Category Archives: Gambling
According to Stuart Vyse in his book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, the fallibility of human reason is the greatest single source of superstitious belief. Sometimes referred to as a belief in “magic”, superstition can cover many spheres such as lucky or unlucky actions, events, numbers, and/or sayings, as well as a belief in astrology, the occult, the paranormal, or ghosts. It was reported by Colin Campbell in the British Journal of Sociology, that approximately one third of the U.K. population are superstitious. The most often reported superstitious behaviours are (i) avoiding walking under ladders, (ii) touching wood, and (iii) throwing salt over one’s shoulder.
My background is in the gambling studies field, so as far as I am concerned, no superstitions are based on facts but are based on what I would call ‘illusory correlations’ (e.g., noticing that the last three winning visits to the casino were all when you wore a particular item of clothing or it was on a particular day of the week). While the observation may be fact-based (i.e., that you did indeed wear a particular piece of clothing), the relationship is spurious.
Superstition can cover many spheres such as lucky or unlucky actions, events, numbers, and/or sayings. A working definition within our Western society could be a belief that a given action can bring good luck or bad luck when there are no rational or generally acceptable grounds for such a belief. In short, the fundamental feature underlying superstitions is that they have no rational underpinnings.
There is also a stereotypical view that there are certain groups within society who tend to hold more superstitious beliefs than what may be considered the norm. These include those involved with sport, the acting profession, miners, fishermen, and gamblers – many of whom will have superstitions based on things that have personally happened to them or to those they know well. Again, these may well be fact-based but the associations they have experienced will again be illusory and spurious. Most individuals are basically rational and do not really believe in the effects of superstition. However, in times of uncertainty, stress, or perceived helplessness, they may seek to regain personal control over events by means of superstitious belief.
One explanation for how we learn these superstitious beliefs has been suggested by the psychologist B.F. Skinner and his research with pigeons. He noted in a 1948 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, that while waiting to be fed, pigeons adopted some peculiar behaviours. The birds appeared to see a causal relationship between receiving the food and their own preceding behaviour. However, it was merely coincidental conditioning. There are many analogies in the human world – particularly among gamblers. For instance, if a gambler blows on the dice during a game of craps and subsequently wins, the superstitious belief is reinforced through the reward of winning. Another explanation is that as children we are socialized into believing in magic and superstitious beliefs. Although many of these beliefs dissipate over time, children also learn by watching and modelling their behaviour on that of others. Therefore, if their parents or peers touch wood, carry lucky charms, and do not walk under ladders, then children are more likely to imitate that behaviour, and some of these beliefs may be carried forward to later life.
In a paper published in Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, Peter Darke and Jonathan Freedman (1997) suggested that lucky events are, by definition, determined entirely by chance. However, they go on to imply that, although most people would agree with this statement on an intellectual level, many do not appear to behave inaccordance with this belief. In his book Paradoxes of Gambling Behaviour, Willem Wagenaar (1988) proposed that in the absence of a known cause we tend to attribute events to abstract causes like luck and chance. He goes on to differentiate between luck and chance and suggests that luck is more related to an unexpected positive result whereas chance is related to surprising coincidences.
Bernard Weiner, in his book An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion, suggests that luck may be thought of as the property of a person, whereas chance is thought to be concerned with unpredictability. Gamblers appear to exhibit a belief that they have control over their own luck. They may knock on wood to avoid bad luck or carry an object such as a rabbit’s foot for good luck. Ellen Langer argued in her book The Psychology of Control that a belief in luck and superstition cannot only account for causal explanations when playing games of chance, but may also provide the desired element of personal control.
In my own research (with Carolyn Bingham) into superstition among bingo players published in the Journal of Gambling Issues, it was clear that a large percentage of bingo players we surveyed reported beliefs in luck and superstition. However, the findings were varied, with a far greater percentage of players reporting everyday superstitious beliefs rather than beliefs concerned with bingo. Whether or not players genuinely believed they had control over luck is unknown. Having superstitious beliefs may be simply part of the thrill of playing.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Campbell, C. (1996). Half-belief and the paradox of ritual instrumental activism: A theory of modern superstition. British Journal of Sociology, 47(1), 151–166.
Darke, P. R., & Freedman, J. L. (1997). Lucky events and beliefs in luck: Paradoxical effects on confidence and risk-taking. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 378–388.
Griffiths, M.D. & Bingham, C. (2005). A study of superstitious beliefs among bingo players. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/index.php/jgi/article/view/3680/3640
Langer, E. J. (1983). The psychology of control. London: Sage.
Skinner, B. F. (1948). “Superstition” in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168–172.
Thalbourne, M.A. (1997). Paranormal belief and superstition: How large is the association? Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 91, 221–226.
Vyse, S. A. (1997). Believing in magic: The psychology of superstition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wagenaar, W. A. (1988). Paradoxes of gambling behaviour. London: Erlbaum.
Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag
This Christmas I managed to do a lot of book reading (most of it being David Bowie-related) and my favourite read was John O’Connell’s Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life (which If I’m nit-picking should actually be the 98 heroes because George Orwell and Anthony Burgess make two appearances each on the list), followed by Will Brooker’s Why Bowie Matters (a book I wish I had wrote because it was written by a Professor of Film and Cultural Studies and is a loose account of an academic spending a whole year trying to live like David Bowie as a piece of research). I also love lists so I thought I’d kick off the New Year with a list of the books that have shaped my academic life. This list was first published by The Psychologist (in 2018) but this blog may give my list a wider readership.
One of the most influential books on my whole career is Jim Orford’s seminal book Excessive Appetites that explored many different behavioural addictions including gambling, sex, and eating (i.e., addictions that don’t involve the ingestion of psychoactive substances). Jim Orford’s books are always worth a read and he writes in an engaging style that I have always admired. It was by chance that I did my PhD at the University of Exeter (1987-1990) where Orford was working at the time and since 2005 we have published many co-authored papers together. While we can agree to disagree on some aspects of how and why people become addicted, Jim will continue to be remembered as a pioneer in the field of behavioural addiction.
