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A diction for addiction: A brief overview of our papers at the 2017 International Conference on Behavioral Addictions

This week I attended (and gave one of the keynote papers at) the fourth International Conference on Behavioral Addictions in Haifa (Israel). It was a great conference and I was accompanied by five of my colleagues from Nottingham Trent University all of who were also giving papers. All of the conference abstracts have just been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions (reprinted below in today’s blog) and if you would like copies of the presentations then do get in touch with me.

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Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural tracking in gambling: Implications for responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 2.

  • Social responsibility, responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization in gambling have become major issues for both researchers in the gambling studies field and the gaming industry. This has been coupled with the rise of behavioural tracking technologies that allow companies to track every behavioural decision and action made by gamblers on online gambling sites, slot machines, and/or any type of gambling that utilizes player cards. This paper has a number of distinct but related aims including: (i) a brief overview of behavioural tracking technologies accompanied by a critique of both advantages and disadvantages of such technologies for both the gaming industry and researchers; (ii) results from a series of studies carried out using behavioural tracking (particularly in relation to data concerning the use of social responsibility initiatives such as limit setting, pop-up messaging, and behavioural feedback); and (c) a brief overview of the behavioural tracking tool mentor that provides detailed help and feedback to players based on their actual gambling behaviour.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Youth problem gambling: A cross-cultural study between Portuguese and English youth. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 7.

  • Background and aims: In spite of age prohibitions, most re- search suggests that a large proportion of adolescents engage in gambling, with a rate of problem gambling significantly higher than adults. There is some evidence suggesting that there are some cultural variables that might explain the development of gambling behaviours among this age group. However, cross­cultural studies on this field are generally lacking. This study aimed to test a model in which individual and family variables are integrated into a single perspective as predictors of youth gambling behaviour, in two different contexts (i.e., Portugal and England). Methods: A total of 1,137 adolescents and young adults (552 Portuguese and 585 English) were surveyed on the measures of problem gambling, gambling frequency, sensation seeking, parental attachment, and cognitive distortions. Results: The results of this study revealed that in both Portuguese and English youth, the most played gambling activities were scratch cards, sports betting, and lotteries. With regard to problem gambling prevalence, English youth showed a higher prevalence of problem gambling. The findings of this study also revealed that sensation seeking was a common predictor in both samples. However, there were some differences on the other predictors be- tween the two samples. Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that youth problem gambling and its risk factors appear to be influenced by the cultural context and highlights the need to conduct more cross-cultural studies on this field.

Demetrovics, Z., Richman, M., Hende, B., Blum, K., Griffiths,
M.D, Magi, A., Király, O., Barta, C. & Urbán, R. (2017). Reward Deficiency Syndrome Questionnaire (RDSQ):
A new tool to assess the psychological features of reward deficiency. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 11.

  • ‘Reward Deficiency Syndrome’ (RDS) is a theory assuming that specific individuals do not reach a satisfactory state of reward due to the functioning of their hypodopaminergic reward system. For this reason, these people search for further rewarding stimuli in order to stimulate their central reward system (i.e., extreme sports, hypersexuality, substance use and/or other addictive behaviors such as gambling, gaming, etc.). Beside the growing genetic and neurobiological evidence regarding the existence of RDS little re- search has been done over the past two decades on the psychological processes behind this phenomenon. The aim of the present paper is to provide a psychological description of RDS as well as to present the development of the Reward Deficiency Syndrome Questionnaire (developed using a sample of 1,726 participants), a new four-factor instrument assessing the different aspects of reward deficiency. The results indicate that four specific factors contribute to RDS comprise “lack of satisfaction”, “risk seeking behaviors”, “need for being in action”, and “search for overstimulation”. The paper also provides psychological evidence of the association between reward deficiency and addictive disorders. The findings demonstrate that the concept of RDS provides a meaningful and theoretical useful context to the understanding of behavioral addictions.

