This article is available in: HTML PDF jgi: p. 103

Journal Information
Journal ID (publisher-id): jgi
ISSN: 1910-7595
Publisher: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Article Information
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Received Day: 24 Month: September Year: 2015
Accepted Day: 29 Month: January Year: 2016
Publication date: September 2016
First Page: 103 Last Page: 123
Publisher Id: jgi.2016.33.7
DOI: 10.4309/jgi.2016.33.7

Crimping the Croupier: Electronic and mechanical automation of table, community and novelty games in Australia
Tess Armstrong1
Matthew Rockloff2
Phillip Donaldson2
1School of Human Health and Social Sciences, Central Queensland University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
2School of Human Health and Social Sciences, Central Queensland University, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

This article was peer reviewed. All URLs were available at the time of submission.


Correspondence: Correspondence: Tess Armstrong, (Hons), BPsych, Central Queensland University, 44 Greenhill Road, Wayville, SA, 5043. E-mail: t.armstrong@cqu.edu.au
Competing interests: None declared (all authors).
Ethics approval: Not required.

Abstract

Technological innovation has increased electronic and mechanical automation to traditional games that replace or augment human croupiers, and also change how the games are enjoyed. Little is known about how these automated products may influence people’s gambling or entice new players to try these table and community games. Research regarding the characteristics of electronic gaming machines (EGMs) has provided insights into the potential consequences associated with technological enhancements. However, without knowing how these products differ to their traditional counterparts, it is difficult to begin to understand their implications on player expenditures and product safety. An Australian national environmental scan of these electronically and mechanically enhanced table-game and community-game products was conducted to identify the characteristics of these automated products Australia-wide. Based on EGM research (Armstrong & Rockloff, 2015), the “VICES” framework was identified as an appropriate organising principle for surveying the features of automated products. The VICES acronym specifies 5 criteria by which automated products might differ from traditional table-games: (v)isual and auditory enhancements, (i)llusion of control, (c)ognitive complexity, (e)xpedited play, and (s)ocial customisation. The findings suggest that automation provides the potential for the provision of products that intensify gambling engagement with the attendant potential for gambling-related harm. Further research, however, is needed to find if this potential harm is manifest in real-world gambling environments.

Résumé

L’innovation technologique a entraîné l’accroissement d’une automatisation mécanique et électronique des jeux de hasard traditionnels qui, en remplaçant ou complétant le travail des croupiers, a transformé la manière de jouer. Il existe peu de connaissances sur la façon dont les jeux de hasard automatisés peuvent influencer les joueurs dans leur pratique du jeu ou inciter de nouvelles personnes à essayer les jeux sur table automatisés et en réseau. La recherche sur les caractéristiques des machines de jeux électroniques (MJE) a fourni certaines données relativement aux conséquences possibles associées à l’avancement technologique des jeux de hasard. Il est toutefois difficile de déterminer la sécurité des produits automatisés et leurs répercussions sur les dépenses des joueurs si l’on ne connaît pas ce qui les distingue des jeux de hasard traditionnels. Une analyse du contexte national australien concernant les jeux de hasard en réseau et les jeux sur table automatisés a permis de cerner les caractéristiques de ces produits à l’échelle du pays. À partir des résultats de la recherche sur les MJE (Armstrong et Rockloff, 2015), il a été déterminé que le cadre « VICES » constituait un principe d’organisation des données adéquat pour évaluer les caractéristiques des produits automatisés. L’acronyme « VICES » renvoie à cinq critères susceptibles de permettre de distinguer les produits automatisés des jeux sur table traditionnels : « V » réfère à une expérience visuelle et auditive accrue, « I » à une illusion de contrôle, « C » à la complexité cognitive, « E » à un rythme de jeu expéditif et « S » à une personnalisation sociale. Les constatations de l’étude laissent entendre que l’automatisation des jeux de hasard permet l’offre de produits qui intensifient l’expérience de jeu et sont ainsi susceptibles d’entraîner des effets nuisibles découlant de cette intensification. Davantage de recherche est cependant requise pour déterminer si ces effets nuisibles possibles se manifestent également dans les environnements de jeu du monde réel.