The Psychology of Gambling (by Michael Walker)
If there’s one book I’d wish I had written myself, it is this one. I did my PhD on slot machine addiction in adolescence but this book was published shortly after I’d finished and beautifully summarises all the main theories and perspectives on gambling psychology. My PhD would have been a whole lot easier if this book had been published when I first started my research career! I got to know Michael quite well before his untimely death in December 2009 (and he was external PhD examiner to some of my PhD students), and one of my enduring images of him was walking around at gambling conferences with his book clutched in his hand. Some of my colleagues found that a little strange but if I’d have written a book that good I’d have it with me at such events all the time!
I reviewed this book for the British Journal of Clinical Psychology (BJCP) back in the early 1990s and concluded by saying that it is a book that should be read by all therapists because its content can be applied to nearly all clinical situations and not just to those individuals with addictive behaviour problems. Motivational interviewing (MI) borrows strategies from cognitive therapy, client-centred counselling, systems theory, and the social psychology of persuasion, and the underlying theme of the book is the issue of ambivalence, and how the therapist can use MI to resolve it and allow the client to build commitment and reach a decision to change. In my most recent research I’ve used the basic tenets of MI in designing personalised messages to give to gamblers while they are gambling online in real time. I’ve now come to the conclusion 25 years after writing my BJCP review that anyone interested in enabling behavioural change should apply the tenets in this book to their work.
Even though this book was published back in 1992, I still tell my current students that this is a ‘must read’ book. Davies takes a much researched area of social psychology (i.e., attribution theory) and applies it to addiction. The basic message of the book is that people take drugs because they want to and not because they are physiologically addicted. The whole book is written in a non-technical manner and is highly readable and thought provoking. I often use Davies’ term ‘functional attribution’ from this book in my teaching and writings on sex addiction, and apply it to celebrities who use the excuse of ‘sex addiction’ to justify their infidelities.
Anyone that reads my blog will know that when it comes to the more bizarre side of sexual activity, my ‘go to’ book is Dr. Aggrawal’s book on unusual sexual practices. Others in the sexology field often look down their noses at this book but it is both enjoyable and informative and the kind of book that once you start reading you find it hard to put down again. A lot of academic books on sexual behaviour can be boring and/or impenetrable but this one is the polar opposite. The book also kick-started some of my own recently published research on sexual fetishes and paraphilias.
During my PhD, I remember watching the 1988 adaptation of David Lodge’s novel Small World. At the time, I had never heard of David Lodge but I went out and bought the book and was totally hooked. I then discovered that Small World was the second part of a ‘campus trilogy’ (preceded by Changing Places and followed by Nice Work). Since then I have bought every novel Lodge has ever published and he’s my favourite fiction writer (and I’ve bought and read some of his academic books on literary criticism). I love campus novels and through Lodge and devoured other university-based novels (including Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, Howard Jacobson’s Coming from Behind, and Ann Oakley’s The Men’s Room among my favourites).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Brooker, W. (2019) Why Bowie Matters. London: William Collins.
Davies J. B. (1992). The Myth of Addiction. Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.
Griffiths, M.D. (2018). My shelfie. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 31, 70.
Lodge, D. (1984). Small World. London: Secker & Warburg.
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (1991). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. New York: Guilford Press.
O’Connell, J. (2019). Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life. London: Bloomsbury.
Orford, J. (2001). Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions. Chichester: Wiley.
Earlier this week, I was interviewed by the BBC about whether organisations should help individuals who have gambling problems and whether they should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. Most of us work in organisations that have policies on behaviours such as drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking. However, very few companies have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. One problem gambler in a position of financial trust can bring down a whole organisation – Nick Leeson being a case in point when he single-handedly brought down Barings Bank). Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about their collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.
Gambling is a popular leisure activity and national UK surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults’ gamble annually and that problem gambling affects approximately 0.5% of the British population (although the prevalence rates for adolescents can be three to four rimes higher). There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These included being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health, housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population.
It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the problem gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders.
For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere in the workplace (e.g., National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes). However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically problem gambling at work can lead to many negative “warning signs” such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, late to work, leaving early from work, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or smartphones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem.
- Take the issue of gambling seriously. Gambling (in all its many forms) has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level. Managers, in conjunction with Human Resources Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issue and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organisation. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, the consequences for the company should that person be a problem gambler can be very great.
- Raise awareness of gambling issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Most countries (including the UK) have national and /or local gambling agencies that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organisations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
- Ask employees to be vigilant. Problem gambling at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend a problem gambler, and the organisation itself. Fellow staff members need to know the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Employee behaviours such as asking to borrow money all the time might be indicative of a gambling problem.
- Give employees access to diagnostic gambling checklists. Make sure that any literature or poster within the workplace includes a self-diagnostic checklist so that employees can check themselves to see if they might have (or be developing) a gambling problem.
- Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and internet content of their employees. One of the easiest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are gambling on the internet regularly, internet gambling sites are almost certainly likely to be bookmarked.
- Develop a “Gambling at Work” policy. As mentioned at the start of this blog, many organisations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol in the workplace. Employers should develop their own gambling policies by liaison between Human Resource Services and local gambling agencies. A risk assessment policy in relation to gambling would also be helpful.
- Give support to identified problem gamblers. Most large organisations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. Problem gambling needs to be treated sympathetically (like other more bona fide addictions such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of workplace gambling.
Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling and gambling via smartphone or tablets is making it easier to gamble from the workplace. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted here suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies, 33, 397-424.
Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective. pp. 148-167. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.
Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.
A few days ago, I published a short paper with Dr. Michael Auer examining the concept of ‘fishing addiction’ and the similarities with gambling addiction in the Archives of Behavioral Addiction. Fishing and gambling are two activities that on the surface do not appear to have much in common with each other. For many people, they are both simply leisure activities and this is where the similarities stop.
So in what ways are fishing and gambling similar? In the broadest of senses, gambling and fishing are not too dissimilar. As Dr. Gary Smith and his colleagues noted in a 2003 report, the word ‘gambling’ in day-to-day language has broad currency and can describe a number of activities such as “farming, fishing, searching for oil, marriage or even crossing a busy street”. More specifically, in a 2011 chapter on stress among fisherman, Dr. Richard Pollnac and colleagues noted that “a fisher is basically gambling every time he/she goes out fishing” and that like gambling “production per fishing trip is highly variable and relatively unpredictable”. An earlier 2008 paper by Pollnac and John Poggie highlighted that marine fishing as an occupation is of a relative risky nature and state that it attracts and holds individuals manifesting an active, adventurous, aggressive and courageous personality – attributes that arguably apply to some types of competitive gamblers, such as poker players.
