Women and poker machine gambling : a phenomenological experience of magic, ritual, and emotionality : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology in Academic Development at Massey University
Gambling is a phenomenon that has been present in most societies in a variety of forms for millennia. Poker machines are a more recent invention (since 1895), and have only been a form of gambling in New Zealand legally since 1 April 1988 (Grant 1994:289). More recently the poker machine appears to have become a favoured form of gambling for women and a stigma has become attached to women who enjoy playing the machines. Gambling appears to be a socially and culturally acceptable pastime for men, but not for women, as it apparently contravenes socially constructed ideals of womanhood. There have been reported cases of women gambling on poker machines and destroying their lives and those of their families, through embezzling money to feed their habit; the result for these women has been a prison sentence. While I acknowledge that this is a grave problem, which appears to have become more serious since the arrival of poker machines, I argue that this is only one side of the phenomenon. The other side to this negative discourse, which focuses on the evils of playing the poker machines, is the positive effects that poker machine playing can have for some women, and this is the focus of my thesis. I have interviewed eight women ranging in age from 39-72 and the discussion in my thesis concentrates on the emotions and feelings the women experience and the reasons why they play the machines. I am aiming to portray the subjective reality of the women's lived experience from a feminist perspective using feminist research methodologies, and have undertaken many hours of participant observation in gambling venues around Auckland. Many women will not openly admit to playing the poker machines because of the stigma. Therefore one of my aims was to show that not all women who play the poker machines become pathological gamblers and ruin their lives, in an attempt to begin breaking down this stigma. There are many women who have agency and find playing the poker machines a pleasurable, positive experience, and this is the experience for the women I interviewed.