Introduction

Technology offers ways for manufacturers to enhance gambling products in order to attract and retain consumers. Advancing computer technology has been used to enhance the appeal of EGMs and develop online gambling; and has provided greater opportunity to enhance traditional table games or community games (e.g., Bingo). Casino table games and community style or novelty games are becoming more readily available to both operators and consumers in automated or enhanced form. Despite the pervasiveness of automated products in the marketplace, there has been minimal investigation targeted at identifying and defining what may be termed an “automated product”. In order to explore how these products may result in different patterns of usage compared to traditional versions, it is vital to define what constitutes an automated product and the characteristics that make these products unique. Here we define an automated product as: “any product that incorporates the technology of EGMs to alter the relationship between the player and croupier”. That is, products that have been electronically and/or mechanically enhanced to potentially alter consumer behaviour. Using this definition, a national environmental scan was conducted to determine the types of automated products currently available in Australia, and identified the salient features that make these products unique compared to their traditional versions.

There has been much investigation into gambling product characteristics that entice play and encourage intense gambling. Given the relatively low market penetration of automated products and the disproportionate harm associated with EGMs, majority of this research has focused on the structural characteristics of EGMs. Structural characteristics are created by the manufacturer and play an important role in the reinforcement and perpetuation of gambling behaviour (Griffiths, 1999, 2003; Griffiths, Parke, Wood, & Parke, 2006; Parke & Griffiths, 2006). Features most commonly cited refer to auditory or visual features, event frequencies (e.g., wins and losses), payout probabilities, perceptions of skill requirements, the frequency of payouts, or the interval or period between the wager and outcome. Many of these features are designed to increase arousal or appeal and can often be configured to either facilitate excessive gambling or as a means to potentially reduce the harm associated with EGMs (Dixon, Trigg, & Griffiths, 2007; Griffiths et al., 2006). Based on this research and the structural characteristics of EGMs, a framework to assess the characteristics of automated products was developed referred to as the VICES framework (Armstrong & Rockloff, 2015). VICES is an acronym that refers to features of automated products based on five salient criteria: visual and auditory enhancements; illusion of control; cognitive complexity; expedited play; and social customisation. Each of these features influences the way people engage with a product and potentially increases the appeal of gambling.

Visual displays and intricate graphics increase player engagement and can result in greater betting persistence (Ladouceur & Sévigny, 2002); while auditory features, particularly when paired with winning outcomes, increase arousal, anticipation and urgency resulting in the reinforcement of faster, more excessive gambling (Delfabbro, Flazon, & Ingram, 2005; Dixon et al., 2007; Griffiths & Parke, 2005; Parke & Griffiths, 2006; Spenwyn, Barrett, & Griffiths, 2010). Together, dynamic computerised graphics and event-dependant sound effects can give the impression that gambling is a lucrative and exciting experience, enticing people to gamble while stimulating gambling persistence (Griffiths & Parke, 2005; Parke & Griffiths, 2006). Traditional products generally rely on gambling environments to provide sensory stimulation. Automated products offer an opportunity to incorporate rich graphics or auditory features that may increase betting intensity and persistence.

Automated products that incorporate enhanced features allow for the inclusion of game characteristics that promote an illusion of control over chance events. A meta-analysis investigating factors influencing an illusion of control found the largest effect sizes were related to personal control and skill related judgements; suggesting that when subjects had an active part in the situation, they experienced a heightened sense of control (Stefan & David, 2013). Multiple studies have shown that active control over gaming apparatus increases confidence resulting in larger wagers (Davis, Sundahl, & Lesbo, 2000), and misperceptions regarding personal influence on game outcomes (Ladouceur & Sévigny, 2005). Information such as hot and cold streaks or lucky numbers may create an illusion of control over random events (Griffiths & Parke, 2005). While active participation is a feature of many traditional products, digitalisation can offer gamblers with more features or information such as comprehensive game history, statistics or player feedback that increases perceived control.

Side bets, bonuses, jackpots or other features that increases the volume of information can overload mental resources (Bedny, Karwowski, & Bedny, 2012; Wixted, 2004) and cause people to use simplifying strategies to process information that impairs rational decision-making (Payne, 1976). For instance, bonus or game features that offer “free spins” or extra turns can make people believe they are getting something for nothing that may potentially lead to riskier gambling (Livingstone et al., 2008). Johnson and Bruce found that greater complexity increased risk-taking in horse-race betting (1998) but reduced the total amount wagered (1997). Despite reducing overall expenditure, greater complexity may result in prolonged playing times and the experiences of losses as people take risks in order to master what is deemed a difficult task. Greater volumes of information may result in incoherence that causes gamblers to make riskier, superficial gambling decisions based on simplified decision-making strategies.

