Tag Archives: addiction

Banning early evening gaming ads on TV is like being ‘a little bit pregnant’

The Conversation

File 20170516 7001 shlrmj
While gaming advertising will be banned before 8.30pm, the ban doesn’t extend to perimeter advertising or on-air mentions of betting odds. From www.shutterstock.com

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

Early this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made his family friendly announcement that advertising for gaming, including sports betting, would be banned from television and radio before 8.30pm each night, plainly a message about reducing exposure to children. The Conversation

The “siren to siren” ban, which will cover all sports broadcasts on TV and radio except racing, will start five minutes before matches start and end five minutes after full time.

We don’t know when this will start, but you can probably get low odds somewhere on implementation taking as long as possible.

Just as you can’t be “a little bit pregnant”, you can’t have a partial ban.

Turnbull’s announcement said nothing about on-ground and perimeter advertising, TV commentators and their guests mentioning betting odds or the many sneaky ways direct advertising bans were subverted by the masters of the art, Big Tobacco.

No kid watches sport after 8.30pm, right?

Just take a nanosecond to think about what has been promised. Yes, the policy will take direct advertising of gambling out of pre-8.30pm sport. But last time I looked, the State of Origin, all day/night cricket, major world events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and Grand Prix events all run well after 8.30pm.

While most seven-year-olds may be tucked in bed before 8.30pm, many older kids stay up much later. So picture the living rooms across Australia as armies of parents say to their 12-year-olds, “Look I know it’s the decider State of Origin match and the game kicked-off only 15 minutes ago, but the TV is going off now because the betting ads are starting up in a minute.”

That’s just certain to work very, very well. Perhaps exactly as well as the gaming industry’s public support for the package would predict.

Former Labor front bencher Stephen Conroy, now with Responsible Wagering Australia told Sky News that Sports Bet “absolutely welcomed” the new package.

This should set cynicism meters off the dial. If this move had even the remotest chance of having any impact on the betting industry’s bottom lines, it would fight it tooth and claw, in the way we saw with tobacco plain packaging.

Gamble responsibly

The relentless TV betting ad postscripts that remind us to “always gamble responsibly” are as sincere as Big Tobacco urging smokers to smoke lightly.

The 2010 Productivity Commission report on gambling in Australia estimated that problem gamblers contributed about 40% of gaming revenue via poker machines. The report identified about 115,000 Australians as “problem gamblers” with a further 280,000 people at “moderate risk” of being a problem gambler.

There is no definitive national estimate of how common problem gambling is among people who bet on sports. But a 2014 study in the ACT indicated rates of problem gambling among internet gamblers were three times greater than for gamblers in general and on a par with rates for people gambling on poker machines or on racing.

The bottom line is that problem gamblers are the backbone of the gaming industry’s fortunes. The industry would be devastated if these fortunes somehow dried up.

Incremental tobacco advertising bans

The history of restricting tobacco advertising is likely to point to what’s ahead in reforms on how gambling promotion.

The last time a direct tobacco advertisement was seen or heard on Australian TV or radio was in August 1976. The Whitlam government introduced the policy, which was continued by the Fraser government. Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television was phased out over the three years between September 1, 1973 and September 1, 1976.

The decision was framed as a way of reducing the exposure of children to tobacco advertising. Obviously, the proposition was that kids were a prime target for tobacco companies and their advertising was a powerful way of conditioning interest in smoking in young people.

So, direct tobacco ads on TV and radio could help kids take up smoking. But the very same appeals in ads in print, on billboards, in shops and as sporting and cultural sponsorship apparently could not. This was the bizarre logic in governments at the time banning tobacco advertising in only selected media, but not across the board.

As ordinary commonsense and research highlighted the inanity of this policy, governments incrementally increased the number of media where cigarette ad bans applied. It took from September 1973 until April, 30 1996 (when tobacco sponsorship of cricket finally ended) for all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion to end in Australia. That’s 22 years and 8 months from start to finish.

If we count branded packaging as a form of advertising (as the tobacco industry unequivocally agrees it is) then we need to add another 16 years and 7 months. That’s until plain packaging was implemented in December 2012.

Children seeing sports betting ads can’t participate in online gaming because they don’t have credit or debit cards. But they are a vital audience for the future of the industry. It is in the industry’s interests to beguile them about gaming as early and for as long as possible until the day they can open their first betting account.

