Responsible gaming programs are intended to prevent or reduce potential gambling-related harms (Blaszczynski, Ladouceur, & Shaffer, 2004). Examples of such programs range from brochures about disordered gambling to helping gamblers keep track of money wagered through “smart cards.” But are these programs effective? A recently published study by Drs. Lia Nower and Alex Blaszczynski, “Gambling Motivations, Money-Limiting Strategies, and Pre-commitment Preferences of Problem Versus Non-Problem Gamblers,” demonstrates that rigorous scientific research is vital to determining the effectiveness of a responsible gaming strategy. This study also shows that such investigations have to consider the motivations of gamblers who get into trouble and the viability of the program—in this case, the use of smart cards—in real-life gambling situations.
Attempts to identify the specific “addictive” features of electronic gaming machines have yielded largely inconclusive results, suggesting that the interaction between a gambler’s motivation-related thought process and the machine, rather than the machine itself, fuels excessive play (Blaszczynski et al., 2005).
A number of studies have reported that problem gamblers are particularly motivated by the desire to win money (Ladouceur, Sylvain, Boutin, & Doucet, 2002; Neighbors, Lostutter, Cronce, & Larimer, 2002; Park, Griffiths, & Irwing, 2004; Wood, Gupta, Derevensky, & Griffiths, 2004). This is partly due to the misconception that gambling is an income-generating activity rather than a form of entertainment (Walker, 1992). Research has reported that machine players with gambling problems adopt a number of erroneous thought patterns regarding the probability of winning and the nature of randomness, leading to an over-inflated estimate of the likelihood of winning and, in turn, to excessive spending (Gaboury & Ladouceur, 1989; Manoso, Labrador, & Fernandez-Alba, 2004).
Some authors have suggested that requiring patrons to gamble with cards limited to pre-set amounts of money (i.e.,“smart” cards), similar to gift cards, will decrease the impulsive overspending characteristic of problem gamblers (see e.g., Dickerson & O’Connor, 2006). It is unknown, however, whether adopting “pre-session” (i.e., prior to gambling) spending limits will decrease the money spent gambling irrespective of distorted or erroneous thoughts during play. In this study, we explored whether problem gamblers differed from other groups in their motivations to gamble and their willingness to either set or adhere to pre-session spending limits.
A total of 127 electronic gaming machine players in Brisbane, Australia were recruited from the gaming floor at one of four venues and asked to complete a questionnaire. We assessed reasons for gambling, demographics and preferred gambling activities. The questionnaire also measured gamblers’ perspectives on pre-commitment strategies, including: (a) their willingness to gamble with a pre-set amount of money; (b) the perceived effectiveness of pre-commitment on limiting gambling expenditures; (c) potential strategies to compensate for the limitations of pre-commitment; (d) funding preferences; and (e) overall perceptions of money-related harm reduction strategies.
About 71 percent of the participants in the study were men with an average age of 38 years. Women were considerably older, averaging 44 years of age. Participants were grouped according to the Problem Gambling Severity Index of the Canadian Problem Gambling Index (Ferris & Wynne, 2001): non-problem gamblers (48.4 percent), low-risk gamblers (19.7 percent), moderate-risk gamblers (15.7 percent), and problem gamblers (15.7 percent).
Consistent with prior research, we observed a fundamental distinction in the primary motivation for gambling between non-problem and problem gamblers in this study. Although a high proportion of all gambling groups indicated that gambling was fun and enjoyable, a significantly higher proportion of problem gamblers, as compared to non-problem gamblers, reported that playing machines was a way to earn income or to escape problems. In contrast, non-problem gamblers endorsed fun/enjoyment and socialization as the two primary motivations for gambling.
With respect to pre-commitment, problem gamblers expressed much more reluctance than other groups about using smart cards, though they admitted losing track of money while gambling and were rarely aware of whether they were winning or losing. They indicated they would only use a smart card if cards were refillable, or if they were either able to access additional funds as needed or allowed to purchase an additional card if they ran out of funds and wanted to “chase” a loss. These responses suggest that pre-commitment would have little effect on decreasing gambling expenditures among those who are intent on continued gambling, because they will likely find a means of obtaining additional cards or seek out venues where refills or other options were available. Nonetheless, future studies should investigate whether pre-commitment strategies might have a protective effect for non-problem or low-risk gamblers who might otherwise proceed to more serious levels of gambling.
Lia Nower, J.D., Ph.D., is associate professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University. Alex Blaszczynski, Ph.D., holds a chair in psychology at the University of Sydney.
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