Understanding and Beating our Addiction to Slot Machines

Most people will already know that slot machines are designed to be as addictive as possible.

With rates of gambling addiction rising around the world, it is clear that the developers of such games are succeeding in their aim to get people to keep coming back to play again and again.

To avoid suffering from such problems, it is crucial to understand exactly how slots work and why they are so addictive. This can help us to beat our addiction to slot machines.

History of slot machines

Gambling machines have been around since the end of the 19th century, but those first games are virtually unrecognizable when compared to those that are now in use.

Today’s slot machines are vastly more addictive to their earlier counterparts, but they work on many of the same principes, so going back in time is useful in order to aid our understanding.

Charles Fey of San Francisco is widely credited as being the inventor of the gambling machine. A few years after a basic creation by Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York, Fey designed a simple machine that had five symbols on three spinning reels.

Basic slot machines today work in the same way and they even have some of the same symbols that were chosen by Fey, who had horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell on his machine.

The big breakthrough made by Fey was the reduction of symbols and settling on three reels, which made it a lot easier to make the automatic calculation of a payout. This was one of the ways in which the early slot machines were addictive – they paid out straight away.

Electromechanical slot machines were then created in the 1960s, while it took a further decade or so for the first video slot machine to be created.

The rise of the internet then led to online slots, with the development of 3D slots, virtual reality slots and progressive jackpot slots all gathering pace over the last few years.

Why are slot machines addictive?

Slot machines are addictive as the outcome is uncertain. Players do not know what is going to happen in a single spin of the reels – it could be nothing, or it could be a massive jackpot win.

Research has shown that uncertain outcomes can result in the release of dopamine in the brain. The chemical dopamine is linked to happiness and can be extremely addictive for some people.

Chasing that dopamine high can help to explain why people play slot machines and can become addicted to them as a result. The feeling they get when spinning the reels is a good one, regardless of whether they are winning or losing.

One study has even found that dopamine is released almost as much when people lose on slots as when they win, which may come as a surprise to a lot of people. Chasing losses is common among some gamblers and this is likely as a result of their desire to release more dopamine.

The immersive experience of slot games also contributes to addiction. It is not by accident that such games feature a lot of flashing lights, loud sounds and bright animations – it is a totally different experience to the calm of solitaire card games, for example. 

All this contributes to capturing the attention of slots players, while they also combine with the reward uncertainty to boost addictiveness.

Beating addiction to slot machines

Gambling addiction is now recognised as a major issue in a lot of countries, but what can people do to avoid getting addicted to slot machines?

A lot of online casinos now have measures in place to allow people to stay in control. Factors such as deposit limits help to make sure that players can only gamble as much money as they can comfortably afford to lose.

Cooling-off periods are increasingly being put in place too, with users able to temporarily lock themselves out of an account. Others who want to step away entirely can opt to use a self-exclusion scheme, which is another way to prevent them from gambling on slot games.

Some banks even have a gambling block feature to help their customers avoid betting, while organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous can provide necessary help and support too.

Replacing slot machines with something else also works for a lot of people. Whether that is a calming card game like solitaire or another hobby entirely, this can help out a great deal.

Understanding and beating addiction to slot machines is likely to get even more challenging in the future as online gambling sites become more common around the world. But it can be done.