Dark Flow, Depression and Multiline Slot Machine Play

J Gambl Stud. 2018 Mar;34(1):73-84. doi: 10.1007/s10899-017-9695-1.


Multiline slot machines allow for a unique outcome type referred to as a loss disguised as a win (LDW). An LDW occurs when a player gains credits on a spin, but fewer credits than their original wager (e.g. 15-cent gain on a 20-cent wager). These outcomes alter the gambler's play experience by providing frequent, albeit smaller, credit gains throughout a playing session that are in fact net losses. Despite this negative overall value, research has shown that players physiologically respond to LDWs as if they are wins, not losses. These outcomes also create a "smoother" experience for the player that seems to promote a highly absorbing, flow-like state that we have called "dark flow". Past research has indicated that there may be a relationship between problem gambling status and dark flow, as well as between dark flow, depression, and gambling expectancies. In this study, we sought to further understand these relationships, while examining the influence of LDWs on game preference in the context of single versus multiline slots play. We used a realistic slot machine simulator equipped with a force transducer to measure how hard players pressed the spin button following different outcomes. This measure of arousal showed that LDWs were treated similarly to small wins. Participants overwhelmingly preferred the multiline game and experienced more positive affect while playing it, compared to the single-line game. Problem gambling severity index scores were related to dark flow in both games, but this relationship was stronger for the multiline game. Additionally, depression symptomatology and dark flow were strongly correlated in the multiline game, with significant relationships between depression and gambling expectancy, and gambling expectancy and dark flow ratings also emerging.

Keywords: Dark flow; Depression; Problem gambling; Slot machines.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward*