A pretty crappy bet': the pokies that rely on deception and addiction

A landmark legal case shines a rare spotlight on the workings of the poker machine industry that takes $11bn from Australians every year


Of the items you might expect to see in the workplace of a professor of public health, a poker machine is probably not one. The Dolphin Treasure pokie sits on a bench in Charles Livingstone’s office at Monash University in Melbourne, too heavy for even two people to move and emblazoned with gaudy dolphins swimming merrily over a treasure chest. Despite its location in the furthermost corner of the room, it’s impossible to miss.

“From my observations of gaming floors I notice a lot of middle-aged and older women playing it, patting the dolphins and their little fins,” says Livingstone, who has dedicated his career to studying the harms of pokie addiction.

“They seem to be attracted to the cute icons and graphics. One time late at night at a bar in regional Victoria, I saw a lady who was hugging the machine in a very affectionate manner. Research has shown there are some people who tend to anthropomorphise poker machines.”

The Dolphin Treasure poker machine, with its brightly coloured sea creatures, is the focus of a landmark legal case brought by Shonica Guy against Crown Casino and the poker machine manufacturer Aristocrat Technologies. Guy started playing the pokies when she was 17 and she says she lost thousands of dollars over 14 years.

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