According to a 2013 online article by Dr. Per Binde (2013), who describes himself as a gambling researcher that enjoys fishing in his spare time, gambling and fishing have many similarities “especially if you consider bait casting (spinning) in relation to repetitive forms of gambling, such as slot machines”. A 2013 online article by Whitney James (2013) has also made a similar observation that “pulling a penny slot is like casting your line. It doesn’t take a lot of effort but the payout is sometimes sweet”. In fact, both Binde and James have noted a number of distinct similarities and the list below combines these along with some of our own observations:
- In both activities, the participant repeats the same behaviour over and over again in the hope that they will attain something of material value.
- Both activities lead to mood modifying experiences and can be both relaxing and exciting.
- Both activities can result in the person forgetting about time and engaging in the activity for much longer than the person originally intended (because of the escape-like qualities of engaging in the activity).
- Both activities involve ‘near misses’ that reinforce the behaviour (or as Dr. Binde says “one reel symbol slightly out of place for a jackpot; bites and nibbles of fish that does not get hooked”).
- Success in either activity may be a combination of skill and chance, and winning or catching a fish give the individuals concerned a sense of achievement and mastery. Furthermore, the person engaging in these activities may not be able to differentiate between what was skill and what was chance (or as Dr. Binde says: “was my choice of bait successful or was it just luck that I caught a big fish?”).
- In both activities, the ‘availability bias’ comes into play. More specifically, the few big successes (i.e., catching a really big fish or winning a large amount of money) are highly memorable while all the many other occasions when the person lost all their money or caught nothing are easily forgotten.
- In both activities, superstitious rituals are commonplace (wearing a ‘lucky’ cap, spitting on the lure, etc.). As I noted in a 2005 paper I co-wrote with Carolyn Bingham in the Journal of Gambling Issues, there are certain groups within society who tend to hold more superstitious beliefs than what may be considered the norm including sportsmen, actors, miners, fishermen, and gamblers.
- In both activities, when things are not going right (i.e., not winning, not catching any fish), the person then tries the same thing somewhere else (a gambler changes table or slot machines, or goes to a new gaming venue; a fisherman changes his bait or tries another place in the river or a new river entirely).
- In both activities, one win or one fish caught is never enough.
- Both activities are potentially addictive (“ask either addict’s wife and they will confirm” said Whitney James).
- In both activities, families forgive the person if they bring something home with them (i.e., winnings or fresh fish).
- Finally, (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) both activities (according to Whitney James) “are better with a drink in hand”.
Another similarity is that both activities can prove an expensive pastime. While this could be said comparing any two leisure activities, in a 2004 qualitative interview study of seven male high frequency betting shop gamblers published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory, Dr. Tom Ricketts and Ann Macaskill, the gamblers justified the amount spent on gambling by contrasting the amount they spent on other leisure pursuits like fishing. As one gambler said: “Like some people go fishing…and that costs a lot more than what it does with gambling. So that’s the way I see it, really, you pay for your hobbies”.
Another qualitative interview study of seven male online poker players by myself and Dr. Adrian Parke in a 2012 issue of Addiction Research and Theory highlighted that some of the players use fishing analogies to describe their card play. It emerged clearly from one interview that a player could profit in both offline and online forms of gambling by manipulating various forms of information technology. As the authors noted:
“The significance of this belief was moderated in the sense that although participants professed that such profitable control was indeed possible, they indicated that there were also negative consequences of gambling in a controlled and profitable manner. This profitable, yet restricted form of gambling was described by one participant as ‘trawling’, highlighting the demanding and onerous nature of the activity… The use of the term ‘trawling’ for such forms of controlled gambling conveys an impression that is similar to commercial sea fishing (i.e. not only is it an arduous task but also several external factors influence profitability such as luck)”.
Dr. Binde also claimed that it is unsurprising that individuals that want to cease their excessive gambling often find sport fishing a suitable ‘substitution’ leisure activity. He then goes on to argue that fisherman only risk losing time rather than money but then adds:
“Sport fishing gear may cost a bit and fishermen may get the idea that better gear would make fishing more successful. There are people, however, who have problems controlling the extent of their sport fishing and who perceive it as a kind of addiction”.
A 2009 online article by R. Pendleton draws similarities between fishing tournaments in Hawaii and poker tournaments. He cites Dr. Marc Miller, a cultural anthropologist and professor at the University of Washington, who theorized that there are four phases of tournament fishing that correspond to those found in gambling.
“The first phase is ‘squaring off’, which begins when the anglers board their boat, choose their tackle and the area they intend to fish, and go steaming off to the grounds. It is rather like the gambler with a handful of chips checking out the gaming tables, he noted, but it abruptly ends when the lines hit the water. The second is the determination phase, Miller said. Like the gambler’s blackjack table, this is where the action is. The angler is fishing and fate is in charge. It only ends when the ‘stop fishing’ signal is given. The angler enters the third phase – ‘the disclosure’ – when the fishing is over. Again like the gambler’s hand of cards, it is time for the fisherman to put his catch up for weighing and judging – to finally show what he’s got. Finally comes the ‘settlement phase’ of tournament fishing when the angler’s score is posted and the results are compared with the other fishermen in the contest, rather like when the gambler must settle up with the dealer”.
As far as I am aware, there has never been a study of ‘fishing addiction’ in the psychological literature although there are a few references to it and/or compulsive fishing. Similar to Whitney James’ observation above about wives knowing if their husbands are addicted to fishing or gambling, the 2008 paper by Pollnac and Poggie noted that:
“A commercial crabber from Alaska said, ‘As any fisherman’s wife will tell you, fishing is an addiction. And for commercial fishermen, consider it a gambling addiction’ (Arnold 2006). This is an insightful observation, fishing is like an addiction, and most fishermen would do anything to avoid the potentially painful withdrawal symptoms”.
Bill Glasser, author of the 1976 book Positive Addiction, noted that fishing was one of many ‘positive addictions’ in a later (2012) paper on the topic (in the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy). More specifically, he claimed that he had heard numerous stories from many different individuals claiming they were ‘positively addicted “to a variety of activities such as swimming, hiking, bike riding, yoga, Zen, knitting, crocheting, hunting, fishing, skiing, rowing, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and many more”. 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. He also asserted that positive addictions must be new rewarding activities that produce increased feelings of self-efficacy.