Demetrovics, Z., Bothe, B., Diaz, J.R., Rahimi­Movaghar, A., Lukavska, K., Hrabec, O., Miovsky, M., Billieux, J., Deleuze,
J., Nuyens, P. Karila, L., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Király, O. (2017). Ten-Item Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGDT-10): Psychometric properties across seven language-based samples. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 11.

  • Background and aims: The Ten-Item Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGDT-10) is a brief instrument developed to assess Internet Gaming Disorder as proposed in the DSM­5. The first psychometric analyses carried out among a large sample of Hungarian online gamers demonstrated that the IGDT-10 is a valid and reliable instrument. The present study aimed to test the psychometric properties in a large cross-cultural sample. Methods: Data were collected among Hungarian (n = 5222), Iranian (n = 791), Norwegian (n = 195), Czech (n = 503), Peruvian (n = 804), French­speaking (n = 425) and English­ speaking (n = 769) online gamers through gaming­related websites and gaming-related social networking site groups. Results: Confirmatory factor analysis was applied to test the dimensionality of the IGDT-10. Results showed that the theoretically chosen one-factor structure yielded appropriate to the data in all language­based subsamples. In addition, results indicated measurement invariance across all language-based subgroups and across gen- der in the total sample. Reliability indicators (i.e., Cronbach’s alpha, Guttman’s Lambda-2, and composite reliability) were acceptable in all subgroups. The IGDT- 10 had a strong positive association with the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire and was positively and moderately related to psychopathological symptoms, impulsivity and weekly game time supporting the construct validity of the instrument. Conclusions: Due to its satisfactory psychometric characteristics, the IGDT-10 appears to be an adequate tool for the assessment of internet gam- ing disorder as proposed in the DSM-5.

Throuvala, M.A., Kuss, D.J., Rennoldson, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Delivering school-based prevention regarding digital use for adolescents: A systematic review in the UK. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 54.

  • Background: To date, the evidence base for school-delivered prevention programs for positive digital citizenship for adolescents is limited to internet safety programs. Despite the inclusion of Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as a pro- visional disorder in the DSM-5, with arguable worrying prevalence rates for problematic gaming across countries, and a growing societal concern over adolescents’ digital use, no scientifically designed digital citizenship programs have been delivered yet, addressing positive internet use among adolescents. Methods: A systematic database search of quantitative and qualitative research evidence followed by a search for governmental initiatives and policies, as well as, non­profit organizations’ websites and reports was conducted to evaluate if any systematic needs assessment and/or evidence-based, school delivered prevention or intervention programs have been conducted in the UK, targeting positive internet use in adolescent populations. Results: Limited evidence was found for school-based digital citizenship awareness programs and those that were identified mainly focused on the areas of internet safety and cyber bullying. To the authors’ knowledge, no systematic needs assessment has been conducted to assess the needs of relevant stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, schools), and no prevention program has taken place within UK school context to address mindful and positive digital consumption, with the exception of few nascent efforts by non­profit organizations that require systematic evaluation. Conclusions: There is a lack of systematic research in the design and delivery of school-delivered, evidence-based prevention and intervention programs in the UK that endorse more mindful, reflective attitudes that will aid adolescents in adopting healthier internet use habits across their lifetime. Research suggests that adolescence is the highest risk group for the development of internet addictions, with the highest internet usage rates of all age groups. Additionally, the inclusion of IGD in the DSM-5 as provisional disorder, the debatable alarming prevalence rates for problematic gaming and the growing societal focus on adolescents’ internet misuse, renders the review of relevant grey and published research timely, contributing to the development of digital citizenship programs that might effectively promote healthy internet use amongst adolescents.

Bányai, F., Zsila, A., Király, O., Maraz, A., Elekes, Z., Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S. & Demetrovics, Z. (2017). Problematic social networking sites use among adolescents: A national representative study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 62.

