Category Archives: Lottery

Tubular hells: A brief look at ‘addiction’ to watching YouTube videos

 

A few days ago, I unexpectedly found my research on internet addiction being cited in a news article by Paula Gaita on compulsive viewing of YouTube videos (‘Does compulsive YouTube viewing qualify as addiction?‘). The article was actually reporting a case study from a different news article published by PBS NewsHour by science correspondent Lesley McClurg (‘After compulsively watching YouTube, teenage girl lands in rehab for digital addiction’). As Gaita reported:

“The story profiles a middle school student whose obsessive viewing of YouTube content led to extreme behavior changes and eventually, depression and a suicide attempt. The student finds support through therapy at an addiction recovery center…The student in question is a young girl named Olivia who felt at odds with the ‘popular’ kids at her Oakland area school. She began watching YouTube videos after hearing that it was a socially acceptable thing to do… Her viewing habits soon took the place of sleep, which impacted her energy and mood. Her grades began to falter, and external problems within her house – arguments between her parents and the death of her grandmother – led to depression and an admission of wanting to hang herself. Her parents took her to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for a week under suicide watch, but her self-harming compulsion continued after her release. She began viewing videos about how to commit suicide, which led to an attempt to overdose on Tylenol[Note: The name of the woman – Olivia – was a pseudonym].

McClurg interviewed Olivia’s mother for the PBS article and it was reported that Olivia went from being a “bubbly daughter…hanging out with a few close friends after school” to “isolating in her room for hours at a time”. Olivia’s mother also claimed that her daughter had always been kind of a nerd, a straight. A student who sang in a competitive choir. But she desperately wanted to be popular, and the cool kids talked a lot about their latest YouTube favorites”. According to news reports, all Olivia would do was to watch video after video for hours and hours on end and developed sleeping problems. Over time, the videos being watched focused on fighting girls and other videos featuring violence.

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The news story claimed that Olivia was “diagnosed with depression that led to compulsive internet use”. When Olivia went back home she was still feeling suicidal and then spent hours watching YouTube videos on how to commit suicide (and it’s where she got the idea for overdosing on Tylenol tablets).

After a couple of spells in hospital, Olivia’s parents took her to a Californian centre specialising in addiction recovery (called ‘Paradigm’ in San Rafael). The psychologist running the Paradigm clinic (Jeff Nalin) claimed Olivia’s problem was “not uncommon” among clients attending the clinic. Nalin believes (as I do and have pointed out in my own writings) that treating online addictions is not about abstinence but about getting the behaviour under control but developing skills to deal with the problematic behaviour. He was quoted as saying:

“I describe a lot of the kids that we see as having just stuck a cork in the volcano. Underneath there’s this rumbling going on, but it just rumbles and rumbles until it blows. And it blows with the emergence of a depression or it emerges with a suicide attempt…The best analogy is when you have something like an eating disorder. You cannot be clean and sober from food. So, you have to learn the skills to deal with it”.

The story by Gaita asked the question of whether compulsive use of watching YouTube could be called a genuine addiction (and that’s where my views based on my own research were used). I noted that addiction to the internet may be a symptom of another addiction, rather than an addiction unto itself. For instance, people addicted to online gambling are gambling addicts, not internet addicts. An individual addicted to online gaming or online shopping are addicted to gaming or shopping not to the internet.

An individual may be addicted to the activities one can do online and is not unlike saying that an alcoholic is not addicted to a bottle, but to what’s in it. I have gone on record many times saying that I believe anything can be addictive as long there are continuous rewards in place (i.e., constant reinforcement). Therefore, it’s not impossible for someone to become addicted to watching YouTube videos but the number of genuine cases of addiction are likely to be few and far between. Watching video after video is conceptually no different from binge watching specific television series or television addiction itself (topics that I have examined in previous blogs).

I ought to end by saying that some of my own research studies on internet addiction (particularly those co-written with Dr. Attila Szabo and Dr. Halley Pontes and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and Addictive Behaviors Reports – see ‘Further reading’ below) have examined the preferred applications by those addicted to the internet, and that the watching of videos online is one of the activities that has a high association with internet addiction (along with such activities such as social networking and online gaming). Although we never asked participants to specify which channel they watched the videos, it’s fair to assume that many of our participants will have watched them on YouTube), and (as the Camelot lottery advert once said) maybe, just maybe, a few of those participants may have had an addiction to watching YouTube videos.

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

Further reading

Gaita, P. (2017). Does compulsive YouTube viewing qualify as addiction? The Fix, May 19. Located at: https://www.thefix.com/does-compulsive-youtube-viewing-qualify-addiction

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Griffiths M.D. & Szabo, A. (2014). Is excessive online usage a function of medium or activity? An empirical pilot study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3, 74-77.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Binder, J. (2013). Internet addiction in students: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 959-966.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

McClurg, L. (2017). After compulsively watching YouTube, teenage girl lands in rehab for ‘digital addiction’. PBS Newshour, May 16. Located at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/compulsively-watching-youtube-teenage-girl-lands-rehab-digital-addiction/

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Nag, nag, nag: Another look at horse race betting and problem gambling

Literature reviews carried out by myself and others in the gambling studies field have concluded that electronic gaming machines (EGMs such as slot machines, pokie machines, video lottery terminals [VLTs], etc.) tend to have a higher association with problem gambling than other forms of gambling. Although any form of gambling can be potentially problematic, there is surprisingly little in the academically peer-reviewed gambling literature showing that horse race betting has a high association with problem gambling, particularly in comparison to activities such as EGM gambling.

Along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler, the most important determinants in the development and maintenance of problem gambling are structural characteristics, particularly those relating to the speed and frequency of the game (and more specifically event frequency, bet frequency, event duration and payout interval). More specifically, I have argued that researchers in the gambling studies field need to think about game parameters rather than specific game type when it comes to any association with problem and pathological gambling and that event frequency is the single most important determinant.

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A study by Dr. Debi LaPlante and colleagues in the European Journal of Public Health examining types of gambling and level of gambling involvement (using data from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey of which I was one of the co-authors) indicated that when level of gambling is accounted, no specific type of gambling was associated anymore with disordered gambling, and that level of involvement in gambling better characterizes problem gambling than individual forms of gambling. In fact, this paper also concluded that:

“Two games, private betting and betting on horses, had a reversal of association. After controlling for involvement, individuals who engaged in private betting or betting on horses were significantly less likely to have gambling-related problems than people who did not…One interesting, and perhaps unanticipated, finding was that the nature of the relationships between private betting and betting on horses and gambling problems changed when we considered the influence of involvement: engaging in these types of gambling, but not other types, seemed to protect players against developing gambling problems. This finding suggests that the apparent risk between gambling activities and developing gambling-related problems resides, perhaps primarily or even entirely, among individuals who have high rates of involvement. For others who do not have high rates of involvement, playing these types of games might reflect social setting characteristics (e.g. norms) that encourage control and preclude excessive gambling”.

Similar results were also found in an Australian study by Dr. James Phillips and his colleagues in a 2013 issues of the Journal of Gambling Studies. A 2009 study by Dr. Thomas Holtgraves in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors analysed all data from population-based surveys conducted in Canada between 2001 and 2005 comprising 21,374 participants (including 12,229 who had gambled in the past year). Using the Problem Gambling Severity Index to assess problem gambling, the study found that horse race gamblers had the lowest prevalence rates of problem gambling along with those that played bingo and bought raffle tickets (3%). Some types of gambling activity such as sports betting (25%) and playing video lottery terminals (18%) were much higher.

The most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey [BGPS] published in 2011 reported that the most popular British gambling activity was playing the National Lottery (59%), a slight increase in participation from 2007 (57%). The prevalence of past-year betting on horse races was 16%. Among past year gamblers, problem gambling prevalence rates were highest among those who had played poker at a pub/club (12.8%), online slot machine games (9.1%) and fixed odds betting terminals (8.8%). The lowest problem gambling rates were among those that played the National Lottery (1.3%) and scratchcards (2.5%). Horse race gamblers also had one of the lower prevalence rates for problem gambling (2.7%). However, problem gamblers also gamble on many different activities and problem gambling prevalence was highest among those that gambled on nine or more different activities on a regular basis (28%).

More recently in 2014, Carla Seabury and Heather Wardle published an overview of gambling behaviour in England and Scotland by combining the data from the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey (n=11,774 participants). It was reported that two-thirds of the sample (65%) had gambled in the past year, with men (68%) gambling more than women (62%). The findings were similar to the previous BGPS reports and showed that in terms of past-year gambling, the most popular forms of gambling were playing the National Lottery (52%; 56% males and 49% females) and scratchcards (19%; 19% males and 20% females). One in ten people (10%) had a engaged in horse race betting (12% males and 8% females).

Again, problem gambling rates were also examined by type of gambling activity. Results showed that among past year gamblers, problem gambling was highest among spread betting (20.9%), playing poker in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bet on events other than horse racing with a bookmaker (12.9%), gambling at a betting exchange (10.6%) and playing machines in bookmakers (7.2%). The activities with the lowest rates of problem gambling were playing the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%). Problem gambling among horse race gamblers were also among the lowest (2.3%). Problem gambling rates were highest among individuals that had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those that had participated in a single activity (0.1%).

Along with Filipa Calado, I recently co-authored two reviews of problem gambling worldwide (one on adult gambling and one of adolescent gambling). None of the studies we reviewed highlighted horse racing to be of particular concern in relation to problem gambling and only two countries (France and Sweden) was horse race betting one of the most preferred and prevalent forms of gambling. Analysis of a 2011 French national prevalence survey by Dr. Jean-Michel Costes reported that horse race betting was fourth in a list of six gambling activities that were most associated with problem gambling (with Rapido [a high event frequency lottery game], sports betting, and poker being the most problematic gambling forms). There is also evidence from gambling treatment service providers that horse race betting is much less of an issue than other forms of gambling. In Finland, the national helpline for problem gamblers, [Peluuri] only 1% of the telephone calls received concern horse betting. In Germany, two studies surveying therapists that treat problem gambling found that the vast majority of treatment was for slot machine gamblers (approximately 75%-80% of clients) whereas treatment for horse race gamblers was 0.6%-1.7% of clients. Unfortunately, the UK problem gambling helpline run by GamCare does not separate horse race betting from any other sports betting in its’ annual helpline statistics. The most recent (2016) GamCare report noted that 11% of their callers concerned betting in a bookmaker’s but this figure included all betting not just horse race betting.

In 2008, I was invited to write a report for the Gambling Commission and reported that internationally, the vast majority of problem gamblers that contact helplines or seek treatment report machine gambling as their primary form of gambling. In Europe many countries report that it is problem EGM gamblers that are most likely to seek treatment and/or contact national gambling helplines (rather than other forms of gambling including horse race betting) including 60% of gamblers seeking help in Belgium, 72% in Denmark, 93% in Estonia, 66% in Finland, 49.5% in France, 83% in Germany, 75% in Spain, and 35% in Sweden.

All data collected in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world demonstrate that horse race betting has a relatively low past-year participation rate. All major literature reviews have concluded that electronic gaming machines tend to have a higher association with problem gambling than other forms of gambling including horse race betting. Although no form of gambling is immune from problem gambling, horse race betting has one of the lowest associations with problem gambling. Furthermore, some analysis of the most recent BGPS data has demonstrated that after controlling for gambling involvement, individuals who engage in horse race betting are significantly less likely to have gambling-related problems than people who did not.

For the vast majority of horse gamblers, the activity is a discontinuous form of gambling in that they make one or a few bets in a small time period but then not bet again for days or weeks. Therefore, the event frequencies for betting on horse racing are much lower than other gambling activities and helps explain why there is a low association with problem gambling compared to activities that have much higher event frequencies (e.g., slot machines, roulette, blackjack, etc.).

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

Further reading

Abbott, M.W.  (2007). Situational factors that affect gambling behavior. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.251-278. New York: Elsevier.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10899-016-9627-5

Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.

Costes, J. M., Pousset, M., Eroukmanoff, V., Le Nezet, O., Richard, J. B., Guignard, R., … & Arwidson, P. (2011). Les niveaux et pratiques des jeux de hasard et d’argent en 2010. Tendances, 77(1), 8

Costes, J. M, Eroukmanoff V., Richard, J.B, Tovar, M. L. (2015). Les jeux de hasard et d’argent en France en 2014. Les Notes de l’Observatoire des Jeux, 6, 1-9.

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Behavioural profiling of problem gamblers: A critical review. International Gambling Studies, 12, 349-366.

EMPA Pari Mutuel Europe (2012). Common Position On Responsible Gambling. Brussels: EMPA.

GamCare (2016). Annual Statistics 2015/2016. London: GamCare.

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. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling and gambling addiction are not the same. Journal of Addiction and Dependence, 2(1), 1-3.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Holtgraves, T. (2009). Gambling, gambling activities, and problem gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(2), 295-302.

LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., LaBrie, R.A., & Shaffer, H.J. (2009). Disordered gambling, type of gambling and gambling involvement in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. The European Journal of Public Health, 21, 532–537

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (Eds.), Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Phillips, J.G., Ogeil, R., Chow, Y.W., & Blaszczynski, A. (2013). Gambling involvement and increased risk of gambling problems. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29(4), 601-611.