Glasser’s (1976) own criteria for positive addictions are that the activities must (i) be non-competitive and needing about an hour a day, (ii) be easy, so no mental effort is required, (iii) be easy to be done alone, not dependent on people, (iv) be believed to be having some value (physical, mental, spiritual), (v) be believed that if persisted in, some improvement will result, and (iv) involve no self-criticism. Although ‘fishing addiction’ arguably meets these criteria, I argued in a 1996 paper in the Journal of Workplace Learning that Glasser’s criteria have little to with accepted criteria for addictive behaviour such as salience, mood modification, tolerance, conflict, withdrawal, loss of control, and relapse. Therefore, although Glasser believes that addiction to fishing is a positive addiction, I would argue that ‘fishing addiction’ using Glasser’s criteria is not really an addiction.
In an online article on ‘The psychology of fishing addiction’ (In The Bite, 2014), addiction psychotherapist Alexandria Stark asserted that although fishing addiction was not recognized in the psychiatric community, the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria of Gambling Disorder in the DSM-5 could be adapted to screen for whether someone is a fishing addict. Additionally, a 2007 paper in the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders by Dr. Andrew McKeon and colleagues reported seven case studies of “unusual compulsive behaviors” following treatment for Parkinson’s disease with dopamine agonist therapy. One of the seven cases was a 48-year-old man who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 43 years and was taking daily doses of levodopa [300mg], ropinirole [24mg] and selegeline [5mg]. It was reported that the man suddenly “developed an intense interest and fascination with fishing” even though he had little prior interest in the activity. His wife reported that her husband was fishing incessantly for day after day, and that even though he caught nothing his interest in fishing did not diminish.
Pollnac and Poggie who have carried out lots of research into professional fisherman have speculated that professional fisherman and gamblers may have similar personality types and similar biological pre-dispositions. They speculated that if professional fisherman had not had gone into the fishing profession, they may have ended up as drug addicts or gambling addicts. More specifically, they noted that:
“The possible existence of a genetic component related to an active, adventurous, aggressive, and courageous personality type should not be surprising. Fishermen manifesting this personality type are more successful as would be the hunters and gatherers who provided sustenance for human populations through most of the time humans have been on earth. This genetic component, which would have been advantageous for early humans, served us well, but when it was no longer needed, its frequency in human populations probably started a slow decline. It still exists, however, and those lucky (or unfortunate) to have it have to find other outlets for their need for novelty and adventure – risky sports and high stakes gambling, recreational hunting, marine sport fishing, and risky jobs like firefighting, policing, futures trading in the stock market, etc. Those who do not find other outlets or who may be misguided turn to self destructive behavior such as addictive gambling, crime (high risk) and substance abuse (LeGrand et al. 2005). Fortunately for fishermen, the occupation of fishing, a risky occupation, can provide a certain level of adventure accompanied by various risks and hence, serve as a socially acceptable outlet for their need for action and adventure while increasing their levels of satisfaction and happiness”.
In our just published paper, we visited various online discussion forums dedicated to fishing (e.g., Big Fish Tackle [www.bigfishtackle.com] and Angling Addicts [http://www.anglingaddicts.co.uk]) and located a number of fishermen that claimed their fishing was an addiction and/or had addiction-like properties (a selection of self-reports that we found are published in the paper). We argued that these self-reports have existential value and provide informal data that could be more formally investigated in future studies. In one of our cases, the individual was totally preoccupied by fishing even though he was not fishing every day (in fact, twice a week maximum). He thought about fishing all the time and it appeared to be the single most important thing in his life. If he couldn’t actually fish he was watching online fishing videos, watching fishing television programmes, playing fishing videogames, or on online fishing forums. Here, the individual appeared to display cross-tolerance (i.e., when unable to fish he engaged in other fish-related activities such as playing a fishing videogame). The only activity that made him want to get out of bed was fishing. The description of his behaviour is arguably one of the best working definitions of salience that you could find. For want of a better word, he was totally obsessed with fishing.
In another case, fishing was actually described by the individual as an addiction and that his wife made him cut back on his fishing. The way he overcame his urge to fish was to get a job that involved fishing which not only met his fishing needs but resolved the conflict in his relationship as his wife no longer cared that he was fishing every day when it became his full-time job. In another case, the individual described withdrawal symptoms if he was unable to fish and that he got “the shakes” if he was unable to fish, similar to an alcoholic who gets the shakes (i.e., delirium tremens) when unable to drink. Another case specifically described fishing in extreme cases as an addiction and something that has been with him (and will be with him) for life.
A further case described fishing as an addiction and how he first got involved with fishing (i.e., being in Florida near water meant that fishing excursions were readily and easily available). He provided an example of relapse in that he had been able to give up fishing for a period in his life (because there was no opportunity for his to fish), only for it to return at a later point. Another case likened fishing to drug use and that once someone had tried fishing they have to go back for more. For want of a better word they become ‘hooked’ (no pun intended but another linguistic example of the association between fishing and addiction).
One individual described how he was given an ultimatum by his wife, and as a consequence, he chose fishing over the relationship. Obviously his fishing was causing relationship problems and when it came to make a decision, he decided he loved fishing more than his wife and can now fish whenever he wants without his ex-wife interfering or passing negative comment on his desire to fish. By removing his wife from his day-to-day activity, the fishing presumably became a non-problematic behaviour. Another individual described fishing as an activity that has become constant in his life and was not just a phase that they are going through.
In a nutshell, our paper attempted to examine whether – in extreme cases – fishing could be characterised as an addiction, and also attempted to argue that there are many commonalities between excessive fishing and another behavioural addiction (i.e., gambling addiction). It does appear to have addiction-like properties and that some fishers describe their fixation on fishing as an addiction akin to problematic drug use and/or gambling. However, our paper didn’t argue that fishing addiction exists, just that some people (including fishers themselves) conceptualise their excessive behaviour as an addiction and that a few scholars have asserted that in extreme cases, fishing may be a behaviour that can be potentially addictive.
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A couple of months ago, teenage gambling was grabbing the media headlines. The UK Gambling Commission published its annual statistics showing that based on a self-report survey of 2865 children and adolescents aged 11-16 year-olds, that the prevalence of problem gambling had risen to 1.7% (2% for boys and 1.3% for girls) compared to 0.4% in 2016 and 0.9% in 2017. This lead to predictable headlines such as “Number of child gamblers quadruples in just two years”.