Digitalisation and mechanical automation may allow for products to be designed to increase betting intensity. Faster rates of play can increase the frequency of outcomes; prolonging playing time (Delfabbro et al., 2005; Ladouceur & Sévigny, 2006) and encouraging misperceptions surrounding the frequency of winning returns (Griffiths et al., 2006). In contrast to traditional versions where speed and expenditure is somewhat restricted by external influences (such as other players, the croupier’s actions, etc.); automated products may be more comparable to EGMs in terms of expedited play, where rate of play is predominantly determined by the player and intervals between wager and outcome are relatively small.

Particular features may either increase or decrease the social nature of the gambling experience. The presence of other gamblers can elicit behaviours that are designed to portray oneself in a socially desirable manner, including riskier betting (Geen, 1991; Rockloff & Dyer, 2007). For instance, in order to avoid being seen as a novice or unlucky people will try to appear more skilled showing greater gambling persistence despite mounting losses (Rockloff, Greer, & Fay, 2011; Rockloff & Dyer, 2007). Similarly, the presence of others can increase information loads and consequently inhibit the efficient information processing (Geen, 1991; Payne, 1976). Automated products that offer private betting may limit the propensity for people to gamble in a way they deem socially desirable.

This paper reports on an Australian national environmental scan that catalogued and assessed the characteristics of automated products currently available to consumers and venue operators. In order to ensure a systematic and comprehensive survey of all available automated products in the marketplace; the scan was conducted in three separate stages. Stage one consisted of in-venue visits to Australian casinos to survey products already available to Australian consumers. Stage two involved researchers attending the Australasian Gaming Exhibition 2015 (AGE) to catalogue automated products being displayed and promoted to Australian venue operators. Stage three involved scanning industry print and online media to catalogue products being developed and released by manufacturers. The aim of this research was to determine how EGM features are being used to enhance traditional games in order to direct further investigations into the potential behavioural and product-safety consequences associated with automated gambling products.


Method
Product Inclusion Criteria

Automated products were sourced from Australian casinos, the AGE and by surveying industry media. Australian casinos included in the environmental scan were: Star Casino Sydney, Jupiter’s Casino Gold Coast, Casino Canberra, Treasury Casino Brisbane, Crown Melbourne Casino, Adelaide Casino, and the Crown Perth Casino. Industry media referred to trade and manufacturer material from the past ten years (mid-2004 to mid-2014), and included websites, online and hard copy journals and magazines, and advertising materials collected from the AGE.

For inclusion in the scan, products were required to be traditional games that had been enhanced, modified or digitalised to incorporate technological features that altered the relationship between the player and the croupier (or caller). Level of automation was determined as either semi-automated, fully-automated, or fully digitalised. Semi-automated products were those that were partially digitalised but still required a live croupier or host (e.g., a live roulette wheel spun by the croupier with electronic betting). Fully-automated products did not require a croupier but relied on mechanical parts (e.g., an automated, mechanical roulette wheel with electronic betting). For a product to be considered fully-digitalised, it was to be completely computerised with no croupier or mechanical components (e.g., a video or animated image of a roulette wheel with electronic betting). Traditional games referred to those historically free from automation or that had been technologically enhanced that were considered either casino style games (i.e., baccarat, roulette, blackjack etc.), community style games (bingo and keno), and/or novelty games (such as pai gow dominoes and pachinko); but excluded EGMs.

Design

The Australian national environmental scan used a repeated, national cross sectional design. This ensured that the sample was not skewed by seasonal events or influences, and guaranteed the inclusion of products operating and distributed under varying legal jurisdictions.

Measures

A coding schema was developed that outlined features associated with technological enhancements according to the VICES framework (Armstrong & Rockloff, 2015). This provided a comprehensive set of criteria by which automated products could be surveyed and catalogued. Information regarding game type, number of simultaneous players and level of automation was also collected. Table 1 provides the full coding schema developed for assessment of automated products according to the VICES framework.

Procedure

The environmental scan included both research and review strategies for collecting automated product information. During stage one of the environmental scan, the researchers visited casinos across Australia and surveyed products already available for public consumption. When on site, the casino floor was systematically surveyed for products that met the inclusion criteria. Observations were made about salient features relevant to the VICES catalogue criteria and immediately recorded using a handheld digital voice recorder. Directly following the venue visit, observations were entered into an electronic database using the environmental-scan coding schema (see Table 1). Researchers did not participate in any gambling activities whilst surveying automated products in casinos.

