Although electronic gaming machine (EGM) gambling is established as a particularly risky form of gambling (Dowling, Smith and Thomas, Addiction 100:33–45, 2005), models of problem gambling continue to be generalist so factors and processes specific to EGM gambling can be overlooked. This study conducted semi-structured interviews with 13 EGM problem gamblers and six gambling counsellors and used grounded theory methods to develop a theoretical model of EGM problem gambling. The final model demonstrates the importance of both situational and structural characteristics in maintaining excessive EGM gambling. Originally a harmless pastime, EGM gambling became a means by which gamblers cognitively and physically avoided problems. EGM venues were highly accessible, had an inviting atmosphere, and were private yet companionable. Games were entertaining and distracting. Maladaptive coping habits, low social support and few alternative social spaces contributed to the reliance on gambling.