Seabury, C. & Wardle, H. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

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.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

It takes all sports: A brief look at sport-related betting

Over the past year I have been carrying out research with my Spanish colleague – Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez – into problematic sports betting and sports betting advertising which has already produced a number of papers (see ‘Further reading’ below) and with many more to come. One of the issues we have faced in contextualising our work is that there is no such concept as sport-related problem gambling in prevalence surveys because problem gambling is assessed on the totality of gambling experiences rather than a single activity. For instance, in the three British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (BGPSs) conducted since 1999, sport-related gambling is subsumed within a number of different gambling forms: ‘football pools and fixed odds coupons’, ‘private betting’, and ‘other events with a bookmaker’. The 2010 BGPS (which I co-authored) included ‘sports betting’ as a category, along with ‘football pools’ (no coupons), ‘private betting’, ‘spread betting’ (which can include both sports or financial trading). In addition, the 2010 BGPS added a new category under online gambling activities to include ‘any online betting’. More recently, the Health Survey for England also introduced a new category: ‘gambling on sports events (not online)’.

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Despite these limitations, some evidence can be inferred from gambling activity by gambling type. In 2014, Heather Wardle and her colleagues combined the gambling data from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey. They reported that among adult males aged 16 years and over during a 12-month period, 5% participated in offline football pools, 8% engaged in online betting (although no indication was made about whether this only involved sport), and 8% engaged in sports events (not online). The categories were not mutually exclusive so an overlapping of respondents across categories was very likely. A similar rate was found in South Australia in a 2013 report the Social Research Centre with those betting on sports over the past year accounting for 6.1% of the adult population, an increase from the 4.2% reported in 2005.

In Spain, the Spanish Gambling Commission (Direccion General de Ordenacion del Juego [DGOJ] reported that 1.5% of the adult (male and female) population had gambled online on sports in 2015. This is a significantly lower proportion compared with the British data, although the methodological variations cannot be underestimated. Spanish data also shows that, among those who have gambled online on a single gambling type only, betting on sports is the more prevalent form with up to 66% of those adults.

In France, the data on the topic only focuses on those who gamble rather than examining the general population of gamblers and non-gamblers. Among online gamblers, Dr. Jean-Michel Costes and colleagues reported in a 2011 issue of the journal Tendances that 35.1% had bet on sports during the last 12 months. In another French study by Costes and colleagues published in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, sports betting represented 16.4% of the gambling cohort, although again, the representativeness of sports betting behaviour among the general gambling and non-gambling population could not be determined.

Due to the aforementioned shortcomings in the definition of sport-related gambling, there is only fragmented empirical evidence concerning the impact of sports-related problem gambling behaviour. For instance, in 2014, Dr. Nerilee Hing noted that clinical reports indicate that treatment seeking for sports-related problem gambling had grown in Australia. In British Columbia (Canada), a 2014 survey by Malatests & Associates for the Ministry of Finance reported that 23.6% of at-risk or problem gamblers had gambled on sports either offline or online. A smaller proportion (16.2%) was found in the Spanish population screened in the national gambling DGOJ survey, except this subgroup was entirely composed of online bettors.

In a 2011 study published in International Gambling Studies with patients from a pathological gambling unit within a community hospital in Barcelona, Dr. Susana Jiménez-Murcia and her colleagues found that among those who had developed the disorder gambling online only (as opposed to those who gamble both online/offline or offline only), just over half (50.8%) were sport bettors. Those who gambled online only (on any activity) and those that only gambled online on sports events represented a small minority of the total number of problem gamblers. Overall, there is relatively little research on this sub-group of gamblers therefore I and others will be monitoring the evolution of this trend as the online gambling population grows.

(Note: This blog was co-written with input from Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Costes, J-M, Kairouz, S., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2016) Gambling patterns and problems of gamblers on licensed and unlicensed sites in France. Journal of Gambling Studies 32(1), 79–91.

Costes, J., Pousset, M., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2010). Gambling prevalence and practices in France in 2010. Tendances, 77, 1–8.

DGOJ (2016a) Análisis del perfil del jugador online. Madrid: Ministerio de Hacienda y Administraciones Públicas.

DGOJ (2016b) Estudio sobre prevalencia, comportamiento y características de los usuarios de juegos de azar en España 2015. Madrid: Ministerio de Hacienda y Administraciones Públicas.

Hing, N. (2014) Sports betting and advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre.

Jiménez-Murcia S, Stinchfield R, Fernández-Aranda F, et al. (2011) Are online pathological gamblers different from non-online pathological gamblers on demographics, gambling problem severity, psychopathology and personality characteristics? International Gambling Studies 11(3), 325–337.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estevez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, in press.

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. (2017). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). ‘Cashing out’ in sports betting: Implications for problem gambling and regulation. Gaming Law Review and Economics, in press.

Malatests & Associates Ltd (2014). 2014 British Columbia Problem Gambling Prevalence Study. Victoria, Canada: Gaming policy and enforcement branch, Ministry of Finance.

The Social Research Centre (2013) Gambling prevalence in South Australia. Adelaide, Australia: Office for problem gambling. Available from: http://phys.org/news/2012-03-lung-doctors-respiratory-diseases-worsen.html.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle H, Seabury C, Ahmed H, et al. (2014) Gambling behaviour in England & Scotland. Findings from the health survey for England 2012 and Scottish health survey 2012. London: NatCen Social Research.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office.

“Just one more thing”: The psychology of ‘Columbo’

My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:

“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.

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I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:

“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.

And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:

“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.

As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:

“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”

The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:

“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.

A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:

“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”

The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:

“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.

Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:

Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.

As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).

In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:

Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.

I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.

If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at: http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/episode.htm

Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/columbo_technique.htm

Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.

D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at: http://cult-tv-lounge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/columbo-season-one-1971.html

Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jan/23/natalie-haynes-detectives-columbo

Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at: http://rockthedeadline.com/blog/content-marketing/10-things-marketers-can-learn-from-columbo-yes-columbo/

Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at: http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/principles-and-techniques-of-motivational-interviewing/

Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/want-to-write-better-watch-columbo/?_r=2

Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark, https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/in-memoriam-peter-falk-1927-2011/

Weiss, D.C. (2009). The best way to interrogate: Think Columbo. American Bar Association, May 12. Located at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_best_way_to_interrogate_think_columbo/

Wikipedia (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbo

Wikipedia (2016). List of Columbo episodes. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Columbo_episodes

Wikipedia (2016). Peter Falk. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Falk

Wikiquote (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Columbo

Sell division: Responsible marketing and advertising by the gambling industry

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). Various lobby groups (e.g., anti-gambling coalitions, religious groups, etc.) claim advertising has played a role in the widespread cultural acceptance of gambling. These groups also claim casino advertising tends 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.