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Bright lights, big losses: how poker machines create addicts and rob them blind

The Conversation

Charles Livingstone, Monash University

Australians lose A$20 billion on gambling every year, $11 billion of which goes on poker machines in pubs and clubs. Why, then, are pokies so attractive? And why do we spend so much on them?

Ubiquity is one reason. The high intensity – the rapid speed of operation and relatively high stakes of betting up to $10 per “spin” – is another.

But there’s also a more insidious mechanism at work here: the basic characteristics of poker machines, combined with constantly refined game features, stimulate the brain in a way that, in many cases, leads to addiction with symptoms similar to those associated with cocaine use.

Poker machines cultivate addiction by teaching the brain to associate the sounds and flashing lights that are displayed when a punter “wins” with pleasure. And since the pattern of wins, or rewards, is random, the “reinforcement” of the link between the stimuli and pleasure is much stronger than if it could be predicted.

Into the machine

Poker machines, invented in the late 19th century, were originally mechanical, usually with three reels and a fixed and limited number of symbols available for display on the win line. Contemporary pokies are fully computerised. Usually housed in a retro-designed box, they refer to the old-fashioned simplicity of their predecessors. But they are as chalk and cheese compared to their mechanical forebears.

Today, the gambling machine industry employs an army of engineers, programmers, composers and graphic designers to produce increasingly sophisticated games and machines, with more ways of persuading people to part with their cash.

At the heart of the modern pokie is a series of random number generators. These are constantly operating and, when the button is pushed, the answer is instantly known. Each number corresponds to a “reel” symbol – pokies still appear to have reels that roll around when the button is pushed, but this is an illusion.

In Australia, unlike some other jurisdictions, the order of symbols on each of the visual reels must be constant, but the number of symbols can be different on each reel. This includes winning symbols.

Old, mechanical pokies had a limited number of “stops” because of the limitations of physical space. Electronic pokies have no such limitations. And the difference is profound. A mechanical pokie with three reels, 20 symbols on each reel, including one prize symbol, would have winning odds of 1/20×1/20×1/20, or one in 8,000.

A contemporary pokie will often have major prize odds of one in 10 million or more. The number of symbols on each reel is not limited by physical space, so the odds of a major win can be tweaked by limiting the number of winning symbols on certain reels.

A five-reel game may have two winning symbols on each of the first three reels, each of 60 symbols in total. The last two reels may have only one winning symbol, with 80 total symbols. This configuration would produce odds of 2/60×2/60×2/60×1/80×1/80, equal to one in 230,400,000.

This maths is at the heart of machine design. A slot game is just a spreadsheet. But it’s a spreadsheet with a lot of enhancements.

Tricking the brain

These configurations will regularly produce “near misses”. These occur when winning symbols appear on some lines, but not all. Experimental work has revealed that the brain stimulus produced by such “near misses” can be almost as significant as those produced by a win. The level of reinforcement is thus dramatically increased, without any need for the machine’s operator to actually pay out.

Current pokies also allow multiline bets, whereby users can select all available lines to bet on in a single spin. Mechanical machines were limited to a single line of three reels. Pokies now allow users to bet on 50 or more lines, configured from the video display of five reels and three lines.

The line across the middle is one such line, as are those above and below that line. But patterns of symbols are available in bewildering arrangements, combining lines and reels and multiplying the minimum bet by many times. A one-cent credit value game can thus be configured to allow at least a 50-cent minimum bet per spin if 50 lines are selected.

Most regular users report that their preferred style of use is “mini-max” – that is, the minimum bet with maximum lines. In a strange way, this reveals risk-averse behaviour. There’s nothing worse than seeing a win come up on a line you’re not playing, as a regular pokie user once explained to me.

How multiline poker machines work

But regular users will also increase their stakes when they can. This is to provide for the possibility of bigger payouts, or in some cases because they believe – incorrectly – that doing so will increase the chances of a win.

Pokies also allow the credits bet per line to be multiplied, often by up to 20 times. Thus, a one-cent machine becomes a device capable of allowing bets of $10 per spin. Each spin can take as little as three seconds.

For this reason, the Productivity Commission calculated that such machines could easily average takings of up to $1,200 per hour. But this is an average, and it’s not uncommon to observe people spending $400 or more on poker machines in as little as ten minutes.

Machines that accept banknotes allow significant amounts to be “loaded up”. In New South Wales, pub and club pokies can accept $7,500 at any one time.

