Everyday Gambling in Australia: Pokies, Mobile Media and the Game of Subversion’

TitleEveryday Gambling in Australia: Pokies, Mobile Media and the Game of Subversion’
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Albarrán Torres, C.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Sydney
Section or WGCommunication Policy and Technology
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodeCPTF4c
Slot Code (Keyword)CPTF4c
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleMobile phone use
Submission ID4877

Electronic Gaming Machines (commonly known as “pokies” or “slots”) are a pervasive, culturally significant, economically lucrative and morally contested facet of game and play in contemporary Australian culture. Online gambling has expanded available spaces, platforms, and opportunities for this variety of consumption of risk, with considerable implications for questions of problem gambling, socialization and human-machine interaction. The next frontier in digital networked gambling is mobile gambling, where already there are a plethora of apps –such as Slots Journey, Casino Master Slots, Slots-Pharaoh’s Way, Slots by Zynga and Slots of Gold, among many others– that offer users opportunities to engage in mobile betting with play money. Thus far, most jurisdictions have not permitted the full-blown introduction of mobile slots involving real bets and monetary transactions (as occurs with poker tables in online casinos such as au.888.com). However, especially through development of social games and apps, being pursued by social gaming companies such as Zynga (the leading developer of games for Facebook, such as Farmville), mobile media is being primed, and users incubated, for the loosening of restrictions on multiple varieties of mobile gambling. In this paper, I discuss the global emergence of mobile gambling, and its implications for our understanding of mobile media, gaming, and culture more generally. I do so via a case study of the social histories of gambling and technology in one specific national context –Australia, where gambling is widely popular, and culturally resonant– that offers an important prefiguring of mobile gambling. Firstly, I discuss the concept of gambling in the everyday in Australia. I focus on the spread of gambling outside previously accepted, demarcated venues such as casinos, especially when “pokies” were introduced into clubs and pubs (starting in the 1980s in New South Wales, and continuing in the 1990s in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania), taking over spaces previously designed to host other leisure activities, such as music concerts. This extension of the technology of gambling machines into the common leisure venue of all classes (especially working classes) in Australia saw a significant extension of everyday practices of gambling. Also, the ubiquity of gambling venues triggered a set of somewhat nomadic gambling practices. Having discussed this particular history, I then move to the contemporary conjuncture, and focus on the case of slot machine apps, now popular on touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablets. I compare these slot machine apps with earlier pokies, and argue that these new forms of media subvert gambling practices, and their accepted limits, pushing them further into the realm of everyday life. They achieve this by providing a passageway into what gamblers describe as ‘the zone’, a state demarcated from the everyday, yet embedded in the gambler’s daily activities.

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