I’ve been researching adolescent gambling for over three decades and was the topic for my first two books in 1995 and 2002. While the figures were concerning, the good news is that the prevalence of adolescent problem gambling has been on the decline in the UK over the past 20 years. For instance, the prevalence of adolescent problem gambling back in 2000 was approximately 5% but by 2016 was less than one-tenth of that. The rise over the past two years is a potential worry although the Gambling Commission’s ‘technical annex’ report about the methodology used to collect the data for the latest survey did suggest that one of the main reasons for the significant increase in problem gambling was likely due to a change in the way data were collected.
In short, the filtering questions in the latest study were changed (so that they more matched the adult gambling prevalence surveys that are carried out) which lead to a doubling of teenagers completing the problem gambling screen that was used to assess problem gambling (18% completing the problem gambling screen in 2017 compared to 34% in 2018). However, it is still worth noting that using the same methodology, there was more than a doubling of adolescent problem gambling from 2016 to 2017 (0.4% to 0.9%).
If there has been a genuine increase in adolescent problem gambling over the past couple of years, I think one of the main factors in this is the playing of simulated gambling games (or gambling-like activities such as the buying of loot boxes) in video games. The Gambling Commission’s report noted that 13% had played gambling-style games online, and that 31% had accessed loot boxes in a videogame or app, to try to acquire in-game items.
The buying of loot boxes takes place within online videogames and are (in essence) virtual games of chance. Players use real money to buy virtual in-game items and can redeem such items by buying keys to open the boxes where they receive a chance selection of further virtual items. Other types of equivalent in-game virtual assets that can be bought include crates, cases, chests, bundles, and card packs. The virtual items that can be ‘won’ can comprise basic customization (i.e., cosmetic) options for a player’s in-game character (avatar) to in-game assets that can help players progress more effectively in the game (e.g., gameplay improvement items such as weapons, armour). All players hope that they can win ‘rare’ items and are often encouraged to spend more money to do so because the chances of winning such items are minimal. Many popular videogames now feature loot boxes and these require the paying of real money in exchange for a completely random in-game item.
At present, the UK Gambling Commission does not consider loot boxes as a form of gambling because (they claim) the in-game items have no real-life value outside of the game. However, this is not the case because there are many websites that allow players to trade in-game items and/or virtual currency for real money. The Gambling Commission appears to acknowledge this point and claim that the buying of in-game loot boxes (and their equivalents) are not gambling but, if third party sites become involved (by allowing the buying and selling of in-game items), the activity does become a form of gambling. Personally, I view the buying of loot boxes as a form of gambling, particularly because the ‘prizes’ won are (in financial terms) often a lot less than that of the price paid.
A study published in the journal PLoS ONE claimed they had evidence for a link between the amount that videogame players spent on loot boxes and problem gambling severity in a large survey of 7422 gamers. The paper concluded that:
“This link was stronger than a link between problem gambling and buying other in-game items with real-world money…suggesting that the gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes”
However, this evidence is correlational not causal. I’ve also cited empirical research in my academic papers that engaging in simulated gambling within videogames is a risk factor for both gambling with real money and problem gambling. In November 2018, the Mail on Sunday (MoS) published some of my concerns after they interviewed me about the issue of simulated gambling in online videogames. Although no real money is staked, I have argued that such activities normalize gambling for children and that such activities behaviourally condition children towards gambling.
The MoS claimed that I said that children should be banned from playing online games such as Candy Crush. What I actually said was that children should be prohibited from engaging in gambling simulations within videogames. Candy Crush now features a gambling-type element in the form of a ‘wheel of fortune’ type game (which has also been used in other videogames like Runescape and which I have also argued are gambling when players have to pay to spin the wheel) and that children should be prohibited from accessing such gambling-like features. There is no evidence that the playing of Candy Crush causes problematic behaviour but the playing of simulated gambling-type games has been shown to be a risk factor for problem gambling among adolescents.
The question as to whether there has been a genuine increase in problem gambling among children and adolescents cannot be answered from the Gambling Commission’s latest report but based on other pieces of research there does appear to have been a slight rise over the past couple of years.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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One of the most psychologically interesting questions concerning poker is ‘Why do so many people play so badly?’ It’s clear that most players know better, but they appear to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Given the hundreds of thousands of poker strategy books that are sold every year, we can only reach the conclusion that just a small percentage of poker players apply the skills they have read about. My hunch is that most people understand what they have read but when it comes to playing a competitive hand it’s simply more ‘fun’ to play badly than to play well. I’m not saying losing is more fun than winning (because quite clearly it isn’t), but the pursuit of profit maximization forces players to do things they don’t like doing. On a psychological level, maximizing profit makes extreme demands. Therefore, only a few, extraordinarily disciplined people play their best game most of the time – and nobody always plays it.
Most economists claim that gamblers are primarily driven by the profit motive. However, the psychological evidence is overwhelming that other desires affect gambling actions. Put simply, for most gamblers, our actions contradict the desire to maximize profits. Whilst I am no Freudian, there appear to be a whole range of unconscious factors at play in gambling situations.
One of the basic mistakes is playing too many hands. All the self-help books warn players against it but it is a common behaviour. In general, poker players find it boring to fold hand after hand. Players become more reckless and instead of folding, risk all in an attempt to get themselves out of a boredom rut. Even after losing, the poker player may ‘congratulate’ their play by defining it as ‘courageous’ when in the cold light of day, it was stupid. This type of adaptive thinking is common amongst gamblers who lose and should be avoided. Poker players often chase with weak hands for the same reason. Players will throw good money after bad in an effort to get even. Occasionally the strategy will pay off, but most of the time it won’t. In these situations, gamblers will invariably focus on the few times that chasing has got them out of a hole – but conveniently forget the many times that it didn’t.
Another common mistake is to playing too aggressively. Not only is this a male characteristic but is often the strategy of the game’s very top players. Again, such tactics occasionally pay off for the player in very tight games. However, in most gambling situations, playing aggressively is simply not called for yet players continue to do it. On the other hand, gamblers can sometimes play too passively. Gamblers constantly find good excuses to justify their playing styles. In these situations, gamblers simply remember the times they saved money by not betting or raising, ignoring the pots they lost by giving away free or cheap cards.
