Monthly Archives: December 2011

It’s all in the game: The psychology of Game Transfer Phenomena

Back in September, one of our research studies on video gaming – more specifically a paper on game transfer phenomena (GTP) that I co-authored with Angelica Ortiz de Gortari (Nottingham Trent University) and Karin Aronsson (Stockholm University) – received a lot of national and international press coverage. Some of the press coverage – particularly that published in the Daily Mail and the Metro – was both sensationalist (“Gamers can’t tell real world from fantasy, say researchers”) and misleading (“How video games blur real life boundaries and prompt thoughts of violent solutions to players’ problems”) and angered some of the gaming community. This is not the first time that I have been on the receiving end of misleading media coverage but I knew from the initial interviews I did with the journalists at the Mail and the Metro that they had already decided what their story was going to be even before talking to me. So what was the real story and what did we say in our research?

The heart of the GTP story lay in our findings that some video game players appear to be so immersed in their gaming that when they stop playing, they sometimes transfer some of their virtual experiences to the real world.  Our published study was a qualitative study and comprised 42 in-depth interviews with Swedish gamers aged between 15 and 21 years old. We categorized player experiences into two main categories – GTP that occurred involuntarily, without premeditation, and those that were intentional.

Almost all the participants had, at some point, experienced some type of involuntary thoughts in relation to videogames. They thought in the same way as when they were gaming, with half of participants often looking to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue. In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes – such as reaching to click a button on the controller when it wasn’t in their hands – while on other occasions gamers visualised their thoughts in the form of game menus. Some gamers reached for the search button when looking for someone in a crowd or saw energy boxes appear above people’s heads. One gamer reported seeing a menu of topics that were available for him to think about, while another, after a lengthy gaming session, created a list of possible responses in their head after being insulted. Another gamer reported witnessing a maths equation appearing in a bubble above a teacher’s head while another reported health bars hovering over players from a rival football team. Players also reported using videogames for interacting with others as a form of amusement, modelling or mimicking video game content, and daydreaming about videogames.

Our findings suggest that some video game players experience intrusion in their cognitive processing and learn from videogames to react and perceive things in real-life, at least for a few seconds, in ways informed by virtual life. In some cases these automatic actions are triggered by a similarity between real-life and the video game, and on other occasions they occur when the players react to real-life stimuli similar to that seen in the game. One of the things we pointed out is that GTP have been reported in the gaming literature before, the most well know example being the ‘Tetris effect’ where players see Tetris pieces falling at the edges of their visual fields or when they close their eye. Other examples include players hearing auditory hallucinations related to the game when not playing.

Despite instances of GTP elsewhere in the psychological and medical literature, we argue that there are important reasons for not using the “Tetris effect” concept when studying game transfer effects. Among the most important are that: (i) the ‘Tetris effect’ definition is very broad and does not emphasize the importance of the association between real life stimulus and video game elements as a trigger of some of the transfer experiences, (ii) it does not make a clear distinction between sensorial modalities in the game transfer experiences or talk about players’ experiences across sensorial modalities (e.g., hear a sound and visualize a video game element), and (iii) the name itself is inspired by a one specific stereotypical puzzle game (i.e., Tetris). This simple name indicates that it is repetition that triggers the transfer effects but there are other factors involved in game transfer experiences. Furthermore, modern video games use more than abstract shapes and offer more flexible scenarios compared to Tetris and similar games.

We believe our study is the first to attempt to systematically explore these type of experience and to conceptualize the experiences within a wider framework (i.e., game transfer phenomena). Our initial findings have proved extremely interesting and almost all the players in our first study reported some type of GTP. However, they were experienced in different ways and with varying degrees of intensity. As we outline in this week’s New Scientist (December 24 issue), we are now following this up with further studies on a much larger number of gamers across many different countries. You can also check out Angelica’s dedicated game transfer phenomena website (

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Gackenbach, J.I (2008). Video game play and consciouness development: A transpersonal perspective. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 40(1), 60-87.

Ortiz de Gotari, A., Aronnson, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.

Parfitt, B. (2011). Metro “can’t tell real world from fantasy”. MCV. September 21. Located at:

Purchase, R. (2011). Prof clarifies Game Transfer Phenomena. September 21. Located at:

Spence, S.A. (1993). Nintendo hallucinations: A new phenomenological entity. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 10, 98-99.

The Tetris Effect. Located at:

Design of the times: How does venue design influence gambling behaviour?

Research into how individuals react to the characteristics of a space has been a growth area over the last twenty years. In commercial environments, research has shown that desire to stay in a shopping environment is positively associated with layout and décor. Other features of the shopping environment have been studied including textures, floor layout, music and employee uniforms. However, much less is known about gaming environments.

A number of studies have been carried out examining the subject of casino atmospherics from the perspective of slot machine players. Leisure services (like gaming) usually want the player to spend longer amounts of time in the venue because the longer that they are in there, the more money they will spend. In 2003, Karl Mayer and Lesley Johnson (University of Nevada) asserted that casino operators have a number of aims. These are to get customers into the casino, maximise the overall gaming experience and keep players in the venue, and to get repeat patronage. The first aim can be achieved through such things as advertising, loyalty schemes and ‘word of mouth’ referrals. The second and third aims depend on may factors including the type of accommodation, the types of game offered, the opportunities to win, restaurant quality, customer-staff interactions, and casino ‘atmosphere’. From the player’s perspective, Mayer and Johnson argue that ‘atmosphere’ may be the most difficult to understand.

Bill Friedman has arguably conducted the most research on casino environments and his findings show that after location, interior design is the most important variable in increasing or decreasing the effect of the location. Friedman argues that casino design influences the decision of whether or not customers who are staying at competing properties will choose to play at another casino. His view on casinos is that design encompasses many features including the interior architectural dimensions, décor, game arrangement, traffic-flow pattern, focal points, lighting and signage. From a financial perspective, Friedman found that short line of sight, a maze-type lay out, and tightly packed congested gaming areas created higher player counts than those casinos with more spacious layouts. Mayer and Johnson’s findings suggest that casino atmosphere may be a much narrower construct than previous conceptualisations with floor layout and theme appearing to be the most important to players. Other studies have also reported that casino floor layout is an important factor in how players perceive casino atmosphere.

