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Australia: Study finds skill-based gambling machines may lead to long-term harm

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A study conducted by Gambling Research Laboratory at Central Queensland University evaluated the impact of new Skill-based Gambling Machines (SGMs) compared to traditional Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) or Poker Machines on gamblers.

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of SGMs. These machines are loosely based on video games combining gambling elements like loot boxes and wheel spin, and putting them into slot machines.

Some popular SGM machines include Pop Fish, Pacman Cash Chase, Mystery of the Secret Temple, Missile Control, and others. As of now, Australia has not approved many of the SGMs.

The study aimed at understanding as to how these SGMs should be handled by regulators. The design of these SGMs, according to the study, may create a false impression of positive returns among some gamblers. Popular video game themes are used which can attract potential gamblers who generally pay no attention to regular gambling machines.

Speaking about the study to Tasmanian Times, director of the NSW office of responsible gambling, Alison Parkinson said, “Skill-based gambling machines represent a real change to how gaming machines operate. As with any new product, it’s important we understand whether these innovations may increase the risk of gambling harm.”

“This study shows that skill has little impact on the outcome of these games, and that participants should be aware of their real chances of winning,” she further added.

It was also found that the addition of skill-based elements creates confusion among players as they cannot determine how much role skill plays for an outcome. The chance component is necessary for operators to make profits which is why it is kept higher than the skill component. Otherwise, any decent skill-based game can lead to higher chances of winning, thereby affecting the operator’s margins.

The study also states that adding a little component of skill to these SGMs gives the players an illusion of control in which they can overestimate their skills, thinking they can the influence the outcomes of games of chance. No amount of skill can change the outcome of something heavily based on chance, it warned.

While the SGMs appeal mostly to people addicted to EGMs, according to the study, they also generate interest in non-gamblers especially the younger generation.

The study concludes that the SGMs currently pose a risk to players and do not have proper compensation rewards despite the operators claiming to future-proof the industry through innovation. Safeguarding vulnerable people and halting the introduction of new form of gambling must be prioritized, it said.

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