Around the world, various lobby groups claim that advertisements used by the gambling industry often border on misrepresentations and distortion. There are further claims that adverts are seductive, appealing to people’s greed and desperation for money. Real examples include: ‘Winning is easy’, ‘Win a truckload of cash’, ‘Win a million, the fewer numbers you choose, the easier it is to win’, ‘It’s easy to win’ and ‘$600,000 giveaway simply by inserting card into the poker machine’. Lobby groups further claim that in amongst the thousands of words and images of encouragement, there is rarely anything about the odds of winning – let alone the odds of losing. It has also been claimed that many gambling adverts feature get-rich-quick slogans that sometimes denigrate the values of hard work, initiative, responsibility, perseverance, optimism, investing for the future, and even education.

Those promoting gambling products typically respond in a number of ways. The most popular arguments used to defend such marketing and advertising is that: (i) the gaming industry is in the business of selling fantasies and dreams, (ii) consumers knows the claims are excessive, (iii) big claims are made to catch people’s attention, (iv) people don’t really believe these advertisements, and (v) business advertising is not there to emphasise ‘negative’ aspects of products.   While some of these industry responses have some merit, a much fairer balance is needed.

Statements such as ‘winning is easy’ are most likely (in a legal sense) be considered to be ‘puffery’. Puffery involves making exaggerated statements of opinion (not fact) to attract attention. Various jurisdictions deem it is not misleading or deceptive to engage in puffery. Whether a statement is puffery will depend on the circumstances. A claim is less likely to be puffery if its accuracy can be assessed. The use of a claim such as ‘winning is easy’ is likely to be considered puffery because it is subjective and cannot be assessed for accuracy. However, a statement like ‘five chances to win a million’ may not be puffery as it likely to be measurable.

Most of us who work in the field of responsible gambling agree that all relevant governmental gambling regulatory agencies should ban aggressive advertising strategies, especially those that target people in impoverished individuals or youth. It is also worth pointing out that there are many examples of good practice. Responsible marketing and advertising needs to think about the content and tone of gambling advertising, including the use of minors in ads, and the inclusion of game information. There has to be a strong commitment to socially responsible behaviour that applies across all product sectors, including sensitive areas like gambling. 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. Many codes that regulate gambling marketing and advertising across the world now typically include special provisions on the protection of such groups.

Gambling advertising also plays an important role in ‘normalizing’ gambling. 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, with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures (one gaming company’s advertising even had the strapline “Bet to forget”). 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.

An example of good practice is that of Canadian gaming operator Loto-Quebec. They did a thorough review of its advertising code and some of the key aspects in terms of responsible marketing and advertising of gambling included:

  • A marketing policy that (i) prohibits any advertising that is overly aggressive, (ii) rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and (iii) prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, and (iv) prohibits 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 devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • A policy that prohibits the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, one of their instant lotteries used a Chinese theme 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.

As various national and international advertising regulation bodies 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. Personally, I believe that gambling advertising should focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money. Gambling problems often occur when an individual’s primary reason to gamble is to win money.

Many countries have strict codes for gambling advertisements, and good codes (like those in the UK) recommend that gambling advertisements must not: (i) exploit cultural beliefs or traditions about gambling or luck, (ii) condone or encourage criminal or anti-social behaviour, (iii) condone or feature gambling in a working environment (with the exception for licensed gambling premises), (iv) exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of under-18s or other vulnerable persons, (v) be likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture, and (vi) feature anyone who is, or seems to be, under 25 years old gambling or playing a significant role.

Quite clearly it is appropriate and necessary for the gaming industry to advertise, market, and promote its facilities and products. However, I believe that all advertising and marketing should be carried out in a socially responsible manner as it is good for long-term repeat business.

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: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue11/jgi_11_adams.html.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, in press.

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.

The highs of the prize: Are instant-win products a form of gambling?

A nine-year old boy walks into a shop and buys a packet of potato chips. An eight-year old girl walks into the same shop and buys a chocolate bar. Nothing particularly unusual except this particular packet of potato chips poses the question “Is there a spicy £100,000 inside?” in big letters on the front of the packet with the added rider “1000’s of real £5 notes to be won!” The bar of chocolate offers “£1 million in cash prizes – win instantly. Look inside to see if your a winner!!”. The boy opens up the bag of crisps but it contains nothing but crisps. He is very disappointed. The little girl opens up the chocolate bar and sees the all to familiar phrase “Sorry. You haven’t won this time but keep trying. Remember there’s £1 million in cash prizes to be won”. She too is very disappointed. Both of them decide to buy the product again to see if their luck will change. It doesn’t. This time a different chocolate bar says “Sorry this is not a winning bar. Better luck next time!” The most they are likely to win is another packet of crisps or some more chocolates.

This scenario describes a typical instant win product (whereby a consumer buys a particular product with the chance of instantly winning something else of financial value). This type of instant-win marketing has been around for some time and is not particularly new but it is the younger generation that is being targeted. In a different environment, it could be argued that these two children are “chasing” their losses in the same way a gambler chases theirs. All over the world, this type of marketing is becoming more prevalent with big multi-national companies also employing its use to increase sales (e.g., MacDonalds).

In gambling situations after losing money, gamblers often gamble again straight away or return another day in order to get even. This is commonly referred to as “chasing” losses. Chasing is symptomatic of problem gambling and is often characterized by unrealistic optimism on the gambler’s part. All bets are made in an effort to recoup their losses. The result is that instead of “cutting their losses” gamblers get deeper into debt pre-occupying themselves with gambling, determined that a big win will repay their loans and solve all their problems. Although not on this scale, the scenario outlined above appears to be a chasing-like experience akin to that found in gambling. To children, this type of behaviour appears to be a gambling-type experience and is similar to other gambling pre-cursors that I have highlighted in some of my papers such as the playing of marbles, card flipping, and sports card playing. For instance, in sports card playing, it is not uncommon for adolescents to keep buying packs of cards to get their favorite baseball or football star. Products like crisps and chocolate are popular and appeal not only to the young but to adults too. However, the fact that such promotions are often coupled with the appearance of teenage idols (e.g., famous pop groups or top soccer sporting heroes) suggests that it is younger people that are being aimed for.

Manufacturers of instant-win products claim that people buy their products because customers want them. They further claim that the appeal of a promotion is secondary to the appeal of the product. This may well be true with most people but instant-win promotions obviously increase sales otherwise so many companies would not resort to it in the first place. It would appear that most people have no problem on moral (or other) grounds with companies who use this type of promotion. However, there are those (such as those who work in the area of youth gambling) who wonder whether this type of promotion exploits the vulnerable in some way (i.e., children and adolescents). The question to ask is whether young children and adolescents are actually engaging in a form of gambling by buying these types of products.

Gambling is normally defined as the staking of money (or something of financial value) on the uncertain outcome of a future event. Technically, instant-win promotions are not a form of gambling. This is because (by law) manufacturers are required to state that “no purchase is necessary”. This whole practice it is little more than a lottery except that in very small letters at the bottom of the packet there is the added phrase “No purchase necessary – see back for details”. However, very few people would know this unless they bought the product in the first place, and secondly, the likelihood is that a vast majority will not do this anyway – particularly children and adolescents.