A study by Karl Mayer and colleagues (University of Nevada) reported that a casino’s atmosphere (which was a composite of casino theme, décor, lighting, noise levels, and smoke effects) had the most influence on player satisfaction. A follow up study by the same team examined casino atmospheric from a player perspective. The man-made physical surroundings of service settings have been referred to as ‘servicescapes’. Servicescapes comprise three important aspects, (i) ambient conditions (e.g., décor, theme, lighting, colour, noise, temperature, architecture, etc.), (ii) spatial layout and functionality (e.g., the way that seats, entrances, exits, etc. are arranged, i.e., the ‘built’ environment), and (iii) signs, symbols, and artefacts. Satisfaction with servicescape may also influence repeat patronage although satisfaction with servicescape appears to have a stronger effect on players’ desire to stay than on repeat patronage.

Anthony Lucas of the University of Nevada has done a lot of research in this area and has found that certain aspects of casino atmosphere are significantly related to player satisfaction including interior décor, navigation (i.e., floor layout), cleanliness, and seating comfort. Similar results have also been reported by Long Lam and colleagues at the University of Macau. They surveyed over 500 casino players in Macau. Overall, after controlling for betting outcomes, they found that gamblers were more satisfied when they gambled in an attractive environment. Satisfaction with the gambling environment was related to the person’s intention to revisit the casino. The study was also the first to examine both cognitive satisfaction and affective satisfaction. At its simplest, cognitive satisfaction relates to whether the casino met the gambler’s expectations, and affective satisfaction relates to the gambler’s personal feelings of positive emotion. Their research showed that cognitive satisfaction was most predicted by navigation, ambience, and cleanliness. Affective satisfaction was most predicted by navigation, seating comfort, and interior décor.

Another study by Lesley Johnson and colleagues examined ten elements of casino atmosphere (theme, décor, noise level, colour, ceiling height, lighting, temperature, floor layout, employee uniforms, and smell). Using factor analysis, five factors emerged (theme/décor, noise level, ceiling height, floor layout and employee uniform). Only three of these were significantly related to player satisfaction (theme/décor, employee uniform, and noise level in that order, i.e., theme/décor being the most important variable). Overall, in was concluded there was a direct linkage between atmospheric elements of casinos and player satisfaction – at least in slot machine players.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Johnson, L., Mayer, K. Champaner, E. (2004). A customer-based assessment of casino atmospherics. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 8(2), 1-10.

Lam, L.W., Chan, K.W., Fong, D. & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30, 558-567.

Lucas, A.F. (2003). The determinants and effects of slot servicescape satisfaction in a Las Vegas hotel casino. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 7(10), 1-19.

Mayer, K. & Johnson, L. (2003). A customer-based assessment of casino atmospherics. Gaming Research and Review Journal, 7(1), 21-31.

Mayer, K. & Johnson, L., Hu, C. & Chen, S. (1998). Gaming customer satisfaction: An exploratory study. Journal of Travel Research, 37, 178-183.

Oakes, S. (2000). The influence of the musicscape within service environments. Journal of Services Marketing, 51, 34-43.




“Well, while I’m here I might as well have a flutter”: Gambling venues and the use of intrinsic association

Back in 1978, Derek Cornish published a book that included the first review of situational characteristics in gambling. One of the characteristics – although not given an explicit name – was later termed by Dr Jonathan Parke (Salford University) and myself as “intrinsic association”. Intrinsic association basically refers to the degree to which the gambling activity is associated with other interests and attractions. For example, betting at a sporting event at which the gambler would normally attend anyway. In casino terms, this could refer to gambling on a slot machine as an ancillary activity to being in the casino for other reasons (e.g., being in there to see a live music show or boxing match, dining out with friends). Another variation of this is “proximity play”. This could be described as participating in an activity as a consequence of it being located next to something else that the person was doing (e.g., being in the casino primarily to play blackjack but going on to play a slot machine instead).

The association between gambling and sport also has implications, primarily the ability to class gambling as a subtype of sport that in turn leads to the attribution of social respectability. In his review, Cornish also argued that sporting interests may often act as a pathway to gambling. Individuals can be introduced to gambling in attempt to make the sporting experience more entertaining and enjoyable. Gradually, the enjoyment from betting at sporting events can transfer to into more familiar environments and to other types of betting.  Sport is another way that gambling can expose itself, and provide the potential gambler with another opportunity to gamble if one did not previously exist or appeal. Therefore, in addition to be potentially being a pathway to gambling, association with sport is also a mechanism through which gambling can be made socially acceptable.

These other amenities (e.g., the provision of food) have the potential to prolong gambling activity. Jonathan Parke and I assert this is of particular importance to problem gamblers since they:

  • Often gambling for long periods of time.
  • Are often reluctant to leave a slot machine or the roulette table to get a drink or food, or go to the toilet as they are often chasing losses do not want to lose their lucky seat or favorite machine.

For instance, in a New Zealand study reported by Ralph Gerdelan, thirty bars that housed slot machines were compared with another thirty that did not. In the bars without slot machines, almost all of the clientele drank pints of beer. However, in the bars with slot machines, only 8% of the clientele drank pint measures. The main reason for this was that slot machine players did not want to leave the machines to go to the toilet in case someone ‘stole’ their machine. The gambling treatment specialist, Joanna Franklin has also reported that a proportion of her female clients had developed bladder problems as a result of their prolonged slot machine gambling, Again, these gamblers are holding off going to the toilet because they do not want to lose “their” machine, and allegedly damaging their bladder in the process.

There is currently no empirical evidence to show that offering refreshments prolongs gambling behaviour, and it could be argued that offering refreshments forces gamblers to take a break as they will eventually need to use the bathroom. Furthermore, if refreshments are offered in the form of a sit down meal rather than a take away option, then making use of such facilities would ensure a break from gambling behavior. Although a refreshed gambler may stay at a gambling venue for longer periods, engaging in a meal would offer a period of contemplation (i.e., a reflective time out) that could be useful for a vulnerable player. However, problem gamblers may be unlikely to spend money on a meal and may favour spending their money on gambling instead.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cornish, D.B. (1978). Gambling: A review of the literature and its implications for policy and research. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Gerdelan, R. (2001, April). Problem gambling in New Zealand. Paper presented at the Innovation 2001 Conference, Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling, Toronto, Canada.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The observational analysis of marketing methods in UK amusement arcades. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 24, 17-24.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.



Sex and gambling addictions: Is there a relationship?

From a psychological perspective it was Freud who made the first serious contribution to the psychology of gambling by claiming that gambling was a repetitious substitute for masturbation. He argued there were many parallels between the two behaviours including the importance of ‘play’, the exciting and frantic activity of the hands, the irresistibility of the urge, the intoxicating pleasure, the repeated resolutions to stop the activity, and the enormous feelings of guilt once the activity was completed. Freud also made reference to the privacy, solitude, manipulation, and specificity of the two activities. Other psychoanalysts claimed that gambling was analogous to foreplay, winning with orgasm, and losing with castration and defecation. Freud and his followers argued that gamblers had an “unconscious desire to lose” and that losing money was an act of masochistic self-punishment known as the “pleasure-pain tension”.

Believe it or not, Freud’s theories on the psychology of gambling stemmed from just one single case study – the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. What’s more, Freud never even met him and based his ideas on the reading of Dostoyevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel The Gambler. As a psychologist rooted in the scientific method, I think Freud’s theories are little more than an amusing historical footnote. However, there are two aspects of Freud’s thinking that deserve further exploration. Firstly, Freud passionately believed that many of our motivations and desires are unconscious. Having spent many years asking gamblers why they do the things that they do, it becomes obvious that many gamblers can’t put into words their primary reasons for engaging in the activity they love so much. To me, there do appear to be inexplicable unconscious motivations. Secondly, there are many anecdotal observations on the relationship between gambling and sex.

Gambling lore holds that some heavy gamblers experience orgasm while being totally absorbed in the gambling experience. Whilst I have never come across such a case there are many examples of gamblers who make such comparisons. For instance, an infamous problem gambler known as ‘Charlie K’ claimed “every time I tapped out at a racetrack, it was just like a massive orgasm”. Actual orgasm during gambling is most probably a myth or unusual personal peculiarity although the ‘thrill’ and ‘high’ that many gamblers report while gambling, may be similar to the emotional arousal experienced during sex. On the other hand, it is perhaps worth noting that there are case studies in the psychological literature suggesting that one of the side effects of problem gambling may be impotence!

There is also the language of gambling. Psychoanalysts claim that the language used by gamblers gives clues to both the anal and genital sexuality of gambling. Dice playing is known as ‘craps’ and players use the phrases “to come” and “come-line”. The numbers ‘10’ and ‘4’ are known as “Big Dick” and “little Dick” respectively. The combined stakes are known as “the pot” and there are enema overtones in the phrase “to be cleaned out” when the gambler loses everything.  A show-off gambler is described as “cocky” or a “Posing Dick”. Furthermore, many card games bring sex to mind including ‘poker’ (male genitalia), ‘stud poker’ (intercourse) and ‘solo’ (masturbation). In addition, gamblers often express their feelings using sexual analogies. Gamblers often claim that they get the same kick out of gambling as they do about sex or comment on how they “would like to get a piece of Lady Luck”. Conversely, sex for the gambler can take on gambling overtones with men who “chase women” or try to “score with women”. Easy ‘pick-ups’ are referred to as “a safe bet” or “sure fire winner”.

There is very little in the way of anthropological research on sex and gambling. However, a number of psychologists and sociologists have made reference to the Mojave, a tribe where gambling involves strict sexual segregation. Here, women and male transvestites (called “lucky gamblers”), play a specialised gambling game called ‘Utoh’ that is steeped in sexual ritual. The game consists of four wooden dice painted red and black (symbolising boys and girls) which are thrown with the aim of landing them all with the same colour. To affect an opponent’s luck, players shout such phrases as “you have a big penis” and engage in activities such as “anus goosing” and “genitalia grabbing”. The Mojave also believe that sexual dreams bring good luck in gambling. Men of the tribe will go as far as wagering their own wives, who if husbands lose, become sexual mates of the winners

Although the case of the Mojave is interesting, it is clearly untypical of society at large. However, evolutionary psychologists claim that successful male gamblers should attract more attractive female sexual partners. The (somewhat) simplistic argument for this is that over time, males who have successfully gambled – that is, taken more risks – will have accumulated more resources and therefore (in evolutionary terms) be more attractive to females. This certainly seems to fit the James Bond Hollywood blockbuster image of a gambler. It is not uncommon to see such gamblers portrayed as ‘macho’, heroic, virile, and dominant. Unfortunately, such a theory has little validity in Western society as there are numerous less risky ways to accumulate wealth and resources.

Finally, there have also been a few studies (all based in North America) that have looked at the comorbid relationships between gambling addiction and sex addiction. Back in 1991, Henry Lesieur and Richard Rosenthal reported two conference papers of small samples of adult gambling addicts in which 12% and 14% were potentially sexually addicted. In a bigger (and much more recent) study by Jon Grant and Marvin Steinberg, one on five (19.6%) met the criteria for sexual addiction among their 225 adult pathological gamblers. Otto Kausch reported that among 94 adult gambling addicts, just below a third (31%) suffered from sexual addiction. Patrick Carnes and colleagues reported that among a sample of 1,604 adult residential treatment sex addicts, 6% reported addiction to gambling, Obviously there are major methodological shortcomings of all these studies particularly because they include small, non-representative, and self-selected samples. However, they do suggest that there may be some relationship between addictive gambling and addictive sex for some people.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Carnes, P.J., Murray, R.E., & Charpentier, L. (2005). Bargains with chaos: Sex addicts and addiction interaction disorder. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 12, 79-120.