  • Despite being one of the most popular activities among adolescents nowadays, robust measures of Social Media use and representative prevalence estimates are lacking in the field. N = 5961 adolescents (49.2% male; mean age 16.6 years) completed our survey. Results showed that the one-factor Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale (BSMAS) has appropriate psychometric properties. Based on latent pro le analysis, 4.5% of the adolescents belonged to the at-risk group, who reported low self-esteem, high level of depression and the elevated social media use (34+ hours a week). Conclusively, BSMAS is an adequate measure to identify those adolescents who are at risk of problematic Social Media use and should therefore be targeted by school-based prevention and intervention programs.

Bothe, B., Toth-Király, I. Zsila, A., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. & Orosz, G. (2017). The six-component problematic pornography consumption scale. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 62.

  • Background and aims: To our best knowledge, no scale ex- ists with strong psychometric properties assessing problematic pornography consumption which is based on an over- arching theoretical background. The goal of the present study was to develop a short scale (Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale; PPCS) on the basis of Griffiths` (2005) six-component addiction model that can assess problematic pornography consumption. Methods: The sample comprised 772 respondents (390 females; Mage = 22.56, SD = 4.98 years). Items creation was based on the definitions of the components of Griffiths’ model. Results: A confirmatory factor analysis was carried out leading to an 18­item second­order factor structure. The reliability of the PPCS was good and measurement invariance was established. Considering the sensitivity and specificity values, we identified an optimal cut­off to distinguish between problematic and non-problematic pornography users. In the present sample, 3.6% of the pornography consumers be- longed to the at-risk group. Discussion and Conclusion: The PPCS is a multidimensional scale of problematic pornography consumption with strong theoretical background that also has strong psychometric properties.

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

Game on: A brief look at gambling on eSports

Like daily fantasy sports, betting on eSports (i.e., professional video gaming) has increased in popularity over the last few years and has given rise to allegations of unregulated and underage gambling. The eSports market is large. According to a 2016 report by Superdata, professional eSports is growing exponentially and is worth an estimated $612 (US) million a year. Furthermore, Eilers and Krejcik Gaming estimate that real money betting on eSports betting will reach $10 billion (US) by 2020. The professionalization and sportification of this entertainment form has brought sports-world elements to it: stadium-like facilities, cheering stands, sponsors, big rewards, and competition. Instant replays, jumbotrons (i.e., super-huge television screens), and referees add to the sport dramatisation. In some notorious cases, prizes have gone beyond the $10 million [US] threshold in a packed arena housing 73,000 fans. According to by John McMullan and Delthia Miller in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Gambling Issues, sportification is the process of incorporating the logics of sport to non-sporting contexts (e.g., poker, eSports. This can materialise in many ways but most commonly occurs when (i) other industries capitalise on the positive attributes of sport (e.g., popularity, engagement, or sanity and health inferences); and (ii) non-sport fields try to increase the entertainment and playability of their products and their association with joy and excitement.

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Twitch, an online platform that streams live video gaming, informs its’ advertisers that it has 100 million monthly viewers, who watch for an average of 106 minutes a day. Betting on eSports presents new challenges. As a news report in Bloomberg news observed in relation to betting on the game Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CSGO):

“Gambling – licensed, regulated, and by adults – is generally accepted in eSports. There is growing concern, though, that teenagers are being attracted to different forms of betting facilitated by third-party providers. One such platform is CSGO Lounge (an independent site not affiliated with Valve Software, which develops the game itself). The site allows spectators to bet in-game add-ons known as skins – weapons, tools and the like – on the results of matches. Not all skins are created equal, and the rarity of some means they can cost hundreds of real dollars on marketplace sites like SkinXchange.com. The temptation is too much for some”.