It’s also tempting to show your cards and most players will do it occasionally. If players make a successful bluff, it’s human nature to want to let people to know how smart they are. The golden rule in poker is never to give anything away but the human psyche works in such a way that we usually want to show off once in a while. Our psychological make-up also means that we let pride get in the way of minimizing losses. There are always games that should have been avoided but players end up staying in them long after they knew it was a mistake. None of us like to lose to who we think are weaker players, or admit that the game was too hard. How many times does a player continue playing because they want to try and get the better of a great player or show off because there is someone they are trying to impress? Although it’s a cliché, pride before a fall is commonplace. These short-term psychological satisfactions will almost always have a negative impact on long-term profits.
Because there are many non-financial types of rewards from many different sources while playing poker, some people view losses as the price of entry. To these players, winning may be a bonus. However, most of us don’t like losing – and we especially don’t like persistent losing, regardless of whether there are other types of reinforcement. In the cold light of day, we are all rational human beings. In the height of action, rationality often goes out the window. I’ve done it myself at the roulette table and standing in front of a slot machine. While gambling I have felt omnipotent (and wrote about this experience back in 1990 in an article on the dangers of doing observational research in amusement arcades). It is only after I walk away penniless that the non-financial rewards are short-term and not worth it.
Understanding our own psychological motives is clearly important while gambling. Most players know the strategies they should be adopting but fail to apply them in real gambling situations. Players do not lack the information. It is far more profitable to learn why we don’t apply the lessons we have already learned, then ensure that we apply them. Until we understand and control our own motives – including the unconscious ones – we cannot possibly play to our best ability.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Additional input from the writings of Alan Schoonmaker
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A couple of days ago, Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the British National Health Service (NHS) said that foreign-owned betting companies who sponsor British football clubs should financially contribute to paying for gambling addicts’ treatment. I am all in favour of this, although I think some money should also be allocated to education, prevention, and (predictably) research. This is also an area that I have written about recently.
More specifically, I and my colleague Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez published a paper earlier this year entitled ‘Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football’ in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Using data about sponsorship deals from English Football Premier League, we demonstrated that gambling marketing has become firmly embedded in the financial practices of many Premiership football clubs. We argued that these associations are not trivial, and that the symbolic linkage of sport and newer gambling forms may become an issue of public health, especially affecting vulnerable groups such as minors and problem gamblers.
A major preoccupation regarding gambling intersection with sports has been the marketing of betting as an experience inherently associated with the symbolic culture of sport. By emphasising its connections with sports, the marketing and advertising of betting has been theorised to pursue the ‘sanitation’ of gambling, transferring the health-related symbolic attributes of sport and physical exercise to betting behaviour. In this regard, of great concern is the effects that an excessive volume of betting marketing might have on vulnerable groups such as minors and young adults and individuals suffering or recovering from gambling disorder. Furthermore, additional issues might arise in the event that those new categories that extend the definition of sports gambling (i.e., trading, other gambling forms such as poker, and fantasy games) seeking to market their products in alignment with (or appropriation of) sports’ core values and positive attributes. Early examples of this marketing strategy can be found in the sport stars’ endorsement of poker brands such as the footballers Neymar Jr. and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the tennis player Rafael Nadal.
We asserted in our paper that football shirt sponsorship is arguably a good proxy to calibrate the volume of gambling marketing in English football. Table 1 shows the shirt sponsor evolution over a decade (from the 2007/2008 to 2016-2017 seasons). First team shirt sponsorship with gambling companies evolved from four deals in 2008, six deals in 2012, to ten deals in 2017, accounting for half of the 20 English Premier League teams. The saturation of shirt logos owned by gambling brands has evolved rapidly over a relatively short period of time. However, some industry voices have been anticipating a decline in the numbers of shirts being sponsored by gambling firms due to their incapacity to compete with other business sector, although such a decline has yet to materialise.
In the same vein, it has been noted that most of the football teams with shirts sponsored by gambling companies are among the less powerful in the league, both in terms of economic profitability and sporting success. Analysing the data from end of season table positions indeed demonstrates a bias of gambling companies sponsoring teams towards the bottom of the table. Thus, the four teams (out of 20 in the English Premier League) with gambling logos in 2007/08 finished the league 6th, 7th, 11th, and 15th. In 2011-12, the six teams sponsored by gambling companies finished 10th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 18th, and 20th. In 2016/2017 season, the ten teams with gambling sponsors showed an almost perfect inverse correlation between table position and gambling-origin shirt sponsor, ranking 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th (19th being a money loan company).
This could be interpreted as a nuanced strategy. More specifically, gambling operators might believe they have enough global exposure that the league as whole offers, without needing to pay premium sponsorship deals to attach their brand to the most supported and successful teams (because all the lower ranked teams have to play all the upper ranked teams and therefore get equal advertising exposure during televised games).
Table 2 shows the breadth of the gamblification process by focusing on sponsorship deals running through 2016-17 season in the English Premier League. As can be observed, all teams secured at least one official betting partner, with some of them having multiple partners due to regional deals in strategic markets to provide so-called ‘geo-targeted’ betting experience. An illustration example is Arsenal club’s deals with 12Bet company in Asia, Betfair in Europe, SportPesa in Kenya, and Tempobet in Oceania. Altogether, the 20 English Premier League teams totalled 20 different betting brands, with 12 brands sponsoring only one team, five brands sponsoring two teams, and three brands sponsoring three different teams. Despite how fragmented the betting market might look, these brands represent only a small fraction of the actual number operating in association with the English football. In fact, betting brands are generally considered to offer poorly differentiated products in highly competitive markets. Consequently, marketing plays a significant part in artificially creating singular attributes that facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of customers.
Sponsorship deals with trading companies are not as prevalent as betting sponsorships. However, 14 out of 20 English Premier League teams have linked partnership deals with trading companies – most notably forex trading – for 2016/17 season. Only one trader (EZTrader) sponsors two different teams, while the rest are unique sponsors. Arguably, the same betting market attributes of low product differentiation and competitive environment also applies to trading firms.