Freud, S. (1928). Dostoyevsky and parracide. In J. Strachey (Ed.). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Hogarth Press: London.

Grant, J.E., Steinberg, M.A. (2005). Compulsive sexual behavior and pathological gambling. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 12, 235-244.

Kausch, O. (2003). Patterns of substance abuse among treatment-seeking pathological gamblers. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 25, 263-270.

Lesieur, H.R., & Rosenthal, R. J. (1991). Pathological gambling: A review of the literature (Prepared for the American Psychiatric Association Task Force on DSM-IV Committee on Disorders of Impulse Control Not Elsewhere Classified). Journal of Gambling Studies, 7, 5-39.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Running on empty: Can excessive exercise really be an addiction?

Back in 1997, I published my first academic paper on exercise addiction – a case study of a young women addicted to martial arts – at least according to the definition of exercise I was using. However, at present, exercise addiction is not officially recognised in any medical or psychological diagnostic frameworks such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) or the World Health Association’s International Classification of Diseases. However, there has been a lot of research into whether exercise can be classed as a bona fide addiction.

In spite of the widespread usage of the term ‘exercise addiction’ there are many different terminologies that describe excessive exercise syndrome. Such terms include (i) exercise dependence, (ii) obligatory exercising, (iii) exercise abuse, and (iv) compulsive exercise. In a recent review that I co-wrote with Dr Zsolt Demetrovics and colleagues at Eotvos Lorand University (Budapest), we believe the term ‘addiction’ is the most appropriate because it incorporates both dependence and compulsion. Based on research carried out internationally, we believe that exercise addiction should be classified within the category of behavioural addictions. The resemblance is evidenced not only in several common symptoms, but also in demographic characteristics, the prognosis of the disorder, co-morbidity, response to treatment, prevalence in the family, and etiology.

But how is exercise addiction assessed? Several instruments have been developed and adopted for the assessment of exercise addiction. Two relatively early scales, the ‘Commitment to Running Scale’ and the ‘Negative Addiction Scale’ are no longer used because of theoretical and methodological shortcomings. Among the psychometrically tested instruments, the ‘Obligatory Exercise Questionnaire’ (OEQ), the ‘Exercise Dependence Scale’ (EDS), and the ‘Exercise Dependence Questionnaire’ (EDQ) have proved to be both psychometrically valid and reliable instruments for assessing the symptoms and the extent of exercise addiction.

The OEQ is a 20-item self-report questionnaire that assesses the urge for undertaking exercise. The questionnaire has three subscales comprising (i) the emotional element of exercise, (ii) exercise frequency and intensity, and (iii) exercise preoccupation. The EDS conceptualizes compulsive exercise on the basis of the DSM criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and empirical research shows that it is able to differentiate between at-risk, dependent and non-dependent athletes, and also between physiological and non-physiological addiction. The EDS comprises seven subscales including (i) tolerance, (ii) withdrawal, (iii) intention effect, (iv) lack of control, (v) time, (vi) reduction of other activities, and (vii) continuance. In contrast to the EDS, the EDQ is aimed to measure compulsive exercise behaviour as a multidimensional construct. Furthermore, it can be used in assessing compulsion in many different forms of physical activities.

To generate a quick and easily administrable tool for surface screening of exercise addiction, I, and my colleagues (Annabel Terry and Attila Szabo), developed the ‘Exercise Addiction Inventory’ (EAI), a short 6-item instrument aimed at identifying the risk of exercise addiction. The EAI assesses the six common symptoms of addictive behaviours, namely (i) salience, (ii) mood modification, (iii) tolerance, (iv) withdrawal symptoms, (v) social conflict, and (vi) relapse. The EAI has been psychometrically investigated and has relatively high internal consistency and convergent validity with the EDS.

There are several other instruments available for assessing exercise addiction. However, they are either rarely adopted in research or are aimed at a specific form of physical activity such as body building (such as the ‘Bodybuilding Dependency Scale’). A more general but seldom adopted instrument is the ‘Exercise Beliefs Questionnaire’ (EBQ) that assesses individual thoughts and beliefs about exercise and it is based on four factors comprising (i) social desirability, (ii) physical appearance, (iii) mental and emotional functioning, and (iv) vulnerability to disease and aging. Empirical testing shows the instrument to have acceptable psychometric properties. There is also the ‘Exercise Dependence Interview’ (EXDI) that not only assesses compulsive exercising, but also eating disorders. However, one of the major limitations of this measure is that no psychometric properties have been reported.

Another scale is the ‘Commitment to Exercise Scale’ (CES) that examines the pathological aspects of exercising (e.g., continued training despite injuries) and compulsory activities (e.g., feeling guilty when exercise is not fulfilled). The CES has a satisfactory level of reliability. Finally the ‘Exercise Orientation Questionnaire’ (EOQ) measures attitudes towards exercise and related behaviours. The EOQ comprises six factors including (i) self-control, (ii) orientation to exercise, (iii) self-loathing, (iv) weight reduction, (v) competition, and (vi) identity.

Of these instruments outlined, the most popular currently are the EDS and the EAI (due to its brevity and easy scoring). Research has shown that when employed together, these two instruments yield comparable results. Despite the development of all these different scales and screening tools, their existence does not guarantee that exercise addiction will ever be officially recognised by the medical and/or psychiatric community.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, DOI: 10.3109/10826084.2011.639120

Downs, D. S., Hausenblas, H. A., & Nigg, C. R. (2004). Factorial Validity and Psychometric Examination of the Exercise Dependence Scale-Revised. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 8(4), 183-201.