In stage two, the researchers attended the 2014 Australasian Gaming Exhibition to survey products available to Australian gaming operators. A systematic scan of manufacturer’s exhibits was conducted to identify any products that could be considered automated according to the definition given above. Data was collected by assessments of machine features, exhibit displays and consultations with the marketing staff of the manufacturers. Observations were recorded using a handheld digital voice recorder. Recordings were then transcribed and entered into the electronic database coding schema. Advertising materials from product exhibitions such as catalogues, flyers and other print media were also collected to be included in stage three of the scan.

Stage three of the environmental scan involved reviewing current industry media. Researchers scanned each trade-source for products that met the inclusion criteria. Features either detailed within an article, advertisement or clearly observable in photographs or images were catalogued using the environmental scan coding scheme. As many of these resources were distributed or manufactured internationally, stage three included some automated products identified from a global marketplace that were not yet installed in Australian casinos.


Results

As features of particular types of gambling products differed substantially, casino based products and community style/novelty games were assessed separately. The thematic analysis was conducted by calculating the prevalence of different automated products based on manufacturer and model (rather than the total number of automated products). For instance, some venues had multiple versions of the same product and thus, this was counted only once. Information gathered from each stage of the environmental scan was collated and subject to a thematic analysis to identify trends in automated product characteristics. Product features that were most frequently observed were considered to be salient features of automated products.

Survey of Automated Casino Products

Casino products refer to any table games or casino based products traditionally free from automation or that have been enhanced to include EGM features. Table 2 displays product parameters such as type of game, automation level and number of simultaneous players. Table 3 presents the results from the thematic analysis using the VICES criteria.

Type of gambling product and location

Thematic analysis based on type of casino game showed that nationwide, roulette was the most prevalent game featured in automated form; findings that were consistent across all stages of the environmental scan. The popularity of roulette was also highlighted by its inclusion in every automated multigame system identified. Blackjack was shown to have the second highest prevalence score but this was only true for the AGE and the industry trade-media scan. No Australian casino featured automated blackjack products. Baccarat was the third highest rated casino game in automated form and was the second most frequent product available in Australian casinos; matched only by big-wheel products. Baccarat featured on all but two of the multigame systems identified by the environmental scan. The industry media scan also identified sic bo, poker and craps to be featured frequently in automated form, but this was not replicated in Australian casino product distribution nor at the AGE. Multigame systems were widespread, particularly in Australian casinos and industry media; and predominantly incorporated roulette and baccarat with slots or other casino, community or novelty games. Some venues had several of the same product. For instance, the Crowne Perth Casino had 2 Novo-touch Multi-Roulette tables and the Sydney Casino had 2 Aruze Big Wheel products and 2 Interblock Roulette tables. See Table 2 for the frequency of game type by each stage of the environmental scan.

Level of automation

Semi-automated and fully-digitalised products had similar availability in the marketplace; but Australian casinos tended to have more fully-digitalised products than semi-automated. Across all stages of the scan, products were most likely to be classified as fully-automated; that is, not requiring a live croupier but incorporating mechanical components (i.e., mechanical betting - coin or token operated - or game apparatus). The prevalence of fully-automated products was evident by a greater number of products incorporating mechanical game play apparatus (such as mechanical roulette wheels or vibrating dice domes/cylinders) than both manual (physical cards, wheel or die) and virtually digitalised game components. Fully-automated products tended to rely on digitalised betting that negated the need for a live croupier while game play was mechanically operated. Some products despite not requiring a croupier (due to being fully-automated or fully-digitalised) were still found to have a digital human-model or animated croupier or host. While not as common, many of the products could run live streamed games with footage of live croupiers or hosts while all betting was electronic. The most commonly found form of croupiers or hosts were live, physically present croupiers that were required for semi-automated products. Table 2 displays the thematic analysis for the level of automation present in automated casino products found in the scan.

Number of simultaneous players

Most commonly observed throughout each stage of the scan were products marketed or configured to accommodate between 1 and 10 people. Automated casino products that could have between 11 and 20 simultaneous players were the second most prevalent followed closely by products that allowed for 21-30 simultaneous players. Many of the products offered endless expansion allowing venue operators to adapt the numbers based on demand or allocation for space; a feature used frequently in Australian casinos. See Table 2 for the thematic analysis of the number of simultaneous player accommodated by automated products.