The small print usually reads “No purchase necessary. Should you wish to enter this promotion without purchasing a promotional pack, please send your name and address clearly printed on a plain piece of paper. If you are under 18, please ask a parent or guardian to sign your entry. An independently supervised draw will be made on your behalf, and should you be a winner, a prize will be sent to you within 28 days”. I have tried writing to companies to ascertain how many people utilize this route but (to date) I have been unsuccessful in gaining any further information. It is highly likely that very few people write to the companies concerned. There is a high likelihood that the companies in question have the empirical evidence but unfortunately it is not in the public domain. If it is assumed that the number of people who actually write to the companies for their names to be put into an independently supervised draw is very low, it can be argued that to all intents and purposes that people who buy such products are engaged in a form of gambling.

Since the introduction of the UK National Lottery and instant scratchcards in the mid-1990s, a “something-for-nothing” culture appears to have developed where people want to win big prizes on lots of different things. Children themselves are growing up in an environment where gambling is endemic. Having examined a variety of instant-win promotions, I am in little doubt that they should be viewed as gambling pre-cursors in that they are gambling-like experiences without being a form of gambling with which anyone can identify. It is unlikely that great numbers of children will develop a problem with this activity, but there is the potential concern that a small minority will. Research has consistently shown that the earlier that a child starts to gamble the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem.

Evidence that instant-win products are problematic to young children is mostly anecdotal. For instance, a number of years ago, I appeared on a UK daytime television programme with a mother and her two children (aged nine and ten years of age) who literally spent all their disposable income on instant-win promotions. These two children had spent hundreds of pounds of their pocket money in the hope of winning the elusive prizes offered but never won more than another bag of potato chips. The mother claimed they had “the gambling bug” and was “terrified they will have problems when they grow up”. She claimed she had done her utmost to stop them using their pocket money in this way but as soon as her back was turned they were off to the local corner shop to buy instant-win products. This wasn’t just restricted to products they enjoyed anyway. For instance, when they went to the supermarket to shop the children just fill up the shopping trolley with anything that has an instant-win promotion including tins of cat food – even though they didn’t have a cat!

Harsh critics of instant-win promotions might advocate a complete banning of these types of marketing endeavors. However, this is impractical if not somewhat over the top. What is more, there is no empirical evidence (to date) that there is a problem. However, this does not mean that such practices should not be monitored. Instant-win marketing appears to be on the increase and it may be that young children are particularly vulnerable to this type of promotion if anecdotal case study accounts are anything to go by.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London : Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Instant-win promotions: Part of the gambling environment? Education and Health, 15, 62-63.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Instant-win products and prize draws: Are these forms of gambling? Journal of Gambling Issues, 9. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2003.9.5

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2009). Adolescent gambling-like experiences: Are they a cause for concern? Education and Health, 27, 27-30.

Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The prevention and treatment of problem gambling in adolescence. In T.P. Gullotta & G. Adams (Eds). Handbook of Adolescent Behavioral Problems: Evidence-based Approaches to Prevention and Treatment (Second Edition) (pp. 539-558). New York: Kluwer.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Slots of fun: What should parents and teachers know about adolescent gambling? (Part 2)

Today’s blog is the second part of a two-part article (the first of which can be found here). The previous blog briefly examined risk factors in adolescent gamblers and signs of problem gambling in adolescents. The three lists below highlight some early warning signs of a possible gambling problem, some definite signs and a thumbnail profile of a problem gambler. This is followed by some (hopefully) helpful tips and hints.

Early warning signs of a gambling addiction

  • Unexplained absences from home
  • Continual lying about day-to-day movements
  • Constant shortage of money
  • General increase in secretiveness
  • Neglect of studies, family, friends, health and appearance
  • Agitation (if unable to gamble)
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of friends and social life
  • Gambling seen as a legitimate way of making money

Signs of a definite gambling problem

  • Large debts (which are always explained away)
  • Trouble at school or college about non-attendance
  • Unexplained borrowing from family and friends
  • Unwillingness to repay borrowed money
  • Total preoccupation with gambling and spending money on gambling
  • Gambling alone for long periods
  • Constantly chasing losses in an attempt to win money back
  • Constantly gambling until all money is gone
  • Complete alienation and rejection from family and friends
  • Lying about the extent of their gambling to family and friends
  • Committing crimes as a way of getting money for gambling or paying off debts
  • Gambling overriding all other interests and obligations

Profile of the problem adolescent gambler

  • Unwilling to accept reality and has a lack of responsibility for gambling
  • Gambles to escape deeper problems (and the gambling environment may even be a substitute for parental affection)
  • Insecure and feels inferior to parents and elders
  • Wants good things without making an effort and loves games of chance
  • Likes to be a ‘big shot’ and feels it’s important to win (gambling offers them status and a way of defining achievement)
  • Likes to compete
  • Feels guilty with losses acting as a punishing behaviour
  • May be depressed
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Other compulsive and/or addictive traits

Finally it is worth noting some of the ‘trigger’ situations and circumstances that a gambling problem might first come to light. Paul Bellringer has highlighted an array of situations that provide an opportunity to help the gambler focus on their need to change. These are:

  • Acceptance by the gambler that control has been lost: This is the step before they ask for help.
  • Asking for help: Having realised for themselves that gambling has taken control over their life, they may reach out to those closest to them
  • Observation of too much time spent in a gambling environment: Such observations by friends or family may provoke discussion as to how this is affecting the life of a gambler.
  • Getting in to financial trouble/Accumulation of debts: This might be a crisis point at which problem gambling might raise its head for the first time.
  • Uncovered lies: Realization that the gambler has been caught lying may lead to admissions about their gambling problems
  • Dwindling social circles/Losing close relationships: These observation may again lead to problem gambling being discovered by family or friends.
  • Discovered crime: This is usually a real crisis point that the family may discover the truth for the first time.
  • Homelessness: Being thrown out of the family home may be the trigger for problem gamblers to be honest for the first time about the mess they are in. 

Discovering that you are the parent of an adolescent problem gambler can be highly stressful – particularly as it is often a problem that parents feel they have to face on their own. Before getting involved with their children parents have to understand the problem as well as the process of problem gambling. By the time a young gambler acknowledges they have a problem, the family may have already gone through a lot of emotional turmoil including feelings of anger, sadness, puzzlement and guilt. Parents should try and get in touch with a helping agency as soon as possible. The following points are appropriate for parents either during or as a follow-up to their initial contact with a helping agency.