Downs, D. S., Hausenblas, H. A., & Nigg, C. R. (2004). Factorial Validity and Psychometric Examination of the Exercise Dependence Scale-Revised. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 8(4), 183-201.

Freimuth M., Moniz S., & Kim S.R. (2011). Clarifying exercise addiction: Differential diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, and phases of addiction. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8, 4069-4081.

Griffiths, M. D. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M. D., Szabo, A., & Terry, A. (2005). The exercise addiction inventory: a quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(6), e30.

Ogden, J., Veale, D. M., & Summers, Z. (1997). The development and validation of the Exercise Dependence Questionnaire. Addiction Research, 5(4), 343-355.

Pasman, L. N., & Thompson, J. K. (1988). Body image and eating disturbance in obligatory runners, obligatory weightlifters, and sedentary individuals. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 7(6), 759-769.

Terry, A., Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2004). The exercise addiction inventory: A new brief screening tool. Addiction Research and Theory, 12(5), 489-499.

Yates, A., Edman, J. D., Crago, M., & Crowell, D. (2001). Using an exercise-based instrument to detect signs of an eating disorder. Psychiatry Research, 105(3), 231-241.


Is online gambling more ‘dangerous’ than offline gambling?

A question that is often asked by policymakers is whether online gambling is more ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful’ than offline gambling. The answer to this question depends on what the definitions are of ‘harmful’ or ‘dangerous’ or (more importantly) whether online gambling is more harmful or dangerous to particular kinds of people (e.g., problem gamblers). There has been much debate in both the media and academic research outlets related to this question. This is an issue that Michael Auer and I recently examined in more detail in an article in Casino and Gambling International (CGI).

In our CGI article, we noted that there have also been a number of different approaches to collecting information about online gamblers. We argued that most published studies concerning online gambling have used one of two approaches – behavioural tracking studies (e.g., studies that collect data based on real online gamblers’ data typically supplied by online gaming operators to academic researchers) and self-report studies (e.g., studies that collect data via surveys, focus groups and/or interviews). Studies using self-report methods have tended to argue that problem gambling is more prevalent among online gamblers compared to offline gamblers. Studies using behavioural tracking data have tended to argue that online gambling is no more dangerous than offline gambling. At face value, this suggests that findings (relating to ‘dangerousness’ of the gambling medium) appear to depend upon the methodology used.

Both of these approaches have advantages and disadvantages. In our CGI article, we noted the following key differences between these two methods:

  • Behavioural tracking data provides a totally objective record of an individual’s gambling behaviour on a particular online gambling website (whereas individuals in self-report studies may be prone to social desirability factors, unreliable memory, etc.).
  • Behavioural tracking data provide a record of events and can be revisited after the event itself has finished (whereas self-report studies cannot).
  • Behavioural tracking data usually comprise very large sample sizes whereas self-report studies are based on much smaller sample sizes.
  • Behavioural tracking data collects data from only one gambling site and tells us nothing about the person’s Internet gambling in general (as Internet gamblers typically gamble on more than one site)
  • Behavioural tracking data always comes from unrepresentative samples (i.e., the players that use one particular internet gambling site) whereas the very best self-report studies (e.g., the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys in Great Britain) use random and nationally representative samples
  • Behavioural tracking data does not account for the fact that more than one person can use a particular account
  • Behavioural tracking data tell us nothing about why people gamble (whereas self-report data can provide greater insight into motivation to gamble)
  • Behavioural tracking data cannot be used for comparing online and offline gambling or for making comparisons about whether online gambling is safer or more dangerous than offline gambling as data are only collected on one group of people (i.e., online gamblers).
  • Self-report methods can be used to compare two (or more) groups of gamblers and is the only method we currently have to infer to what extent one medium of gambling may or may not be more or less safe.
  • Some self-report studies have the potential to use nationally representative samples of gamblers whereas behavioural tracking studies rely on self-selected samples of gamblers who use the online gambling website in question.
  • Behavioural tracking data tell us nothing about the relationships between gambling and other behaviours (e.g. the relationship between gambling and alcohol or the relationship between gambling and tobacco use).
  • Behavioural tracking data cannot examine problem gambling using current diagnostic criteria (whereas self-report studies can). In fact, behavioural tracking data studies cannot tell us anything about problem gambling as this is not a variable that has been examined in any of the published studies to date.

To date, one team of researchers affiliated to Harvard University have been given access to a large behavioural tracking data set of over 47,000 online gamblers by the Austrian gaming company bwin. This has led to many papers examining the actual behaviour of online gamblers based on behavioural tracking data. These data have been used to make claims along the lines that online gambling is no more problematic than offline gambling.

However, comparative statements relating to whether one medium of gambling is more problematic than another can only be made if actual gambling behavior is studied across different forms of gambling (e.g., direct comparison of internet gambling with [say] land-based casino gambling). None of the various publications by the Harvard-affiliated research team have empirically compared different forms of gambling. Nor have they examined ‘problem gambling’ as no problem gambling screens were given to any online gambler included in their studies. Therefore, conclusions about the harmfulness of online gambling in comparison to other forms of gambling cannot be drawn from these particular studies. Furthermore, none of the publications focusing on online gambling examine overall gambling behavior. All the publications have tended to examine a single type of game (e.g., sports betting, casino games, poker).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D.  (2011). Empirical internet gambling research (1996-2008): Some further comments. Addiction Research and Theory, 19, 85-86.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Socio-demographic correlates of internet gambling: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199-202.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.

LaBrie, R.A., Kaplan, S., LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., & Shaffer, H.J. (2008). Inside the virtual casino: A prospective longitudinal study of Internet casino gambling. European Journal of Public Health, 18(4), 410-416

LaBrie, R.A., LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., Schumann, A. & Shaffer, H.J. (2007). Assessing the playing field: A prospective longitudinal study of internet sports gambling behavior. Journal of Gambling Studies, 23, 347-363.