Put simply, skin gambling is the use of virtual goods and items (typically cosmetic elements that have no direct influence on gameplay) as virtual currency to bet on the outcome of professional matches. The Bloomberg article also claims on the basis of interviews with industry insiders that underage skin gambling is a “huge problem”. Justin Carlson (lead developer of SkinXchange) claims there are “countless” parents whose children have used their credit cards without their knowledge to buy skins and bet on gaming on other sites. Although anecdotal, Carlson claims that some minors have “racked up hundreds or thousands of dollars in skins on ‘SkinXchange’ just to lose them all on some betting or jackpot site”. It’s clear that people trading skins in eSports has grown over the last few years and various regulators around the world – such as the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) – are considering regulation and says it is an “emerging product” and an “area for continuing future focus”. More specifically, the UKGC’s 2016 Annual Report notes:

 “The growing market in esports and computer gaming has scope to present issues for regulation and player protection – issues which are being examined by gambling regulators in other international markets…These issues range from the emergence of real money esports betting markets, to trading in-game items which blur the lines between gambling and social gaming. Our focus will be to understand developments, including engaging with key stakeholders, and we will work wherever we can to ensure the risks associated with these, particularly to children and young people, are minimised”.

One of the complicating factors for eSports gambling is that while cash is the currency for many gamblers, there is a growing trend towards the use of virtual currencies, or ‘in-game items’ which, according to the UKGC, can be “won, traded, sold or used as virtual currency to gamble with and converted into money or money’s worth”. These, according to the UKGC, “include digital commodities (such as ‘skins’) which can be won or purchased within the confines of computer games and can then be used as a form of virtual currency on a growing number of gambling websites”. No academic research has examined underage skin gambling but this is an issue that is unlikely to diminish over the coming years.

It is also worth noting that this massive interest in eSports followed by a massive audience has led most major betting operators to include eSports in their daily gambling offer. However, the singularities of eSports market pose new challenges that conventional online betting sites struggle to address. Suraj Gosai, co-founder of Blinkpool, an eSports dedicated betting platform, laid out two main problems: in-play betting limitations and odds algorithmic programming. For in-play betting to be viable, companies need to get access to reliable, instantaneous, and unambiguous data that can settle bets and separate winners from losers. Data companies like Perform do that in sport, and betting operators rely on their data to offer in-play action to gamblers. The problem in eSports is that actions are not as quantified and standardised as in real-life sports. To counteract that, Blinkpool created a computer vision technology that extracts data from real-time action and promotes hyper-contextual opportunities, that is, 10- to 45-second in-play betting mini-markets concerning very specific developments in the narrative of the games.

Odds programming in sports betting is fundamentally based on historical data from hundreds of thousands of games, from which each factor (home advantage, table position, head-to-head, etc.) is weighted in to determine the probability of an event occurring. In the fixed-odds betting market, the bookmaker makes available to bettors that probability plus a benefit margin. When placing a bet, an individual bets against the probability that the house has predicted. This is not yet feasible in eSports because the historical data are scarce and the modelling is complex. Companies are circumventing this problem by offering exchange betting rather than fixed-odds. This method comprises peer betting, that is, bettors do not bet against the house but between one another. This way, the house gets a commission from winning bets and operates a much less risky business.

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

Further reading

Bracken, G. (2016). We hope to be the home of eSports betting. Gambling Insider. Available from: https://www.gamblinginsider.com/in-depth/1909/we-hope-to-be-the-home-of-esports-betting

Gambling Commission (2015). Explaining our approach to social gaming. Located at: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/Gambling-data-analysis/Social-media/Explaining-our-approach-to-social-gaming.aspx

Gambling Commission (2016). Annual Report 2015/16. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

McMullan, J. L., & Miller, D. (2008). All in! The commercial advertising of offshore gambling on television. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 230-251.