Fantasy gaming is rapidly becoming a large component of sports appreciation, especially in the USA where fantasy sports appears to have partially absorbed the consumer base for online sports betting, an illegal activity in most states. Although still in its infancy in Europe, eight out of 20 English teams already have agreements in place with fantasy sports companies, some of which include a deal with DraftKings, the leading company along with FanDuel in USA’s fantasy gaming market. The concentration of brands here is slightly higher than in the case of betting and trading sponsorships, but six different brands still populate the growing fantasy gaming market in the English Premier League.
The detrimental effect on public health of an increase in the sports betting marketing volume is difficult to demonstrate. British data collected by the Gambling Commission is inconclusive due to the lack of definition of what constitutes gambling on sports. In general, research has found difficult to substantiate the causal association between gambling advertising exposure and behaviour, particularly when the effects of such exposure might take place weeks or months later. Despite the difficulties of finding empirical evidence of the real impact of marketing on betting behaviour, many authors have acknowledged that the association between marketing and gambling disorder is plausible, at least theoretically.
The sports betting marketing and advertising growth could be theorised to have two effects. First, an increase in gambling advertising exposure will lead to a higher prevalence rate of problem gambling. Many scholars have indicated that problem gamblers are usually more exposed to advertising (e.g., they visit more frequently gambling websites or watch more sport events), therefore it cannot be established whether they gamble more because they are exposed to more marketing instances or the are more exposed because they gamble more. However, a study I published with my Norwegian colleagues at the University of Bergen conducted among 6,034 Norwegian gamblers found that problem gamblers had a greater involvement with gambling advertising even when they were similarly exposed than regular non-problem gamblers.
Second, an overall rise in the consumption of gambling products following more aggressive marketing strategies, even while maintaining stable the percentage of people experiencing gambling-related harm, would lead to a rise in absolute numbers of people developing gambling problems. Simply put, keeping problem gambling rate constant, the more people that bet on sports, the more problem gamblers.
There is a wide consensus that sports betting marketing (and advertising) must be regulated, and is the case in most jurisdictions including the UK. However, there is no specific protection concerning the marketing of trading and fantasy gaming as a specific product category associated with sports. Finally, our paper noted that although there is no scientific evidence the marketing agreements between football clubs and the gambling industry are actually having a detrimental effect on the aforementioned vulnerable groups, it makes theoretical sense to think that they might potentially cause harm.
Note: This article was co-written with Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez
Griffiths, M.D., Estévez, A., Guerrero-Solé F. & Lopez-Gonzalez, H. (2018). A brief overview of online sports betting advertising and marketing. Casino and Gaming International, 33, 51-55.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41, 256-272.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Controlling the illusion of control: A grounded theory of sports betting advertising in the UK. International Gambling Studies, 18, 39-55.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 20, 495-503.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 404-419.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, in press.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. Guerrero-Solé, F., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Betting is loving and bettors are predators: A Conceptual Metaphor Approach to online sports betting advertising. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Guerrero-Sole, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). A content analysis of how ‘normal’ sports betting behaviour is represented in gambling advertising. Addiction Research and Theory, 26, 238-247.
“Starting to question myself here. Am I totally addicted to speed (not the drug)? [I] am middle age, dabbled a bit with drugs in the past nothing much never found them addictive, but all the time I need to go faster, not in stupid places, schools etc., just country lanes and motorways. I’ve done track days, bit of single stage rallying…But it’s never enough always want more. Trouble is I don’t have the money to spend on loads of track days or rallying again. So where do I get kicks from? Must be loads [on this online forum] in the same boat. So what’s the answer. Is it addictive? And can anything stop it or do I wait for the an inevitable conclusion?” (‘gsr8’ on pistonheads.com)
“There are many folks that love sports cars, super bikes and high speeds. It seems to be a growing trend in these decadent times we live in. I’m not ashamed to say, that I also have a bit of a fetish for exclusive Italian sports cars that I can barely afford. It’s the obvious sex appeal combined with the adrenaline rush of driving at breakneck speeds through a neon-lit city. This is something that can turn from a mere addiction into a lifestyle choice, and an expensive one at that. Are fast cars and high speeds appealing to you? Do you feel that you could ever be addicted?” (Damien Lee on talk.drugabuse.com)
“I discovered something over the past week. I have been addicted to speeding. Like 80% of all other drivers on the road, I have this urge to go 5-10 mph over the limit as if that was the limit. Passing people, sneering at them because they are going the speed limit as if it was so lame to only go 55” (Suso on Suso.org)
These opening quotes that I found online raise the issue of whether ‘speeding’ in cars can be addictive. There’s no shortage of the words ‘addiction’, ‘addictive’ and ‘addicted’ appearing in news articles including the headlines themselves. Examples I found within 60 seconds of online googling included ‘Why the US is addicted to fast cars and street racing?’, ‘Finding a cure for motorists’ addiction to speed’, ‘Driving ‘addict’ Shane Holmes led police car chase along Heworth footpaths’, and ‘Car addict’s 90mph chase’. This latter story reported the case of David Massey, a car salesman, a “banned driver with an ‘addiction’ to cars has been jailed after he led police on a high speed chase. [He] was caught speeding through winding roads while banned for a fourth time”. The case highlights that even being banned and the threat of going to prison if he drove a car while banned was not enough to deter him from driving.
Another story was headlined ‘Company car drivers’ speeding addiction’ based on a survey carried out by the UK RAC (Royal Automobile Club). The story asserted: “It’s been confirmed: company car drivers are addicted to speeding…they are more likely to exceed the 70mph motorway speed limit than private motorists. Almost 90% of company car drivers admitted to breaking the speed limit, compared with nearly 70% of people driving their own vehicle”. Here company car drivers are pathologised by the press and that their ‘need for speed’ is viewed as an addiction almost using it as a mitigating circumstance for their behaviour. In an article written for CNN, amateur car racer Brian Donovan wrote that:
“I’ll never forget that day, back in the 1970s, when I first experienced the intense – and probably addictive – state of mind that would become a powerful force in my life. No, I’m not talking about some drug. I’m remembering the first day I drove a racing car and the new level of consciousness I experienced as I sped down the curvy hill at the old Bridgehampton Race Circuit on Long Island. The experience, some drivers say, can be highly addictive”.
Donovan wrote a book Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story, a biography of NASCAR’s first African-American stock car driver. According to an interview with Scott: “Racing cars gets to be about like being a drug addict or an alcoholic. The more you do it, the more you like to do it”. Larry Frank, another NASCAR driver claimed that car racing was “like an addiction…there was many years that you just didn’t know anything existed outside this little racing circle”. However, I would argue that the quote could be as much about addiction to work as it is addiction to speed.