  • Remember that you are not the only family facing this problem.
  • You may be able to help your child by talking the problem through but it is probably better if a skilled person outside the family is also involved.
  • Keep in mind that it is a serious matter and that the gambler cannot “just give up”.
  • Take a firm stand; whilst it might feel easier to give in to demands and to believe everything they say, this allows your child to avoid facing the problem.
  • Remember that your child likes to gamble and is getting something from the activity quite apart from money.
  • Do not forget that gamblers are good at lying – to themselves as well as you
  • Let your child know that you believe it is a problem even though they may not admit it.
  • Encourage your child all the time as they have to be motivated to change
  • Be prepared to accept that your child may not be motivated to change until they are faced with an acute crisis.
  • Leave the responsibility for gambling and its consequences with the gambler, but also help them to face up to it and to work at overcoming the dependency.
  • Do not condemn them, as it is likely to be unhelpful and may drive them further into gambling.
  • Setting firm and fair boundaries for your child’s behaviour is appropriate and is likely to be constructive in providing a framework with which to address the dependency.
  • Despite what your child may have done it is important to let them know that you still love them. This should be done even if you have to make a ‘tough love’ decision such as asking them to leave home.
  • Do not trust them with money until the dependency has been broken. If they are agreeable it is a helpful strategy for a defined short period of time to manage their money for them. In addition, help develop their financial management skills.
  • Encourage other alternative activities. Try to identify other activities that the child is good at and encourage them in that.
  • Give praise for any achievements (however small) although don’t go over the top.
  • Provide opportunities to contribute to the family or the running of the house to develop responsibility.
  • Try to listen with understanding and look at them with pleasure. Communication channels between child and parent can easily be blocked so simple measures can pay big dividends.
  • Bear in mind that as a parent you will need support too through this long process of helping the child. You will need the support of your family and may also need additional support from a helping agency.

Having successfully broken a dependency on gambling, it is important to put in place measures that will help prevent gambling relapses. Useful strategies include the following:

  • Place a limit on future gambling, or avoid gambling altogether.
  • Internalise learning and avoid reverting to ingrained reactions to difficult or stressful situations.
  • Watch for situations and circumstances that trigger the urge to gamble and be ready to face them.
  • Nurture self-esteem – work at feeling good about yourself.
  • Develop a range of interests that, preferably, meet similar needs to those that were previously being met by gambling.
  • Spend time and energy working at building good human relationships.
  • Reassess the significance of money and endeavour to reduce its importance in your life.
  • Continue to explore, on occasion, reasons why gambling became so significant in your life.

Other more general steps that gamblers should be encouraged to do include:

  • Be honest with themselves and others
  • Deal with all outstanding debts
  • Accept responsibility for their gambling
  • Abstain from gambling while trying to break the dependency
  • Talk about how gambling makes them feel
  • Take one day at a time
  • Keep a record of ‘gambling-free’ days
  • Be positive and not give up after a ‘slip’ or a ‘lapse’
  • Reward themselves after a gambling-free period
  • Develop alternative interests

Parents and practitioners should also be aware that problems are likely to be avoided when the young gambler keeps in control of the situation and ensures that their gambling remains a social activity. The following brief guide is aimed particularly for working with young gamblers but applicable to everyone. It will help ensure that gambling remains an enjoyable and problem-free experience. It is wise to remember that:

  • When you are gambling you are buying entertainment, not investing money
  • You are unlikely to make money from gambling
  • The gaming industry and the government are the real winners
  • You should only gamble with money that you can afford to lose
  • You should set strict limits on how much you will gamble
  • To make profit from gambling you should quit when ahead
  • Gambling should only take up a small amount of your time and interest
  • Problems will arise if you become preoccupied with gambling
  • Gambling within your means is a fun and exciting activity
  • Gambling outside your means is likely to create serious problems
  • You should not gamble to escape from worries or pressures
  • The feeling of being powerful and in control when gambling is a delusion
  • A gambling dependency is as damaging as other addictions
  • Always gamble responsibly

Hopefully the two parts of this blog have highlighted a potential danger among children and adolescence. It covered risk factors, warning signs to look for, and strategies to help those with a problem. Through education and awareness, it is hoped that gambling problems will be viewed no differently from other potentially addictive substances and that schools will take the issue seriously.

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

Further reading

Bellringer, P. (1999). Understanding Problem Gamblers. London : Free Association Books.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2000). Risk factors in adolescence: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the internet. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 199-225.

Slots of fun: What should parents and teachers know about adolescent gambling? (Part 1)

Research has consistently shown that a small but significant minority of adolescents have a gambling problem. It has also been noted that adolescents may be more susceptible to problem gambling than adults. In Great Britain, the most recent statistics suggest that around 2% of adolescents have a gambling problem. This figure is two to three times higher than that identified in the adult population. On this evidence, young people are clearly more vulnerable to the negative consequences of gambling than adults.

A typical finding of many adolescent gambling studies has been that problem gambling appears to be a primarily male phenomenon. It also appears that adults may to some extent be fostering adolescent gambling. For example, a strong correlation has been found between adolescent gambling and parental gambling. Similarly, many studies have indicated a strong link between adult problem gamblers and later problem gambling amongst their children. Other factors that have been linked with adolescent problem gambling include working class youth culture, delinquency, alcohol and substance abuse, poor school performance, theft and truancy.

One consequence of the research into adolescent gambling is that we can now start to put together a ‘risk factor model’ of those individuals who might be at the most risk of developing problem gambling tendencies. Based on summaries of empirical research, a number of clear risk factors in the development of problem adolescent gambling emerge. Adolescent problem gamblers are more likely to:

  • Be male (16-25 years)
  • Have begun gambling at an early age (as young as 8 years of age)
  • Have had a big win earlier in their gambling careers
  • Consistently chase losses
  • Gamble on their own
  • Have parents who gamble
  • Feel depressed before a gambling session
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Use gambling to cultivate status among peers
  • Be excited and aroused during gambling
  • Be irrational (i.e. have erroneous perceptions) during gambling
  • Use gambling as a means of escape
  • Have bad grades at school
  • Engage in other addictive behaviours (smoking, drinking alcohol, illegal drug use)
  • Come from the lower social classes
  • Have parents who have a gambling (or other addiction) problem
  • Have a history of delinquency
  • Steal money to fund their gambling
  • Truant from school to go gambling

There are also some general background factors that might increase the risk of becoming a problem gambler. Common factors include:

  • Broken, disruptive or very poor family
  • Difficult and stressful situations within the home
  • Heavy emphasis on money within the family
  • The death of a parent or parental figure in their childhood
  • Serious injury or illness in the family or themselves
  • Infidelity by parents
  • High incidence of abuse (verbal, physical and/or sexual)
  • Feeling of rejection as a child
  • Feelings of belittlement and disempowerment

This list is probably not exhaustive but incorporates what is known empirically and anecdotally about adolescent problem gambling. As research into the area grows, new items to such a list will be added while factors, signs and symptoms already on these lists will be adapted and modified. Gambling has often been termed the ‘hidden addiction’. The main reasons for this arise from the problem with the identification. This is because:

  • There are no observable signs or symptoms like other addictions (e.g. alcoholism, heroin addiction etc.)
  • Money shortages and debts can be explained away with ease in a materialistic society
  • Adolescent gamblers do not believe they have a problem or wish to hide the fact
  • Adolescent gamblers are exceedingly plausible and become adept at lying to mask the truth
  • Adolescent gambling may be only one of several excessive behaviours

Although there have been some reports of a personality change in young gamblers many parents may attribute the change to adolescence itself (i.e., evasive behaviour, mood swings etc. are commonly associated with adolescence). It is quite often the case that many parents do not even realize they have a problem until their son or daughter is in trouble with the police. I have noted there are a number of possible warning signs to look for although individually, many of these signs could be put down to adolescence. However, if several of them apply to a child or adolescent it could be that they will have a gambling problem. The signs include:

  • No interest in school highlighted by a sudden drop in the standard of schoolwork
  • Unexplained free time such as going out each evening and being evasive about where they have been
  • Coming home later than expected from school each day and not being able to account for it
  • A marked change in overall behaviour (that perhaps only a parent would notice). Such personality changes could include becoming sullen, irritable, restless, moody, touchy, bad-tempered or constantly on the defensive
  • Constant shortage of money
  • Constant borrowing of money
  • Money missing from home (e.g., from mother’s purse or father’s wallet)
  • Selling personal possessions and not being able to account for the money
  • Criminal activity (e.g., shoplifting in order to sell things to get money for gambling)
  • Coming home hungry each afternoon after school (because lunch money has been spent on gambling)
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Lack of concentration
  • A “couldn’t care less” attitude
  • Lack of friends and/or falling out with friends
  • Not taking care of their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Constantly telling lies (particularly over money)

However, many of these ‘warning signs’ are not necessarily unique to gambling addictions and can also be indicative of other addictions (e.g. alcohol and other drugs). Confirming that gambling is indeed the problem may prove equally as difficult as spotting the problem in the first place. Directly asking an individual if they have a problem is likely to lead to an outright denial. Talking with them about their use of leisure time, money and spending preferences, and their view about gambling in general is likely to be more effective. Part 2 to follow in my next blog!

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

Further reading

Bellringer, P. (1999). Understanding Problem Gamblers. London : Free Association Books.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2000). Risk factors in adolescence: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the internet. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 199-225.

The national wealth service: Problem gambling is a health issue

Over the last decade, the United Kingdom has undergone major changes of gambling legislation (most notably, the 2005 Gambling Act that came into force on September 1, 2007). The Gambling Act has provided the British public with increased opportunities and access to gambling like they have never seen before. Gambling legislation was revolutionized and many of the tight restrictions on gambling dating back to the 1968 Gaming Act were relaxed (particularly in relation to the advertising of gambling). The deregulation of gambling has also been coupled with the many new media in which people can gamble (internet gambling, mobile phone gambling, interactive television gambling, gambling via social networking sites). Given the expected explosion in gambling opportunities, is this something that the health and medical professions should be concerned about?

Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter although research into the health, social and economic impacts of gambling has grown considerably since the 1990s. In August 1995, the British Medical Journal published an editorial called ‘Gambling with the nation’s health?’ which argued that gambling was a health issue because it widened the inequalities of income and that there was an association between inequality of income in industrialized countries and lower life expectancy. However, there are many other more specific reasons why gambling should be viewed as an issue for the medical profession.

According to the last British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011, just under 1% of the British population have a severe gambling problem although the rate is approximately twice as high in adolescents, particularly as a result of problematic slot machine gambling. Disordered gambling is characterized by unrealistic optimism on the gambler’s part. All bets are made in an effort to recoup their losses. The result is that instead of “cutting their losses”, gamblers get deeper into debt pre-occupying themselves with gambling, determined that a big win will repay their loans and solve all their problems.

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. I have also reported in a number of my papers (including a 2007 report I wrote for the British Medical Association) that there can also be adverse health consequences for both the gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders. In the UK, preliminary analysis of the calls to the national gambling helpline also indicated that a significant minority of the callers reported health-related consequences as a result of their problem gambling. These include depression, anxiety, stomach problems, other stress-related disorders and suicidal ideation.

There are also other issues relating to problem gambling that may have medical consequences. One US study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine by Dr. Robert Muellman and his colleagues found that intimate partner violence (IPV) was predicted by pathological gambling in the perpetrator. In a sample of 286 women admitted to the emergency department at a University Hospital in Nebraska, findings revealed that a woman whose partner was a problem gambler was 10.5 times more likely to be a victim of IPV than partners of a non-problem gambler.

Health-related problems due to problem gambling can also result from withdrawal effects. In a study published in the American Journal of the Addictions, Dr. Richard Rosenthal and Dr. Henry Lesieur found that at least 65% of pathological gamblers reported at least one physical side-effect during withdrawal including insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, muscle aches, breathing difficulty and/or chills. Their results were also compared to the withdrawal effects from a substance-dependent control group. They concluded that pathological gamblers experienced more physical withdrawal effects when attempting to stop than the substance-dependent group. I also found similar things in a small study that I published in the Social Psychological Review (with Michael Smeaton).

Pathological gambling is very much the ‘hidden’ addiction. Unlike (say) alcoholism, there is no slurred speech and no stumbling into work. Furthermore, overt signs of problems often don’t occur until late in the pathological gambler’s career. If problem gambling is an addiction that can destroy families and have medical consequences, it becomes clear that medical professionals should be aware of the effects of gambling in just the same way that they are with other potentially addictive activities like drinking (alcohol) and smoking (nicotine).

However, gambling addiction is an activity that is not (at present) being treated via the British National Health Service (NHS). This was shown in a paper that I published with Dr. Jane Rigbye in a paper we published in a 2011 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. We sent a total of 327 letters were sent to all Primary Care Trusts, Foundation Trusts and Mental Health Trusts in the UK requesting information about problem gambling service provision and past year treatment of gambling problems within their Trust under the Freedom of Information Act. Our findings showed that 97% of the NHS Trusts did not provide any service (specialist or otherwise) for treating those with gambling problems (i.e., only nine Trusts provided evidence of how they deal with problem gambling). Only one Trust offered dedicated specialist help for problem gambling. Our study showed there was some evidence that problem gamblers may get treatment via the NHS if that person has other co-morbid disorders as the primary referral problem.

Problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all within the health and medical professions. General practitioners routinely ask patients about smoking and drinking but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a somewhat ‘grey area’ in the field of health and it is therefore very easy to deny that those in the medical profession should be playing a role. If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then it is quite clear that an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge.