Visual and auditory enhancements

The majority of automated products consisted of a combination of individual and shared screens. Some products only had individual screens but these were usually semi-automated products that used physical gaming apparatus and a live croupier. Stand-alone machines that were fully-digitalised were less likely to have a shared screen as they were commonly not linked to a main station or other individual machines. Individual displays were predominantly touchscreen and provided gamblers with game views and outcomes, individual betting, and game history and/or statistics. Shared screens offered similar features but also displayed footage of the host or croupier either streamed live, animated or a video-playback model. Most of the products included some form of animated, graphic or visual enhancements on either individual or shared displays that were often event dependent. Visual features unique to automated products included 3D images and adaptive or configurable visual features; for instance, graphics that could be changed dependent on the season, sponsors or current themes and events. Sound effects were less evident, but for those products that incorporated sound, it was often event dependent and included intricate or detailed musical pieces. Some games had more involved animations in lieu of distracting sound effects. Table 3 presents the full thematic analysis for visual and auditory enhancements of automated casino products.

Illusion of control features

Results from the thematic analysis are presented in Table 3. Communal player aide data such as game statistics and history featured frequently in many of the automated products regardless of the type of game. Player feedback was reported far less frequently than other forms of player data. Many of the products allowed for players to control game initiation with some providing physical control over gaming apparatus.

Cognitive complexity

Many products were observed to include strategic betting and additional betting options (i.e., betting on single or double zero roulette wheels; placing wagers on banker, player or tie). Side betting and progressive jackpots were shown to be common features of automated products sourced from industry media but were not observed to feature on any of the products identified in Australian casinos. The industry media scan also observed multiple games that reported additional features such as the ability to double wins using a “double spot feature”. Many products contained help menus, strategic betting guides or other informative material such as “dealer’s tips”. However, most of the games surveyed through casino visits and the AGE did not appear to include any additional complexity features. Table 3 displays the thematic analysis of complexity characteristics of automated casino products.

Expedited play

Results from the thematic analysis are presented in Table 3. Many of the products surveyed allowed for the time between bets and subsequent rate of play to be configured by the venue operator. It was uncommon for games to have specific time configurations for the machines (particularly as most were operator configurable). Those games that did have specific time-configurations included automated products that were able to provide 60-80 gamers per hour with 10 second time limits for making bets or initiating game play. Many of the products allowed for control over game initiation or the game timer, however, if players failed to begin gameplay the game would automatically run every 20-30 seconds. Few sources, however, overtly stated that products were faster than their traditional counterparts.

In terms of expenditure, minimum and maximum betting amounts were predominantly operator configurable and many of the products were multi-denominational. Many allowed for time scheduling of particular denominations or included additional features that accelerated play rate (i.e., fast bet options such as re-bet and high bet features that allow gamblers to automatically repeat a bet or place the highest wager on the table).

One of the major features of automated products related to expedited play was the high frequency of multigames. Many products offered additional games at the one terminal that could be played simultaneously. As mentioned earlier, many of these products were purely multigame products that clearly incorporated numerous games for players to choose (see Table 2 for the prevalence of multigame products). Many other products were marketed or presented as an individual game (i.e., purely roulette or baccarat) but included other games for gamblers to play at the same station. Often, automated products that offered multigame options allowed for players to play more than one type of game simultaneously, significantly increasing the rate of play.

Social customisation

Despite most products allowing players to gamble at the same table, a large proportion of products included private betting as wagering was not made public to others and tended to be conducted on gamblers’ individual playing screen. Few products were observed to maintain the social nature of traditional versions. This was most commonly displayed by public access to players’ hands or decisions (but not bets), and having gamblers wager on a central game (community style games often displayed on a shared screen). Some products included player interaction either through communal style jackpots or direct one-on-one competition. See Table 3 for the full thematic analysis.

Survey of Community and Novelty Style Games

Community and novelty games included any games that were not casino based or EGMs, but that appeared to be technologically enhanced. No automated versions of community or novelty games were identified at the AGE. All findings pertaining to these types of automated products refer strictly to results from casino visits and the industry media scan. Table 4 displays type of game, level of automation and the number of simultaneous players. Table 5 presents the results from the thematic analysis using the VICES criteria.

Type of gambling product and location

Casino visits identified only a few automated products with all but one being located at the same venue: the Crowne Casino in Perth, Western Australia. Community style and novelty automated products are largely underrepresented or absent throughout other states of Australia, with Jupiter’s casino on the Gold Coast being the only other venue to have an automated keno product.