Melbourne, K. & Campbell, M. (2015). Professional gaming may have an underage gambling problem. Bloomberg, September 7. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-07/professional-video-gaming-has-an-underage-gambling-problem

Superdata (2016). eSports Market Report. Available at: https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/esports-market-brief/

Wingfield, N. (2014) In e-Sports, video gamers draw real crowds and big money. New York Times, August 30. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/technology/esports-explosion-brings-opportunity-riches-for-video-gamers.html?_r=0

Wood, J. (2016). UK Gambling Commission: We’ll work to minimize risks from emerging esports betting markets. Esports Betting Report, July 19. Available at: http://www.esportsbettingreport.com/uk-regulators-address-esports-betting/

You bet! A brief overview of our recent papers on youth gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, and gaming addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on adolescent gambling.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mom, Dad it’s only a game! Perceived gambling and gaming behaviors among adolescents and young adults: An exploratory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 772-794.

  • Gambling and gaming are increasingly popular activities among adolescents. Although gambling is illegal in Portugal for youth under the age of 18 years, gambling opportunities are growing, mainly due to similarity between gambling and other technology-based games. Given the relationship between gambling and gaming, the paucity of research on gambling and gaming behaviors in Portugal, and the potential negative consequences these activities may have in the lives of young people, the goal of this study was to explore and compare the perceptions of these two behaviors between Portuguese adolescents and young adults. Results from six focus groups (comprising 37 participants aged between 13 and 26 years) indicated different perceptions for the two age groups. For adolescents, gaming was associated with addiction whereas for young adults it was perceived as a tool for increasing personal and social skills. With regard to gambling, adolescents associated it with luck and financial rewards, whereas young adults perceived it as an activity with more risks than benefits. These results suggest developmental differences that have implications for intervention programs and future research.

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). From adolescent to adult gambling: An analysis of longitudinal gambling patterns in South Australia. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 547-563.

  • Although there are many cross-sectional studies of adolescent gambling, very few longitudinal investigations have been undertaken. As a result, little is known about the individual stability of gambling behaviour and the extent to which behaviour measured during adolescence is related to adult behaviour. In this paper, we report the results of a 4-wave longitudinal investigation of gambling behaviour in a probability sample of 256 young people (50 % male, 50% female) who were interviewed in 2005 at the age of 16–18 years and then followed through to the age of 20–21 years. The results indicated that young people showed little stability in their gambling. Relatively few reported gambling on the same individual activities consistently over time. Gambling participation rates increased rapidly as young people made the transition from adolescence to adulthood and then were generally more stable. Gambling at 15–16 years was generally not associated with gambling at age 20–21 years. These results highlight the importance of individual-level analyses when examining gambling patterns over time.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Rubaltelli, E., Santinello, M. (2015). Trait urgency and gambling problems in young people: the role of decision-making processes. Addictive Behaviors, 46, 39-44.

  • Although the personality trait of urgency has been linked to problem gambling, less is known about psychological mechanisms that mediate the relationship between urgency and problem gambling. One individual variable of potential relevance to impulsivity and addictive disorders is age. The aims of this study were to examine: (i) a theoretical model associating urgency and gambling problems, (ii) the mediating effects of decision-making processes (operationalized as preference for small/immediate rewards and lower levels of deliberative decision-making); and (iii) age differences in these relationships. Participants comprised 986 students (64% male; mean age = 19.51 years; SD = 2.30) divided into three groups: 16–17 years, 18–21 years, and 22–25 years. All participants completed measures of urgency, problem gambling, and a delay-discounting questionnaire involving choices between a smaller amount of money received immediately and a larger amount of money received later. Participants were also asked to reflect on their decision-making process. Compared to those aged 16–17 years and 22–25 years, participants aged 18–21 years had a higher level of gambling problems and decreased scores on lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Higher levels of urgency were associated with higher levels of gambling problems. The association was mediated by a lower level of deliberative decision-making and preference for an immediate/small reward. A distinct pathway was observed for lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Young people who tend to act rashly in response to extreme moods, had lower levels of deliberative decision-making, that in turn were positively related to gambling problems. This study highlights unique decision-making pathways through which urgency trait may operate, suggesting that those developing prevention and/or treatment strategies may want to consider the model’s variables, including urgency, delay discounting, and deliberative decision-making.