Academically, there’s been little empirical research on the topic although quite a few scholars have claimed and/or made arguments that speeding can be addictive. (I ought to mention that I am not including academic research on joyriding being addictive as I reviewed this literature in a previous blog. Here, the criminality of the activity rather than the speed appears to provide rewards and reinforcements that for a small minority may be addictive). In 1997, René Diekstra (a clinical psychologist) and Martin Kroon (at the time senior policy advisor on Transport and Environment in the Dutch Ministry of the Environment) wrote a book chapter entitled ‘Cars and behaviour: Psychological barriers to car restraint and sustainable urban transport’. They asserted that:
“The car – and the motor bike – allow the individual to expose himself to exactly the level of danger he wants. It is not an overstatement to say that, at these times, drivers are experiencing a kind of narcotic effect, which can produce the same addictive response as more conventional drugs. There is sometimes a very fine line between ‘speeding’ and ‘speeding’! This addiction to speed among some drivers is excellently expressed in the term ‘speedaholics’.”
A few months ago, Gerry Forbes published a paper in the ITE Journal entitled ‘Is speeding an addiction? Saving lives through roadway planning and design’. He noted that “speeders not only break the law, they imperil themselves and other road users. Moreover, people who speed generally know it is against the law, believe that the risk is only to themselves, and do so for personal gain rather than any sort of community good”. For Forbes, this naturally begged the question: “Are chronic speeders addicted to speeding in the same way drug abusers are addicted to illicit drugs?” He then went on to argue:
“Addiction is persistent behavior despite knowledge of adverse consequences. The public perceives speeding as more dangerous than driver distraction and drinking-driving, yet motorists frequently drive faster than the speed limit. Speeding appears to be a behavioral addiction similar to gambling. However, this does not mean motorists are addicted to speeding”.
Forbes then went on to cite my criteria for behavioural addiction and said that if speeding is a genuine addiction, it would be an activity that dominates an individual’s daily life (salience), deliver a mood altering ‘high’ (mood modification), requires “greater doses over time” to achieve the same ‘high’ (tolerance), cause conflict in the individual’s life, and ceasing the activity would lead to withdrawal symptoms and/ or relapses. He then argued that speeding met some of the criteria for addiction: (i) “motorists select faster operating speeds as route familiarity increases” (tolerance); (ii) up to 20% of motorists “exhibit mood modification, stating they enjoy the feeling associated with driving fast and citing this as a reason for speeding” (mood modification), (iii) “speeders in residential areas create conflict with residents, and conflicts between motorists arise when speeders are impeded by slower-moving road users” (conflict); and (iv) over two-thirds of motorists have speeding relapses (relapse). He then went on to make some excellent comparisons between speeding and drug use in relation to the harm they cause on society (using the US as his example:
“Speeders and drug addicts can be compared by using the rational scale of harm – a tool used to compare the harm (of drugs) when considering the physical harm to the individual, the effect of the drug on society, and the tendency for the drug to induce dependence. With respect to personal harm, in the United States in 2015 motor vehicle speed was a factor in 9,557 fatal crashes, whereas overdoses by heroin and cocaine accounted for 12,989 deaths, and 6,784 deaths, respectively. With respect to dependence, 23 percent of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction and about 20 percent of motorists enjoy the feeling associated with driving fast. Similarly, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts relapse, which is comparable to the 69 percent recidivism rate for speeders. Given this, the dependence and personal harm associated with speeding is arguably the same order of magnitude as cocaine or heroin”
However, based on the evidence cited, Forbes reached the same conclusion that I would have:
“Typical motorists are not dominated by a need for speed, precluding a clinical finding of speed addiction. Speeding, it seems, is a behavior that has addictive elements without being an addiction…In the end, while speeding is not necessarily an addiction, it is harmful to individuals and society. The harm produced by speeding is of the same order of magnitude as heroin and cocaine”.
Finally, based on a news report I read (‘The need for speed: Is it an addiction?’), there is a team of university researchers in Sydney (Australia) who began a project a couple of years ago to investigate the concept of speed addiction but I was unable to find any papers that have been published from it yet. The research is being led by Sarah Redshaw of the University of Western Sydney who has been publishing research into driving for many years. She was quoted as saying: “[Individuals who speed are] talking in terms of something they can’t control. That’s why it needs investigating, because it could be an uncontrollable impulse. If there could be such a thing as speed addiction, it would need to be dealt with like other addictions”. Also interviewed for the article was someone whose research I know well (and who I’ve co-published gambling papers with), the psychologist Alex Blaszczynski, who in the article described himself as a “self-professed speed lover”. He was also quoted as saying that:
“The thrill of speeding comes from neurochemical changes in the brain as the result of adrenaline. The question then is whether this particular behaviour leads to an addictive process or whether people just enjoy doing it. Is [speed] fulfilling some need, or is it something he wants? I think it’s something he wants”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alexander, H. (2016). The need for speed: Is it an addiction? Drive.com, October 3. Located at: https://www.drive.com.au/motor-news/the-need-for-speed-is-it-an-addiction-20100824-13p3i
Diekstra, R., & Kroon, M. (1997). Cars and behaviour: Psychological barriers to car restraint and sustainable urban transport. In Tolley, R.(ed.) The Greening of Urban Transport (pp.147-157). Chichester: Wiley.
Donovan, B. (2008). Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press.
Evans, J. (2014). Company car drivers’ speeding addiction. August 19. Located at: https://www.driving.co.uk/car-clinic/news-company-car-drivers-speeding-addiction-plus-5-quickest-repmobiles/
Forbes, G. (2018). Is speeding an addiction? Saving lives through roadway planning and design. ITE Journal, 88(6), 44-49.
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.
Husted, D.S., Gold, M.S., Frost-Pineda, K., Ferguson, M.A., Yang, M. C., & Shapira, N.A. (2006). Is speeding a form of gambling in adolescents? Journal of Gambling Studies, 22(2), 209-219.
Redshaw, S., & Nicoll, F. (2010). Gambling drivers: regulating cultural technologies, subjects, spaces and practices of mobility. Mobilities, 5(3), 409-430.