LaPlante, D.A., Kleschinsky, J.H., LaBrie, R.A., Nelson, S.E. & Shaffer, H.J. (2009). Sitting at the virtual poker table: A prospective epidemiological study of actual Internet poker gambling behavior. Computers in Human Behavior 25, 711-717.

LaPlante, D. A., Schumann, A., LaBrie, R. A., & Shaffer, H. J. (2008). Population trends in Internet sports gambling. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(5), 2399–2414.

Shaffer, H.J., Peller, A.J., LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., & LaBrie, R.A. (2010). Toward a paradigm shift in Internet gambling research: From opinion and self-report to actual behavior. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 270–283.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

Xuan, Z.M. & Shaffer, H.J. (2009). How do gamblers end gambling: Longitudinal analysis of internet gambling behaviors prior to account closure due to gambling related problems. Journal of Gambling Studies, 25, 239-252.



Positive addiction: Fact or fiction?

I am often asked by the media “What is the difference between healthy excessive enthusiasms and addiction?”, and my stock answer is always that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life but that addiction takes away from it. This suggests that addictions are purely negative, yet it could be argued that for some people there are many benefits of engaging in their addiction of choice. If we were to write a list of possible benefits of addiction, it may include some of the following:

  • Reliable changes of mood and subjective experience (e.g., enhances subjective wellbeing through excitement and arousal, and/or provides feelings of being able to relax or escape)
  • Positive experience of pleasure, excitement, relaxation
  • Disinhibition of behaviour aiding sociability (e.g., initiating sexual behaviour)
  • Coping strategy for all vulnerabilities (e.g., insults, injuries, social anxiety, fear, tension, etc.)
  • Simplifier of decisions as all behaviour is related to one activity
  • Maintainer of emotional distance (i.e., prevents people from getting close to the addict)
  • Strategy for threatening, rebelling, revenging, etc
  • Source of identity and/or meaning of life (e.g., a person’s social circle may consist entirely of other addicted individuals who condone and reinforce the addictive behaviour)

This list suggests that for the addict there are some genuine benefits, at least from their own perception. The idea that there are “positive addictions” is not new and was first forwarded by Bill Glasser in his 1976 book Positive Addictions (Harper & Row, New York). Glasser argued that activities such as jogging and transcendental meditation were positive addictions and were the kinds of activity that could be deliberately cultivated to wean addicts away from more harmful and sinister preoccupations. According to Glasser, positive addictions must be new rewarding activities such as exercise and relaxation that produce increased feelings of self-efficacy.

However, one of my great mentors, psychologist Iain Brown (now retired from Glasgow University) suggested it might be better to call some activities “mixed blessing addictions”, since even positive addictions such as exercise addiction (suggested by Glasser) might have some negative consequences. For me, one of the defining features of addiction is that the short-term-benefits (particularly like those the list above) are always outnumbered by the long-term downsides (i.e., over time, the long-term disadvantages start to outweigh the short-term disadvantages).

For me, there is also the question of whether positive addictions are “addictions” at all. Have a quick look at Glasser’s criteria for positive addictions. In short, for an activity to be classed as a positive addiction, the behaviour must be:

  • Non-competitive and needing about an hour a day
  • Easy, so no mental effort is required
  • Easy to be done alone, not dependent on people
  • Believed to be having some value (physical, mental, spiritual)
  • Believed that if persisted in, some improvement will result
  • Involve no self-criticism.

To me, these criteria have little resemblance to the core criteria or components of addictions (such as salience, withdrawal, tolerance, mood modification, conflict, relapse, etc.). My own view I that ‘positive addiction’ is an oxymoron and although I am the first to admit that some potential addictions might have benefits that are more than just short-term (as in the case of addictions to work or exercise), addictions will always be negative for the individual in the long run.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions, Harper & Row, New York, NY.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Behavioural addiction: The case for a biopsychosocial approach. Trangressive Culture, 1, 7-28.

Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.


(Don’t) Get Off My Cloud! Where will Cloud Computing take the Gaming Industry?

Over the last 18 months, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion what I think about Cloud Computing (CC) and implications for the gaming industry. To be very honest, I had been bluffing my way through these conversations for some time and it wasn’t until I was at a video game conference in Malta earlier this year that I really got to grips with what CC is all about.

For those of you who still have no idea what I am talking about, at a very basic level, CC means that users obtain or use information from another server. In practical terms it refers to software hosted and accessed online, rather than on physical hardware or servers (Google Docs being the software application that I am – and probably most other academics I know are – most familiar with). In essence, CC involves an external third party storing and/or hosting data and/or applications for the company using the service. Although CC is a relatively new term, the underlying idea (and arguably the technology) has been around for some time.

So what does this all mean for the gaming industry? In the last decade online gambling has started to take off and is slowly displacing offline gambling activity. Although the number of people who gamble online are in a small minority, internet access has become cheap and other external factors (such as national smoking bans and online gambling being seen as providing ‘good value’ for players) are starting to impact on the offline leisure industry (including gambling).

