JUST LIKE ICE! How pokies cash in on brain’s pleasure zone

POKER machines are like electronic ice - once you've had a hit, chances are you'll be back for more.

The brain's ability to recognise and respond to reward triggers is the reason some people become addicted to the pokies.

Electronic gaming machines have two key components - the first is what we see and hear when we pop a few bob into the system and the second is the software beneath the glittery facades.

Every time a person playing the machine has a "win" - which is actually usually a loss - a bunch of sounds and flashing lights and/or fancy animations go off.

These stimulate the brain, tricking it into feeling good - just like some drugs do.

Before long we start associating this pattern of reward behaviour with pleasure as feel-good chemicals flood our body.

By keeping pokie venues dark, the operators also limit the ability of gamblers to keep track of time.

Throw in cheap and easy to access drinks and snacks that can be consumed at the machine and you end up with an environment that ensures a gambler need only leave their machine to top up their funds or use the toilet.

CQUniversity Institute for Health and Social Science Research deputy director Professor Matthew Rockloff said people who became addicted to poker machines had more intense reactions to the reward systems.

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"The gamblers become addicted to the machines because of the rewards that they are getting over time," Prof Rockloff said.

"It's a behavioural addiction - they respond to those small rewards with a feeling of euphoria."

Prof Rockloff explained that pokie addicts generally gambled for four reasons - "excitement, escapism, esteem and excess".

He said addicts found gambling exciting, they used the pokies to escape problems in their lives, they generally had low self-esteem and they often did other things to excess - such as drinking, smoking and eating.

"These are the four major explanations that gamblers themselves give as to why they've developed problems," Prof Rockloff said.

 Want to feel like a winner as you lose?
SIT down and put $100 into your "bank" inside the poker machine.

Play a hand that has 10 lines. This costs your "bank" just $1.

The machine does its bit and displays the result accompanied by sounds and flashing lights that deliver the message - you've won!

And you get that winner's feeling, your brain's pleasure centres light up just as they would if you had a big win, a real win.

But the win on the screen in front of you is not a real win. It's a tiny win with a larger loss.

You paid $1 to make this play. The win was on one of the 10 lines you could have had a win on. By winning on just one line, you won 20 cents.

So your 20-cent win cost you $1.

You lost 80 cents. - ARM NEWSDESK

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