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  • Video Slots: The Most Addictive form of Gambling in History

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    In the last 20 years, legalized gambling has literally "exploded" across the United States. State governments have become increasingly dependent on the revenue they collect from gamblers. The single most important reason legal gambling has become so incredibly profitable and popular during that time is computerized video technology. This technology has produced the most addictive form of gambling in history: video gambling. For this reason, some people call video lottery terminals (VLTs)-video slots, poker, keno, and other games-the "crack cocaine" of gambling.

    In 2002, Bob Breen, PhD, and his colleagues published the first scientific evidence that supported the claim that video gambling machines were more addictive than anything else. They interviewed 44 adult compulsive gamblers about how they lost control of their gambling.

    Research showed that compulsive gamblers do not "gamble on anything." In fact, they tend to focus on one particular type of gambling. "We found out that the men and women who 'got hooked' on video gambling became compulsive gamblers in about one year. Those who got hooked on other kinds of gambling (such as horses, sports betting, blackjack, etc.) became compulsive gamblers after about three and a half years," Breen says.

    A second study

    They continued to collect information and in 2004 repeated their analysis on 180 men and women entering the program.

    • 52% were men with an average age of 43 years old.
    • 48% were women with an average age of 48 years old.
    • 66% said that video machines caused their gambling problems.
    • The rest reported that cards, dice, sports betting, horse and dog racing, or instant lottery games caused their problems.

    Once again, the people who played the video slots, video poker and other computerized gambling machines developed compulsive gambling within about one year, after they started gambling on video machines. Those who started out playing other types of gambling games became compulsive gamblers after about four years.

    How Quickly Do People
    "Get Hooked" on Gambling?

    Why do people get addicted to video gambling so quickly?

    The simplest answer is that that's how the machines are designed. (Because of this, one of the components of the Rhode Island Gambling Treatment Program is a slot machine tutorial.)

    Did you know?
    You can bet $9.00 every five seconds on a one-cent machine. At that rate, it could costs $14.40 for each minute of play.

    The machines are built to allow people to bet very, very quickly. The average video gambler can make at least one bet every five seconds, on multiple lines. In addition, the machines make it easy for people to bet more money than they can afford. Video gamblers can bet $9.00 every five seconds on a one-cent machine.

    In addition, video gambling machines can make use of "virtual reel mapping" technology. This is a way of tricking people into believing that they are getting closer to winning a jackpot than they really are.

    "Believe it or not, there is 'player protection' software on the market that is designed to let people set limits for themselves on these machines," says Breen. "Even though this type of software is available, it is not used by the gambling industry in Rhode Island."


    1. Breen, R.B. & Zimmerman, M. (2002). Rapid onset of pathological gambling in machine gamblers. Journal of Gambling Studies, 18, 1.
    2. Breen, R.B. (2004). Rapid Onset of Pathological Gambling in Machine Gamblers - A Replication. eCommunity: International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 2(1).