European One-Armed Banditry

No, we don’t mean there’s been a new crime-wave perpetrated by cripples criss-crossing the Old Continent; nor (even though this is a little bit more likely) some illicit fund-raising campaign undertaken by ISIS fighters having had to return from their MidEast adventures due to grievous upper-body injuries.

Rather, for “one-armed bandit” here we are referring to the slot machine, that most-insidious piece of gambling equipment capable of enchanting for hours – and many dollars, euros, or what have you lost – on end quite considerable cohorts of people with the particular psychological disposition to be so captivated. Especially in it most-modern incarnation, i.e. those machines governed by internal software, far from offering players any “fair” game it is rather carefully programmed to manipulate the sucker sitting before it so as to extract the maximum of money.

A modern-day societal plague, in short; yet thereby irresistible to those businesses, and occasionally even governments, which can manage to gain permission to make the investment into equipment and then set them up so as to start preying upon the passing parade of suckers.

In terms of the latest news from Europe on this score, as is so often the case we witness one step forward together with one back. Starting in Austria:

Ralf Leonhard is the Austrian correspondent for the Berlin newspaper the taz (Die Tageszeitung), and he reports about how, as of January 1, das kleine Glückspiel – “small-scale gambling” – has been banned within the city of Vienna. That basically boils down to one-armed bandits, which previously numbered some 2,600 in the city, spread out among 505 locations of which 69 were Spiellokale, that is, pure slot-machine halls. (The other establishments were places like bars and cafés; they’re now banned there, too.)

A good thing, too, in view of the societal devastation they wreaked. Leonhard writes:

According to another study, those addicted to gaming are in debt to an average of €36,000. For most of those affected that represents a multiple of their yearly incomes. For according to that study 47 procent of the slot-players have some immigrant background and 60 procent a household income less than 2,500 euros per month. That is the preferred target-group of slot machine owners, for it is in the proletarian areas that the presence of the slot machines is particularly high.

The initiative to outlaw this kleine Glückspiel was one of the SPÖ (Socialists) and the Green Party who are jointly in power at the Vienna City Hall. Leonhard notes that, in previous periods when the more right-wing parties were in power there, the slot-machine plague tended to creep forward, under the banner of “liberalization.”

That’s not to say that it is now dead within the capital city. There are still 1,500 slots in the city’s casinos – that is not considered as “small-scale gambling.” Plus, Bratislava is but a short bus-ride away, and that’s another country that certainly offers extensive slot-machine gambling. Finally, one company that was running a lot of the now-forbidden Vienna slots, Novomatic, is offering free taxi-rides to punters to Lower Austria – that is, to the west of Vienna – where they are also still freely available.

Still, for the typical client the threshold is too high [i.e. all of that would just be too much trouble]. Players would drift to illegal slot machines, other betting devices or on-line gaming, Novomatic Chief Johann Graf suggests. The company-founder believes that this prohibition will fail.

And then Spain (where we have to learn some new words: máquinas tragaperras, or just tragaperras, which of course mean “slot machines”:

The headline asks: “What risks does the legalization of on-line slot machines bring to Spain?”, and the piece goes on:

The sound of the slot machines is distinct and constitutes the soundtrack to many Spanish bars. Now, this characteristic tune is present the homes of all those who want it, thanks to the Government’s legalization of on-line slots and cross-bets via Internet.

Yes, on-line slots were not legal before 1 January in Spain, or at least were in a “grey area” where no one could be sure, whereas ever since 2012 most other on-line gambling games (e.g. poker, bingo, betting on sports) had been legal to Spanish players. Well, there is another thing: the new law does specify that the on-line slot-player must periodically be advised by the system as to how long he has played, and how much he has lost – just as is required in various other countries (e.g. UK, Denmark).

As if that sort of thing will have any effect on the slot-addicted gambling addict! The Huffington Post España piece features a quote from a psychologist from the University of Valencia speciaized in addictive behaviors: “It is estimated that [slots] are responsible for the addiction of more than 80% of all players in treatment.”

Clearly, this legalization is bringing the sort of addiction-risks to Spanish citizens that everyone knows about and can easily predict in advance. The always-within-reach availability that the Internet brings is the last feature that you would want to play up when it comes to these hazardous objects of fascination. It is Spanish madness!

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