The Gambling Research Unit
School of Psychology

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Proposed Changes to the Design of Electronic Gaming Machine Study
The Gambling Research Unit obtained funding from the Gaming Industry Operators group to conduct a major study to evaluate the impact of proposed changes to the design of gaming machines on gambling and problem gambling behaviours; slowing the reel spin speed, limiting the maximum bet to one dollar and reconfiguring bill acceptors to permit only five, ten and twenty dollar notes.

This study represents the worldís first evaluation of structural changes to gaming devices in actual gaming venues. With the cooperation of members of the gaming industry and government regulatory boards, a series of electronic gaming machines modified by technicians from Aristrocrat Leisure Technologies and approved by the Liquor Administration Board as meeting regulatory requirements, were installed in four clubs and seven hotels.

The investigators on this project, Professor Blaszczynski and Drs Louise Sharpe and Michael Walker, employed a large number of research assistants to collect data over a period of two weeks, including actual expenditure in the week before and during the introduction of modified machines. A number of focus groups were held to elicit the responses of problem gamblers to the proposed changes. The results of the study suggested that two of the three proposed changes, reconfiguring bill acceptors and slowing the reel speed, would be of limited benefit in assisting problem gamblers. The final report was presented to the Liquor Administration Board in February 2002.

Casino Community Trust Funded Projects
Members of the research team were successful in obtaining a number of grants from the Casino Community Benefit Fund allocation for research programs. The grants will allow a number of studies to investigate important theoretical constructs and obtain empirical data to test conceptual models explaining the aetiology of gambling and the processes contributing to effective treatment.

One project will explore tolerance and withdrawal phenomenon following cessation of gambling to determine if these features are consistent with the current predominant addiction model of problem gambling.
Another important project will explore the relative contribution of cognitive processes and physiological arousal to effective treatment outcomes associated with cognitive therapy and imaginal desensitisation. Measures of arousal and cognitive belief structures before and after treatment will be assessed in problem gamblers randomly assigned to either of the two treatment packages.

Elevated levels of impulsivity have been reported in problem gamblers and some researchers have reported EEG and neuropsychological findings linking problem gambling to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In another study, the role of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a risk factor for problem gambling will be investigated by comparing the rates and characteristics of each behaviour in adolescent samples of patients diagnosed as suffering ADHD, a clinical sample of adolescents with disorders other than ADHD and samples of school children. Participants will be followed up over a prospective period of five years to determine differences in the rates of problem gambling between samples. Sandi Hill and Michelle Pritchard, research assistants, are currently approaching a number of schools to obtain support for the project pending ethics approval.

Another project will investigate the role of the near miss in persistence in gambling. The ënear missí is a phenomenon that has been described in the literature but has not been systematically studied. Some authors have argued that almost winning in the form of near misses on electronic gaming machines, encourages players to think that they may win on the next spin and hence persist in play. Whether players reliably identify near misses and whether the presence of near misses actually affects play will be investigated.


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