The other capability provided by multiline poker machines is a phenomenon known as “losses disguised as wins”. This allows users to experience a reward from the game even when they’ve actually lost money.

If you bet on each of 50 lines at one cent per line and win a minor prize on one line (say, 20 credits), for instance, the machine will provide suitable reinforcement – sounds, lights and sometimes a congratulatory message – and acknowledge the credits won. But you’ve actually lost 30 cents.

This allows the amount of reinforcement delivered to the user to be magnified significantly – often doubled. Thus, the user feels like they’re winning quite regularly. In fact, they’re losing.

So what does all this stimulation do? Brain chemicals, particularly dopamine, are central to this process. Brain imaging has shown in recent years that the pattern of dopamine release that occurs during a gambling session is strikingly similar to that of cocaine and other addictions.

Poker machines are essentially addiction machines that have been developed over a long period of time to be as attractive to their users as drugs are to theirs.

This article is part of our special package on poker machines. See the other articles here:

15 things you should know about Australia’s love affair with pokies

How real are claims of poker machine community benefits?

The ConversationCharles Livingstone, Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Cluster bomb of new research explodes tobacco industry lies about plain packs

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

There is near-universal agreement that Australia’s implementation of tobacco plain packaging in December 2012 has seen the most virulent opposition ever experienced from the global tobacco industry.

While the industry bravely insisted early in its campaigning that plain packs “would not work” their legal actions, campaign expenditure, lobbying and general apoplexy rather suggests they feared it would be a devastating policy, with long term global ramifications.

Indeed, eleven other nations (Ireland, England, New Zealand, France, Norway, Finland, Chile, Brazil, India, South Africa, Turkey) have either legislated plain packaging or are now warming up to do so.

University of Sydney researcher Becky Freeman and I catalogued the full range of industry lies in our recently released (free) book Removing the Emperor’s Clothes. The Cancer Council Victoria has also published extremely detailed rebuttals to the major industry scuttlebutt.

Now today, the British Medical Journal’s specialist journal Tobacco Control has published a special collection of new research which puts further 10,000 watt arc lights on specious industry claims.

Key industry claims have included that plain packs would:

  • Drive prices down, as smokers turn away from buying expensive premium brands because they look exactly the same as cheap brands (other than brand names). More affordable cigarettes, they argued, would cause more smoking, including among children
  • Flood Australia with illegal tobacco
  • Cause smokers to stop buying cigarettes at small convenience stores
  • Prompt smokers to use special covers to conceal the large-scale graphic warnings on packs.

Price falls?

One of the new Tobacco Control papers monitors changes in recommended retail prices RRPs from one year before plain packs were introduced until one year after. Prices were adjusted to 2013 prices, and for inflation and average cigarette price stick and grams of roll-your-own tobacco.

The RRPs of tobacco products were higher in real terms one year after the legislation was implemented. Importantly, these increases exceeded increases resulting from consumer price indexation of duty and occurred across all three major manufacturers for both factory made and roll-your-own brands, all three cigarette market segments and all major pack sizes.

Tobacco prices rose most for leading and premium brands 10.0% and 10.1%, respectively) and among packs of 30s (18.3%) and 50s (12.5%). So far from seeing cigarette prices fall across the board, the industry raised prices.

Floods of illicit tobacco?

The tobacco industry’s most common claim was that plain packs would see smokers turn away from buying the purposefully confronting and unattractive plain packs and seek out illegal products not in plain packs.

Tobacco spokespeople made the outrageous claim that about one in seven of all cigarettes being smoked were such illegally obtained cigarettes. Apparently, while ordinary smokers across the country knew where to buy these easily, the full might and resources of the Australian Federal Police could not work out where these were being sold.

Tobacco companies have been proven wrong. Source: Curran Kelleher/Flickr, CC BY

Another study in the collection questioned 8,679 smokers across the country in telephone surveys conducted continuously, from six months before plain packs until 15 months afterwards.

The study found no significant increases in reported purchasing of “cheap whites” (illegally imported Asian sourced brands), of international brands selling for 20% or more less than the normal retail price, or of unbranded loose tobacco (so-called “chop chop”).

Rates of purchase of cheap whites and heavily discounted products were at around half of one per cent of smokers, nothing remotely like one in seven.

Small shops losing customers?

One of the most bizarre claims the industry made was that plain packs would see smokers deserting corner stores for larger retail outlets like supermarkets. This was an appeal designed to tap into wider public sentiment about local corner store owners being crushed under the dead weight of government regulation.

