As technologically enhanced gambling products become more readily available to consumers, there is a necessity to understand how automation and digitalization may affect gambling behavior in order to minimize potential harm. This article used the VICES framework to explore how the automation of traditional gambling games may affect player engagement and behavior. The VICES framework defines five dimensions along which automated or digitized versions of casino, community and novelty games may differ from their traditional counterparts. The five dimensions of the VICES framework are:
each of which can be used to understand how automated or digitalized features can change player experience.
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Research examining Slot Machines provides evidence to suggest that manipulations of structural characteristics significantly affect gambling behavior. Introducing similar structural characteristics into games traditionally free from automation is anticipated to generate similar patterns of behavior observed among Slot Machine players.
Automated and digitalized games have the capacity to incorporate an array of exciting and stimulating visual and auditory effects, which can be event-dependent, making wins more salient while reducing the impact of losses on player behavior. Such dynamic stimulation heightens arousal and increases gambling persistence as individuals feel the need to chase wins or beat the machine. Heightened arousal while gambling can result in increased wagering and risk-taking behavior, accelerated betting, and heightened levels of enjoyment and satisfaction, which, in turn, may lead to longer game playing sessions and greater losses.
Real-time visual presentation of information and auditory feedback about, for example, hot and cold streaks or lucky numbers may create a perception of skill and generate an illusion of control over random outcomes. While information such as statistics and history is commonly already available for some non-automated traditional games (i.e., online roulette), it has become a prominent feature on many automated products where traditionally, this information would not be available.
Illusions of control are influenced by the level of gambler engagement, perceived choice, and the frequency of events. However, given that event frequencies and payout ratios are functions of software design for electronic games, some players may question the fairness of algorithms and their ability to win against a machine.
Conversely, electronic gambling may also eliminate uncontrollable factors (such as other players at the table) that might influence game outcomes. For example, in online blackjack, the number of players at the table determines the cards that each player is dealt with. While not affecting long-term probabilities, this may influence the individual’s perception of control. An increase in perceived control or skill may lead to greater risk-taking and, ultimately, losses.
While automated gaming products have the capacity to increase perceptions of skill and illusions of control, it is important to acknowledge that, with few exceptions, the outcomes of wagers are not directly affected by players’ decisions. However, the introduction of real-time digitized game information, additional game features and options, and player feedback made possible by the automation of traditional casino and table games may inject ‘apparent complexity’ into games of chance.
This apparent complexity is likely to affect gambling behavior in two ways. First, the introduced complexity may lead players to perceive games as being more enjoyable due to a belief that there is some skill to be obtained and that, with a better understanding of ‘the system’, a player’s choices may ultimately produce more wins. In this case, player persistence and, therefore, losses are likely to be increased.
Second, increased complexity may impede players’ ability to attend to important information and produce poorer decision-making. For example, adding features to digitised versions of roulette such as virtual wheels, free-spins, double up features, touchscreens, and multiple bet or credit facilities in addition to information about the player’s performance or hot and cold numbers may heighten the attractiveness of some games, but has the potential to increase task complexity and therefore impair decision-making due to fewer cognitive resources available to fully consider all options.
This is particularly relevant for novice gamblers, as the availability of game variants and extra features may cause confusion or ambiguity.
Slot Machines have been recognized as the leading games played by problem gamblers, in part due to the intensity and speed at which they can be played. Traditional table and casino games typically constrain betting speed as factors such as live dealers, game refresh rate, and other gamblers can limit the rate between wagers and outcomes, allowing time for reflection over financial investments.
Digitized and automated versions of traditional games allow manufacturers to increase the rate at which games can be played. Literature investigating the rate of play in Slot Machines suggests that machine speed may not affect gambling behavior directly but rather enjoyment and satisfaction, which may then lead to prolonged play and greater losses.
While the rate of play may be influenced by multiple environmental, social or structural factors, and not yet identified as a factor associated with excessive behaviors, simply providing the opportunity for faster, more intense gambling is likely to cause harm to those who have trouble controlling their gambling expenditures.
Socialization as a motive for play may also vary between the traditional table and casino games and automated products. Gambling on traditional games often creates opportunities for social connectedness and inclusion either directly or indirectly.
Research has indicated that while individuals playing at tables may be more likely to be gambling alone, the presence of the dealer and other gamblers can enhance feelings of community and social cohesion. Automated products provide opportunities for those who prefer traditionally social games (such as roulette, blackjack, craps, or bingo) to play in isolation.
Reducing social connectedness may place players at greater risk of developing harmful gambling behaviors. Like Slot Machines, automated gaming products can also broadcast wins to others in the vicinity using sounds and graphics and may encourage gambling persistency and artificially increase players’ expectations of the likelihood of winning.
Generally, people playing traditional games among a group of players can see others wins, observe how the wins occur, and can understand the process involved with the outcome. This is often not the case with electronic or computerized gambling as players are typically presented with personal and private screens.
Thus, it is likely that automated products will facilitate riskier gameplay by promoting erroneous beliefs about the good fortune of other near-by players. In addition, the availability of private and individual gaming interfaces in computerized versions of traditional games may act to remove barriers to entry for novice players who may otherwise avoid complex or unfamiliar traditional games out of fear of appearing foolish or inexperienced.
At present, there is insufficient literature pertaining specifically to automated or digitalized versions of traditional gambling products, as technological advancements are relatively new to the gambling market. Consequently, there is currently no clear or agreed definition of what constitutes an automated product and only one study is known to have reviewed automated products and features available to consumers.
Much of the literature considered in the previous sections have been extracted from investigations of Slot Machine gambling behavior and may not be easily generalized to the effects of automating traditional gaming products. Although this information may provide a basis for understanding automated product design, the extent to which automated products will influence gambling behavior remains unknown at this time.
While there have already been efforts to catalog the features associated with automated and digitalized games, whether player behavior differs when playing automated games compared to traditional versions and how players interact with game features is yet to be determined. Future research should focus on exploring what features are associated with increased gambling intensity and greater risk of gambling problems, and how these features may contribute to experiences of harm.
Knowing what features pose the greatest threat to consumers will allow for policy and regulation of automated products that aim to promote safer gambling. Further, crucial to this broader understanding is determining the role these products have in initiating gameplay and those who may be more vulnerable to risks associated with automated and digitalized games. Research is needed to explore who is using the products, who might be vulnerable to these products and what makes these products appealing to new consumers. By understanding the characteristics of consumers and the appeal of automated products, it may be possible to implement more effective harm minimization strategies that are relevant to a specific consumer base.
Automated and digitalized gaming products are likely to become increasingly common in venues across the world. Products that facilitate continuous, rapid play with frequent and substantial reinforcement can contribute to the development of gambling problems.
Gaming products that are automated or digitalized have the capacity to alter the way gambling industries operate creating new social norms, perceptions and gambling behaviors. Technological influences are expected to have large effects on the development and maintenance of gambling behaviors.
Consequently, acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the extent to which automated products may influence gambling behavior is a critical first step in developing strategies to minimize potential harm. By investigating these products using the VICES framework outlined in this article, we hope to gain insight into the dynamic and holistic impacts of automated products on gambling behaviors.
People deal in different ways with the primitive urge to get our literally mind-altering chemicals flowing: some will literally risk there lives in driving over the speed limit, extreme sports, others do so competing in business, while gambling introduces an entertainment fashion of dealing with risk.
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