Private Project

Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation

They’re rigged, they’re addictive and they’re everywhere.

The Pokies/Slots/Fruit Machines. They’re addictive, and they’re everywhere. But does the problem lie with the individual or the machine? Ka-Ching! goes inside the machine to find out, speaking with the masterminds behind their design, plus neuroscientists, anthropologists, game theorists and more.

Australia has rapidly become the pokies capital of the world, with five times more machines per capita than the USA. Australian’s are losing a staggering $19 billion a year, but everyone – players, industry and government – are hooked. What is it that makes these machines uniquely addictive?

Ka-Ching! delves behind the flashing lights and spinning reels to find out what makes pokies so treacherous, leading one expert to call them the “crack cocaine of gambling”. We speak exclusively to the masterminds behind the machine, who reveal how carefully they program machines for addiction. It is no accident that these machines are now listed alongside cocaine and heroin in the ‘psychiatric Bible’, the DSM. What we find is a highly organized network of mathematicians, musicians and designers, working together on a single vision: to make sure you lose, and keep on losing.

  • Jane Manning
    Coast Australia (The History Channel), ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ (SBS), Deadly Women (Crime Investigation Network), ‘In Their Footsteps’ (Channel Nine), ‘Two of Us’ (SBS)
  • Neil Lawrence
    To Spring from the Hand
  • Andrea Lang
  • Jane Manning
  • Mitzi Goldman
    Hatred (ABC), Ports Of Destiny (SBS), Chinese Take Away (SBS), Bloodlines (ABC), End of the Rainbow (SBS, ARTE, ITVS) 2008, Memoirs of a Plague (NAT GEO) (2010) , A Common Purpose (2011), Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography (2013), Night Parrot Stories (2016).
  • Neil Lawrence
    To Spring from the Hand
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Social Issue, Addiction, Gambling
  • Runtime:
    54 minutes 17 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 20, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    720,000 AUD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Adelaide Fringe Festival
    February 16, 2016
    International Premiere
    WINNER - Banksa Award Best Film & Digital 2016
  • Australian Directors Guild Awards
    May 6, 2016
    Highly Commended - Documentary Stand Alone
  • ATOM Awards
    November 1, 2015
    Finalist - Best Documentary - Social and Political Issues & Finalist - Best Documentary - Science, Technology & the Environment
Distribution Information
  • Looking Glass Pictures
    Country: Australia
    Rights: All Rights
  • TVF International
    Country: United Kingdom
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Jane Manning

Jane Manning is a multi-award winning director and writer. She has directed multiple episodes of Coast Australia (The History Channel), ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ (SBS), Deadly Women (Crime Investigation Network), ‘In Their Footsteps’ (Channel Nine), and ‘Two of Us’ (SBS).

Her work has won numerous Australian and international awards, including the prestigious Golden Leopard at Locarno Film Festival, Best Australian Film and Most Popular Film at Flickerfest, and First Place at Palm Springs Film Festival.

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Director Statement

When Executive Producer Neil Lawrence invited me to direct Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation, it had huge appeal. 
I always look for a surprising story to tell: here, it was scientific research that a machine can be as powerful a drug as anything we ingest into our bodies.

Habitual poker machine use has an impact on our brain chemistry similar to substance abuse, and can result in an addiction that costs enormous money and time, with tragic consequences.

Yet, unlike with addictive substances we ingest, Australian governments have enforced little regulation of poker machines; as they’re the biggest financial beneficiaries of the machines’ takings, they seem to lack the motivation.

Like many Australians, my life has been touched by this issue. Some years ago, my dad had a chemist shop in western Sydney, and discovered that his trusted and longest-serving employee had, over many years, siphoned over $70,000 from the cash register to fund her poker machine habit.

Until I became immersed in the research for Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation, I’d always been angry with her. But now that anger redirected itself towards the NSW Government and the poker machine industry, who’ve overseen the installation of high intensity machines to a level not seen anywhere else in the world, except for Nevada, USA.

And a great unfairness lies at the heart of this story, with far more machines in poorer postcodes – where recreational choices are limited, and clubs and pubs dominate the landscape – than in more affluent areas. Casinos cloak themselves in a ‘high-roller’ mystique, but most make up to 89% of their profits from poker machines.

Beyond the issue of poker machines, one of the things that really fascinated me was the universal idea running through the heart of the program: that we are all human animals. How much of our behaviour arises from rational decision-making, and how much from our biological and neurobiological chemistry?

Poker machines happen to brilliantly exploit our innate biology, and their design is constantly evolving to do so more efficiently, and thus extract more money from users.