There are of course a number of reasons why gaming companies are moving into Cloud Computing. Advocates of CC are almost evangelical in their praise for what it can offer companies. Many commentators refer to CC as “a game changer”. In relation to video gaming, I have even seen CC described as a “console killer” as gamers will be able to play from anywhere on any device that has internet access (such as their iPads). In this context, “cloud gaming” can stream ‘on-demand’ games to players who don’t want to buy expensive and/or bespoke hardware. For instance, the millions of Farmville players on the social networking site Facebook shows the impact of games using CC can potentially have. Furthermore, as Eric Knipp (Principal Research Analyst at Gartner Research) says:

“Companies use a variety of tactics to crack the golden egg. Some include basic table stakes – easy to use, well-documented programming and/or packaging interfaces, reliable monetization mechanisms, digital rights management, and reasonable revenue splits with game publishers and developers. Additional tricks of the trade include support for game-enriching hosted capabilities (like multiplayer, matchmaking, player-to-player relationship management (a.k.a. “friends”), product recommendation engines, and player ranking systems). Marketplaces must balance their efforts to attract both the gamer and the creator” (

Almost every article I have read typically asserts that if implemented and used correctly, CC brings a number of immediate benefits to commercial online companies to help them “stay ahead of the curve and the competition” including (i) increased performance and efficiency savings, (ii) enhanced security, (iii) increased reliability, and – arguably the most important – (iv) reduced financial costs. The reduced costs primarily come from companies being able to try out new applications without having to invest in potentially expensive information technology infrastructure. Additionally, company start-up costs are likely to be lower, and the cost of using CC storage and services are likely to be cheaper than the cost of maintaining its own servers.

Gaming businesses will need to offer services in the way that customers want them. In the gambling market, the most obvious application will be when large amounts of people want to gamble or bet on a particular high profile sporting event simultaneously and/or at short notice such the FA Cup final or the Grand National. The other area where CC is likely to be of help in the gambling arena is for gamblers who play games in multiple media including the internet, mobile phones, and interactive television. CC allows gambling to be available 24/7 even when people are on the move. Other benefits include (i) the opportunity for social gameplay (i.e., playing along with many other gamblers), (ii) the opportunity for servers to be added on a daily basis, (iii) games can be reconfigured automatically, and (iv) services can be corrected with relative ease.

The move towards cloud computing in the gaming industry is starting to happen. Earlier this year, Bet 365 (the British online casino operator) adopted a cloud computing solution to reduce the latency of its core betting system as a way of improving gamblers’ experiences on its website. In layman’s terms, it speeds things up for those accessing the website and can handle large simultaneous demand. The use of CC in Bet 365’s ‘In-Play’ betting system now means that punters can increase their stake in less than two seconds and can support up to a few million gamblers concurrently.

Successful gaming companies are likely to be those that cater for what their customers want. There appears to be a demand from gamblers for access to a much larger number of events and markets. Cloud Computing appears to provide the infrastructure for how the demand can be met – even if it is unpredictable!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Serial infidelity or addicted to sex?

Back in January 2010, the mass media was full of stories about the US golfer Tiger Woods checking into a rehabilitation clinic to be treated for his ‘sex addiction’. This isn’t the first time that a celebrity has claimed that an addiction to sex was the reason for their infidelity as similar stories have surfaced for actors such as Michael Douglas and David Duchovny. I was contacted by a number of national newspapers including the Guardian who wanted to know if sex addiction is a real medical condition or is it a convenient excuse for someone to give when they are caught being unfaithful to their partner? The answer to the question is not easy to answer as it depends on both (a) the individual in question and (b) the definition of addiction used.

Even among psychologists there are wide differences of opinion about the existence of sex addiction. Some psychologists adhere to the position that unless the behaviour involves the ingestion of a psychoactive drug (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cocaine heroin), then it can’t really be considered an addiction. As you will have gathered from other articles written on this blog, I’m not one of those psychologists as my research into a wide variety of excessive behaviours has led me to the conclusion that behavioural addictions can and do exist (e.g., gambling addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, exercise addiction, sex addiction)

Many individuals have attacked the whole concept of sex addiction saying it is a complete myth. It’s not hard to see why, as many of the claims appear to have good face validity. Many sociologists would argue that ‘sex addiction’ is little more than a label for sexual behaviour that significantly deviates from society’s norms. Similarly, some say that when people claim they have a ‘sex addiction’ it is actually what social psychologists would call a ‘functional attribution’ (i.e., a way of justifying behaviour in cases of, say, infidelity). The most conventional attack on sex addiction is a variation on the position outlined above (i.e., that ‘addiction’ is a physiological condition caused by ingestion of physiological substances, and must therefore be defined physiologically). There are also those researchers within the social sciences who claim that the every day use of the word ‘addiction’ has rendered the term meaningless (such as people saying that their favourite television show is ‘addictive viewing’ or that certain books are ‘addictive reading’). There are also attacks on more moral grounds with people saying that if excessive sexual behaviour is classed as an addiction it undermines individuals’ responsibility for their behaviour.

Despite the idea that sex addiction is a complete myth, there are many therapists worldwide who make a living out of treating the disorder. Arguably the most well known sex therapist is Dr Patrick Carnes who has written many books on the topic (most notably his 1992 best seller ‘Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction’). Dr. Carnes’ treatment programme based in California ( is very eclectic in focus and includes behavioural therapy, trauma counselling, relapse prevention strategies, exercise and yoga classes, in addition to individual sessions in areas such as shame reduction and the setting of sexual boundaries. Carnes claims that up to 6% of the US population suffer from sex addiction. Carnes also claims that sex addictions often co-occur with other addictive behaviours. Such dual addictions include sexual addiction and chemical dependency (42%), eating disorders (38%), compulsive working (28%), compulsive spending (26%) and compulsive gambling (5%). Carnes also reports that a large number of sex addicts say their unhealthy use of sex was a progressive process. It may have started with an addiction to masturbation, pornography (either printed or electronic), or a relationship, but over the years has progressed to being increasingly dangerous.

However, the empirical base for all these claims are constantly challenged by addiction researchers as there has been no national prevalence surveys of sex addiction using validated addiction criteria, and many of Dr Carnes’ claims are based upon those people who turn up for treatment at his clinic. Furthermore, if up to 6% of all adults were genuinely addicted to sex, there would be sex addiction clinics and self-help support groups in every major city and that just isn’t the case. However, that doesn’t mean sex addiction doesn’t exist, only that the size of the problem isn’t on the scale that Carnes suggests. In the UK, there are certainly a number of sex addiction specialists along with ’12-Step’ self-help support groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous – but these are few and far between.