The most popular community or novelty game in automated form identified by the scan was automated or digitalised bingo. Multigames were also common, combining community games such as bingo and keno with novelty games (pop n poker), casino games (roulette, blackjack and poker), or slots. Novelty games such as pai gow dominoes and pachinko featured only in casino venues and were not found in any of the industry media sources surveyed. Manufacturer and trade material identified two other novelty games not offered in Australian casinos. Spoils-of-war is a game based on a children’s card game (similar to casino wars) where players are pitted against the computer, and to win a player must hold a card with a higher value than the dealer. Race card derby is a game where players make bets on a virtual horse race. Novelty games and keno, however, were far less common than bingo and multigame products. Casinos that included standalone products generally had multiple machines that were either grouped together as seen with EGM lounges or spread throughout the casino making the total per site figure difficult to determine.

Level of automation and number of simultaneous players

A majority of these games were comparable to EGMs as they were standalone units that were predominantly fully-digitalised; requiring no croupier, host or mechanical parts. For standalone units, each station allowed for one player but multiple machines could be banked together as seen in pokie lounges to increase simultaneous play. Products that were fully-automated were similar to automated casino products as they consisted of a number of expandable units connected to one automated playing system. Fully-automated community/novelty products generally used some form of automated ball shuffler (similar to the vibrating dice dome/cylinder for casino dice games). This was more prevalent for multigame systems. Some standalone units also included automated or mechanical game components for number selection; for example a mechanical drum to select balls for bingo (and roulette on multigame systems). Table 4 shows the thematic analysis for automation and the number of simultaneous players for community and novelty automated products.

Visual and auditory enhancements

Given majority of these products were standalone, most of them had individual playing screens that were either touchscreen or used keypads for bet selections. Animations were found to be a feature on many of the products with some including 3D graphics and illumination. Minimal auditory enhancements were identified. See Table 5 for the full thematic analysis.

Illusion of control and cognitive complexity

Features that increase control or the complexity of the game were far less prominent for community and novelty products compared to casino products. Minimal community/novelty products offered statistics or other information to aide game play decisions and did not incorporate any additional control features compared to their traditional counterparts. No additional complexity features were identified for products surveyed during casino visits. From the media scan, some products reported bonus features, jackpots and the option to purchase additional balls to extend game play. While the ability to purchase additional balls is a feature of complexity, it can also increase a perception of control as players can make a choice that may provide an opportunity to win. See Table 5 for the full thematic analysis.

Expedited play

Majority of these products were manually initiated rather than being controlled by a timer (comparable to EGMs). Similarly to casino-based products, the most prominent feature relating to expedited play was multigame functions. Not only could players often choose to play a variety of games simultaneously, many of the bingo systems allowed players to wager on multiple cards concurrently. See Table 5 for the full thematic analysis.

Social customisation

Generally these types of products did not offer a great amount of social interaction. Players predominantly played on private units so others were unable to view their betting and wagering decisions with only a minimal number of products offering communal or shared prizes. See Table 5 for the thematic analysis.


Discussion

The environmental scan sought to determine the features associated with automated products according to the VICES framework (Armstrong & Rockloff, 2015). The aim was to distinguish salient characteristics that may work to entice new players or encourage reckless betting. Results show that automation significantly alters the delivery of traditional casino and community/novelty games.

Community style products were predominantly located in Perth (which has substantially different gaming legislation to other states) and encouraged isolated, single player gambling. Table-game products were far more prevalent in Australian casinos and were often configured to accommodate multiple simultaneous players. Marketing automated casino games for 1-10 players reflects similar sizes to traditional games. It seems that manufacturers market a conservative or traditional size to accommodate a broader market; allowing for venue operators to expand at their will. Australian venue operators have taken advantage of expandable products; with for a common configuration of products that accommodated anywhere from 31 to 70 simultaneous players.

Automated products allow for the incorporation of personalised displays that offer rich visual and auditory stimulation. For example, one of the most advanced visual features was the use of holographic images by Interblock for displaying the host and game play. Visual graphics may increase player engagement and appeal, while the ability to incorporate event-dependent dynamic sound effects may reinforce and encourage more intense betting compared to traditional games that rely on naturalistic visuals and sounds. There were minimal auditory enhancements identified for community style and novelty products, and this was unexpected given the technological similarity of these games to EGMs.

