 84.2 years according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare,  the average Australian walking down Pitt St, Collins St, Murray St, Elizabeth St, Edward St or indeed Rundle Mall, has been exposed to computer games - including ones which simulate gambling - for about 40% of their life.  With the average computer game player's age being 33 according to industry sources, the average Australian computer game player has been exposed to games since before they were toilet trained.  The proliferation of games has increased over that period of time, with entire categories dedicated to card and casino style games in Google Play and the iTunes App Store. 

If exposure to computer games has a causative effect on players to influence behaviour, why aren't the behaviours in computer games not only unarguably evident but completely pervasive?  If gambling in computer games turns people into problem gamblers (sorry, has a "strong link"), why don't we have an entire generation of human beings who have been soaked in games since toddlerhood, slavishly trying to win bonus spins?

The answer is simple. Negative behaviour including gambling addiction, is and has always been a complicated issue with elements of societal norms, mental health, regulatory responses and the social networks and support structures that people can benefit from as well as parent - child, teacher - child and child - child relations.  No Game is an expensive joke to placate elements within South Australian politics who have feelings about gambling that they'd like to see reflected in the state's regulatory response, and research has been cherry picked to support self-evidently wrong conclusions.


Image Jeff Kubina