As briefly outlined above, opportunities to gamble and access to gambling have increased because of deregulation and technology. What has been demonstrated from research evidence in other countries is that – in general – where accessibility of gambling is increased there is an increase not only in the number of regular gamblers but also an increase in the number of problem gamblers – although this may not be proportional. This obviously means that not everyone is susceptible to developing gambling addictions but it does mean that at a societal (rather than individual) level, in general, the more gambling opportunities, the more problems. Other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have seen increases in problem gambling as a result of gambling liberalization. In the UK, the last BGPS showed that problem gambling in Great Britain had increased by 50% compared to the previous BGPS published in 2007. (However, the latest data from the combined Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey in 2014 reported that problem gambling had fallen to about 0.5%).

Gambling is without doubt a health and issue and there is an urgent need to enhance awareness within the medical and health professions about gambling-related problems and to develop effective strategies to prevent and treat problem gambling. The rapid expansion of gambling represents a significant public health concern and health/medical practitioners also need to research into the impact of gambling on vulnerable, at-risk, and special populations. It is inevitable that a small minority of people will become casualties of gambling in the UK, and therefore help should be provided for the problem gamblers. Since gambling is here to stay and is effectively state-sponsored, the Government should consider giving priority funding (out of taxes raised from gambling revenue) to organizations and practitioners who provide advice, counselling and treatment for people with severe gambling problems.

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

Further reading

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. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D., Scarfe, A. & Bellringer, P. (1999). The UK National telephone Helpline – Results on the first year of operation. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 83-90.

McKee, M. & Sassi, F. (1995). Gambling with the nation’s health. British Medical Journal, 311, 521-522.

Muelleman, R. L., DenOtter, T., Wadman, M. C., Tran, T. P., & Anderson, J. (2002). Problem gambling in the partner of the emergency department patient as a risk factor for intimate partner violence. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 23, 307-312.

Rigbye, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Problem gambling treatment within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 276-281.

Rosenthal, R. & Lesieur, H (1992). Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and pathological gambling. American Journal of the Addictions, 1, 150-154.

Setness, P.A. (1997). Pathological gambling: When do social issues become medical issues? Postgraduate Medicine, 102, 13-18.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

Coming a part of the themes: The psychology of familiarity in gambling

Have you seen slot machines featuring Spiderman? Or the ones based on the Monopoly board game? Or the slots that have pictures of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game? Most gaming operators will appreciate that all of these images have a strong brand presence, and that it is one of the main reasons for themed games. However, a more basic marketing tactic is being used here – the psychology of familiarity. This is used throughout the gaming industry but is most common on slot machines, online games, and scratchcards. For instance, Camelot’s scratchcards in the UK have featured film tie-ins (e.g., James Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars), and popular games (e.g., Connect Four).

But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1980s I did some research on the names that gaming designers and operators gave their slot machines. One of the more interesting findings I reported in one of my academic papers was that over 50% of all machine names that I came across in amusement arcades had some reference to money on them (such as ‘Cashpoint’, ‘Cashline’, ‘Action Bank’, Piggy Bank’, ‘Money Belt’ etc.). Psychologically, all of these machine names gave the impression that this was where a player could get money from – not where they would lose it! Other categories of machine names included those with some reference to skill on them (‘Fruitskill’, ‘Skillchance’) suggesting that machine playing was a skillful activity and that gamblers could perhaps beat the machine. Other machines had what I called “acoustically attractive” names (Nifty Fifty, Naughty But Nice) or puns (Reel Fun, Reel Money). Since making these observations, I have always been interested in the subtle techniques that the gaming industry uses in getting the punter to play on their products. The psychology of gambling – or rather the psychology of gambling marketing – has come a long way in the last decade.

As I’ve already said, one of the techniques that the gaming industry uses (whether they realise it or not) is the psychology of familiarity. Gaming operators and marketers have realised that one weapon in their marketing armory is to design products which appear familiar before a player has ever even played on them – something that can partly be achieved through the name or theme of the slot machine. The examples I gave above showed that the names of slot machines appear to be important in impression formation. It is highly unlikely that the names of slot machines have any influence on gambling behaviour per se. However, when tied in with recent research on the psychology of familiarity, the names of machines do seem to be critically important – particularly in terms of gambling acquisition (that is, getting people to gamble in the first place).

Nowadays, slot machines are often named after a famous person (the Elvis Presley machines appear very popular in one of my local casinos), place, event, video game, board game, television show or film. Not only is this something that is familiar to the gambler but may also be something that the potential gamblers might like or affiliate themselves with (such as James Bond). This is different from a simple naming effect in that the machine’s theme may encompass the whole play of the machine, including its features, the sound effects (e.g., the theme tune to popular television programmes like Coronation Street or Eastenders), and light/colour effects. By using well-known and common themes, gamblers may be more likely to spend time and money playing them.

Some of the most popular UK slot machines are those that feature The Simpsons. There are many possible reasons why a gambler might be more likely to play on a Simpsons’ machine. The Simpsons have mass appeal and popularity across all ages and across gender. The machines are celebrity-endorsed and players may place trust in a ‘quality’ brand like The Simpsons. Gamblers may also hope that knowledge of the characters will help in the playing of the game. On a basic level, it might simply be that the game play of The Simpsons is more exciting, and that the sound effects and features are novel, cute and/or more humorous than other machines. There are many cases similar to this one where it could be speculated that the slot machine becomes so much more inducing because it represents something that is familiar and/or special to the gambler.

Familiarity is a very important psychological aspect of why themed slot machines have been more prominent over the last decade. Familiar themes have the capacity to induce a ‘psycho-structural interaction’ between the gambler and the gambling activity. This is where the gambler’s own psychology interacts with the machine’s structural characteristics and produces different consequences for each person depending upon what the feature means to them personally. If the themes are increasingly familiar, a gambler might be more likely to persevere with the complexities of a machine. Gamblers may find it more enjoyable because they can easily interact with recognizable images they experience. Therefore, the use of familiar themes may have a very persuasive effect, leading to an increase in the number of people using them, and the money they spend. Whilst there are many other aspects that influence an individual’s decision to gamble, the possible persuasive nature of the themes should not be underestimated.

As you may have already gathered, there is a strong overlap between the psychology of familiarity, branding, and the psychology of persuasion. In very simple terms, a gambler must be exposed to the product and be aware of its presence before they can even make the decision to gamble. This is relatively easy to achieve given the ubiquity of slot machines and the fact that current machines will use any number of techniques to grab a potential player’s attention. These include television or film theme tunes, bright flashing lights, and/or pictures or voices of celebrities. Once a gambler’s attention has been gained, the product must be likeable and familiar enough for them to think about gambling and wanting to interact with the machine further. Immediately familiar images and sounds are likely to lead to a much quicker decision to gamble. All which goes to show – the gaming industry knows what it is doing!

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty.Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dunbar, D. (1997). The role of familiarity in fruit machine gambling. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 29, 15-20.

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.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D., Chappell, D. & Davies, M.N.O. (2004). The structural characteristics of video games: A psycho-structural analysis. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 1-10.