Those making the claim never explained why smokers would abandon small retailers for large ones because of plain packs when the very same packs would be sold in both. Consumer preference for larger retailers is entirely driven by price discounting, something never mentioned in the industry propaganda.

A third paper in the collection examined where smokers purchased their cigarettes. Unsurprisingly, it found no changes from prior to and after the introduction plain packs in where smokers bought their supplies.

Covering up the packs?

In the month that plain packs were introduced, a Queensland small businessman got his 15 minutes of fame from publicity about special pack covers that could block out the unforgettable graphic warnings. Like children covering their eyes from scary scenes in movies, the idea was that many smokers would rush to do the same, outsmarting the hapless bureaucrats who planned the legislation.

A fourth paper which reports on unobtrusive observations of smokers handling their packs in outdoor cafés found that prior to plain packs, just 1.2% of outdoor café smokers used pack covers. This rose to 3.5% in the early months of plain packs and then fell back to 1.9% one year later.

In any event, evidence shows that smokers who actively try to avoid exposure to pack warnings by covering them up, have higher subsequent rates of quit attempts than those who don’t.

Importantly too, these observations recorded that of all café outdoor patrons, one in 8.7 displayed a pack prior to the introduction of plain packs with this reducing to one in 10.3 afterwards. Such a fall is consistent with both a reduction in smoking prevalence and with growing self-consciousness among smokers about showing that they smoke in public.

Impact on adolescents?

There were several principal objectives of the plain packs legislation. But outstanding among these was the goal of making smoking less desirable among young people. This would continue the trend away from smoking, as each successive cohort of children chose not to take up the habit.

A fifth paper used school-based surveys prior to and after plain packs to examine students’ ratings of the “character” of four popular cigarette brands, and variables including perceived harmfulness, look of pack and positive and negative perceptions of pack image.

Positive character ratings for each brand reduced significantly between 2011 and 2013. Significantly fewer students in 2013 than 2011 agreed that “some brands have better looking packs than others” and packs were rated more negatively, with positive ratings decreasing most in smokers.

The tobacco industry and its acolytes can be expected to try to torture these reports to spin yet more denials of the impact it fears will quickly inspire even more countries to follow Australia’s lead.

Australia is fortunate in having some of the very best researchers in the world whose work has contributed to the development of plain packs and now to the evaluation of its impact.

Editor’s note: please ensure your comments are courteous and on-topic.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Preference failure

by Tim Harding

According to economists, preference failure occurs when someone acts contrary to their own interests or intentions. Prime examples are addictions, such as to smoking, alcohol, other drugs or to gambling which can often result in ill-health, financial ruin and/or death. Addicts are usually aware of the harmful consequences of their actions, but by definition they are unable to break their bad habits. So the problem here is not information failure – it is a form of irrationality, where short-term pleasure overrides long-term welfare(1).

Less obvious forms of preference failure occur when someone may believe that they are doing the right thing, but their actions are counter-productive to their intentions.

For example, a survey by Monash University in 2005 found that 22 per cent of people said they sometimes fed a cat that did not belong to them (2). Some people may feel they are being kind because they know that stray cats suffer from starvation, disease and injuries from fights with other cats. But because they are ‘unowned’, stray cats are deprived of the regular meals, shelter, grooming and veterinary care that owned cats receive. Feeding stray cats provides a short-term ‘feel good factor’ that acts against the long-term welfare of the cats. Being a stray cat is not a sustainable lifestyle, with an average life-expectancy of only 3 years. So feeding them actually perpetuates the misery of these poor animals (and their kittens), which on a rational basis should either be adopted as pets or euthanased.

An adverse side-effect is that stray cats are also more likely to kill birds, possums and other native animals than owned cats, at least some of which are kept indoors overnight. The kindest thing to do for a stray cat would be to ‘adopt’ it (but have it checked for a microchip by a vet first). If this is not possible, contact an animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA or the Cat Protection Society.

Preference failure is not usually a fallacy of deductive logic, in the sense of drawing an invalid conclusion from stated premises. It is more likely to be an instance of invalid inductive reasoning, where the evidence has insufficient inductive strength to justify the behaviour.

References

1. Abelson, P. (2008) Public Economics – Principles and Practice. McGraw-Hill, North Ryde.

2. http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/citys-stray-cat-problem-has-melbourne-throwing-a-hissy-fit-20130610-2o07j.html

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