Carnes claims there are a number of ‘warning signs’ that indicate someone might be addicted to sex. These are based on the consequences of other more traditional addictions and include some of the core components of addiction including conflict, mood modification, tolerance, relapse, and loss of control. Most sex therapists that treat sex addiction claim that it is primarily a male heterosexual phenomenon, but these data are biased by those people who turn up for treatment. For instance, females with sexual addiction problems may not want to seek treatment because of their perception of what the therapist might think about them. They may feel more stigmatized than men in seeking help for their addiction – something that is common among other addictions too.

In the case of high-profile celebrities like Tiger Woods who are allegedly addicted to sex, it may be the case that they were simply in a position where they were bombarded with sexual advances, and they succumbed. How many people wouldn’t do the same thing if they had the same opportunities as a Hollywood A-lister? In these situations, it only becomes a problem when the person is discovered. Whether these instances are really a sex addiction divert us from the fact that a small minority of people do seek professional help for a behaviour that they feel is genuinely addictive.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Addicted to love: The psychology of sex addiction. Psychology Review, 8, 20-23.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychology of addictive behaviour. In M. Cardwell, M., L. Clark, C. Meldrum & A. Waddely (Eds.), Psychology for A2 Level. pp. 436-471. London: Harper Collins.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Theory and Research, DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2011.588351.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

It could be you – but it probably won’t be! What is acceptable in gambling advertising?

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of speculation over the role of advertising as a possible stimulus to increased gambling, and as a contributor to problem gambling (including underage gambling). It is not uncommon for casino advertising to use glamorous images and beautiful people to sell gambling, while other advertisements for lottery tickets and slot machines depict ordinary people winning loads of money or millions from a single coin in the slot. Content analyses of gambling adverts have reported that gambling is portrayed as a normal, enjoyable form of entertainment involving fun and excitement. Furthermore, they are often centred on friends and social events.

The likelihood of large financial gain is often central theme (“It could be you”) with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures. A number of authors claim that gambling advertising plays an important role in “normalizing” gambling, increasing participation and contributing to problem development. Some researchers (such as Peter Adams in New Zealand) also claim that gambling advertising targets high-risk populations (e.g., ethnic minorities).

So does advertising create unrealistic hopes of winning that may later trigger a gambling addiction? Very few people are naive enough to think that removing advertising will stop people gambling. Anyone who wants to find an avenue for gambling will do so – just as smokers continue to buy cigarettes. However, the argument has been put forward that by removing seductive gaming advertising, the vulnerable may be protected. Research has found that there is a large public awareness of gambling advertising, and that problem gamblers often mention advertising as a trigger to gambling.

I published a literature review a few years ago and noted that almost all of the published studies on gambling advertising concerned attitudes in some way. Furthermore, very little of these data provided any insight into the relationship between advertising and problem gambling. Although there is a lack of research in this area, there are precedents that advertisements for the promotion of gambling should perhaps be placed in the same category as alcohol and tobacco promotions because of the potentially addictive nature of gambling and the potential for being a major health problem. Many lobby groups claim it is time to ban gambling advertising with the same vigour as tobacco advertising although there is no evidence that this would work (particularly if the research on alcohol advertising is examined).

An example of good practice is that of Loto-Quebec. They did a thorough review of its advertising code. A brief overview of their measures undertaken are listed below:

  • Their current policy disallows any advertising that is overly aggressive, rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, as well as the placement of advertisements within media programs viewed mainly by minors.
  • The odds of winning are highlighted. This is being done in response to the suggestions expressed so frequently by various groups interested in knowing their chances of winning.
  • Television commercials for new products will devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • There will no longer be the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, an instant lottery used a specific Chinese custom to stimulate interest. However, the Chinese community did not agree with making references to its customs in order to promote the game. Out of respect for this community, the game was immediately suspended.

It perhaps goes without saying but there has to be a strong commitment to socially responsible behavior that applies across all product sectors, including sensitive areas like gambling. As various Advertising Associations have advocated, socially responsible advertising should form one of the elements of protection afforded to ordinary customers and be reflected in the codes of practice. Children and problem gamblers deserve additional shielding from exposure to gambling products and premises, and their advertising. The codes that regulate it should include special provisions on the protection of such groups. I would also advocate the following guidelines:

  • Avoid promoting gambling in non-gambling areas – Players should not be encouraged to gamble whilst they are enjoying other non-gambling services such as restaurants or bars. Non-gambling areas should provide the opportunity for an emotional cool down whereby customers have the opportunity to reflect upon their gambling behavior, and consider whether or not to continue playing.
  • Focus on entertainment rather than gaming – A focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money is recommended. When individuals primarily gamble to win money, and that is their only objective, that is when problems can start. That is when a proportion of vulnerable people can get into difficulty.
  • Advertising and promotion – Quite clearly it is appropriate that gaming industry needs to advertise and promote its facilities. In addition to conforming to each country’s own advertising codes of practice, the most important recommendation would be that advertisements and promotions should not appeal to vulnerable individuals (such as minors, those with severe learning difficulties, problem gamblers, etc.) or be ‘aggressive’ and/or use popular celebrities. Furthermore, broadcast media advertising should be aimed at a adult audience and appear after the 9pm ‘watershed’. Adverts should feature the odds of winning. Ideally, there should also be some ‘counterbalanced’ adverts talking about problem gambling and its prevention.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Adams, P. (2004). Minimising the impact of gambling in the subtle degradation of democratic systems, Journal of Gambling Issues, 11. Available at:

Binde, P. (2007). Selling dreams – causing nightmares? On gambling advertising and problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 167-191.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005).  Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Korn, D, Hurson, T. & Reynolds, J. (2004). Commercial Gambling Advertising: Possible Impact on Youth Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behavioural Intentions. Report submitted to the Ontario Gambling Research Centre.