Automated products offer new ways to increase player involvement and perceived control, often allowing players control over game initiation and apparatus. For example, levers that spin the big wheel or control over dice rolls on digitalised sic bo products can enhance the degree of involvement in the game. Control features may not often be available on traditional forms but can be incorporated into both casino and community style automated products with relative ease. Further, simply having interaction with the machine (particularly for community style games) could be enough to increase perceived control compared to traditional versions (i.e., bingo that has no interaction other than with the playing card can have more player interactions on the machine-version).

Much of the data pertaining to casino products complexity was derived through industry media as obtaining such information is difficult when observing others engaging with the product. Many of the casino products contained help menus, strategic betting guides or other informative material such as “dealer’s tips” to aide gamblers in engaging with the product and making their wagering decisions. In contrast, community style products had minimal additional complexity and instead reflected the relative simplicity of choices associated with the ever-popular EGM. The findings indicate that automated products can be developed either for simplicity and ease-of-use (community style games) or complexity (interactive table-game products).

Automated products may significantly influence expedited play. Traditional casino games often have particular tables allocated to particular denominations or game types. Multi-denominational products and those that offer numerous games on one station minimise the necessity for players to gamble at a different table to modulate their bet-size; thereby reducing the time between subsequent bets. While the actual speed of betting has not yet been established, it would be expected to be more similar to the fast play of EGMs, since the initiation of a bet is often user-dependent and not reliant on other gamblers’ wagering. Multigame systems offer players the ability to place multiple wagers simultaneously; increasing the frequency or rate at which a person can gamble.

Automated products provide a social climate for all gamblers. Those who prefer different types of games can gamble together rather than on different tables or locations in the casino. The social nature of traditional casino tables has been largely preserved by having a central game linked to individual stations. However, private betting decreases the likelihood that gambling behaviour may be influenced by the presence of others. Additionally, those who wish to avoid social interactions can still play these automated versions, as many products offer an individual betting experience similar to EGMs. Community style games that traditionally encourage social interactions are far more isolating in automated form; representing the style of gambling offered by EGMs that provide no communal features.

Limitations

The environmental scan was reliant on observation and therefore, there was limited opportunity to explore the dynamics of the product. Important information regarding auditory enhancements or additional features that influence control, speed of play or complexity may have been overlooked or under-represented. Similarly, the industry media scan that was reliant on reports from manufacturers who have sales-oriented motives when discussing product features. Although we analysed the features of these products that are likely to change behaviour, the design of the study precluded an analysis of the effects of these innovations on gambling involvement. Future research will be needed to draw firm conclusions on the relative safety of these technological innovations.

Conclusions

Technological enhancements allow for features to be added that increase immersion and potentially encourage elevated play by automatic betting functions, reducing the time between games and reinforcing betting behaviours with intricate graphics, animations and sound. Casino-based automated products offer all the features of traditional versions in size and functionality but with additional enhancements similar to EGMs; the latter being a product most associated with gambling-related problems in Australia. Conversely, community style and novelty automated products have been designed to replicate some of the functionality of EGMs; and as such, may result in similar patterns of gambling behaviour given the overlap in features associated with excessive gambling.

Having established the characteristics associated with various types of automated products, it is important to determine what features may be most appealing to consumers who experience gambling-related harm. In order to identify features that may be instrumental in initiating automated product consumption, there is a need to identify those who are engaging with these product and those who may potentially use these products in lieu of traditional versions. In future research, it will then be possible to use the characteristics identified in the environmental scan to ascertain which features are the most appealing, and how these features may alter the relative popularity and safety of these forms of gambling.


Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a grant from Gambling Research Australia. Professor Matthew Rockloff was the chief investigator.


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Tables
Table 1 

Environmental Scan Coding Schema for Automated Products


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Table 2 

Thematic Analysis of Product Type, Level of Automation and Automated Features and Number of Players by Environmental Scan Stage for Automated Casino Products


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Table 3 

Thematic Analysis of Automated Casino Products based on the VICES Framework Criteria


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Table 4 

Thematic Analysis of Product Type, Level of Automation and Automated Features and Number of Players by Environmental Scan Stage for Automated Community and Novelty Products


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Table 5 

Thematic Analysis of Automated Community and Novelty Games based on the VICES Framework Criteria


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Article Categories:
  • Special Section: JGI Scholar's Award, Category A

Keywords: gambling products, automation, technology.
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