Carran, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Gambling and social gambling: An exploratory study of young people’s perceptions and behavior. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(1), 101-113.

  • Background and aims: Gambling-type games that do not involve the spending of money (e.g., social and ‘demo’ [demonstration] gambling games, gambling-like activities within video games) have been accused in both the legal and psychological literature of increasing minors’ propensity towards prohibited forms of gambling thus prompting calls for gambling regulation to capture address such games and subject them to age restrictions. However, there is still a shortage of empirical data that considers how young people experience monetary and non-monetary gambling, and whether they are sufficiently aware of the differences. Methods: Data was collected from 23 qualitative focus groups carried out with 200 young people aged between 14 and 19 years old in schools based in London and Kent. As the study was exploratory in nature, thematic analysis was adopted in order to capture how pupils categorise, construct, and react to gambling-like activities in comparison to monetary forms of gambling without the constrains of a predetermined theoretical framework. Results: Despite many similarities, substantial differences between monetary and non-monetary forms of gambling were revealed in terms of pupils’ engagement, motivating factors, strengths, intensity, and associated emotions. Pupils made clear differentiation between non-monetary and monetary forms of gambling and no inherent transition of interest from one to the other was observed among participants. Only limited evidence emerged of ‘demo’ games being used as a practice ground for future gambling. Conclusion: For the present sample, non-monetary forms of gambling presented a different proposition to the real-money gambling with no inherent overlap between the two. For some the ‘softer’ form minimised the temptation to try other forms of gambling that they were not legally allowed to engage in, but ‘demo’ games may attract those who already want to gamble. Policy implications: Regulators must recognise and balance these two conflicting aspects.

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

  • Research indicates that compared to the general population, teenagers and students make the most use of social networking sites (SNSs). Although SNSs were originally developed to foster online communication between individuals, they now have the capability for other types of behaviour to be engaged in such as gambling and gaming. The present paper focuses on gambling and the playing of gambling-type games via SNSs and comprises a selective narrative overview of some of the main concerns and issues that have been voiced concerning gambling and gambling-type games played via social network sites. Overall, there is little empirical evidence relating to the psychosocial impact of adolescents engaging in gambling and gambling-type activities on SNSs, and the evidence that does exist does not allow definitive conclusions to be made. However, it is recommended that stricter age verification measures should be adopted for social games via SNSs particularly where children and adolescents are permitted to engage in gambling-related content, even where real money is not involved.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Marino, C., Chieco, F., Disperati, F., Andriolo, S., Santinello, M. (2016). The efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for high school students: A preliminary randomized study. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 946-954.

  • Early onset in adolescent gambling involvement can be a precipitator of later gambling problems. The aim of the present study was to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. Students attending a high school in Italy (N= 168) participated in the present study (58% male – age, M = 15.01; SD = 0.60). Twelve classes were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: intervention (N = 6; 95 students) and control group (N = 6; 73 students). Both groups received personalized feedback and then the intervention group received online training (interactive activities) for three weeks. At a two-month follow-up, students in the intervention group reported a reduction in gambling problems relative to those in the control group. However, there were no differences in gambling frequency, gambling expenditure, and attitudes toward the profitability of gambling between the two groups. In addition, frequent gamblers (i.e., those that gambled at least once a week at baseline) showed reductions in gambling problems and gambling frequency post-intervention. Frequent gamblers that only received personalized feedback showed significantly less realistic attitudes toward the profitability of gambling post-intervention. The present study is the first controlled study to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. The results indicate that a brief web-based intervention delivered in the school setting may be a potentially promising strategy for a low-threshold, low-cost, preventive tool for at-risk gambling high school students.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

  • Aims: The primary aim of the present study was to understand the impact of online gambling on gambling problems in a large-scale nationally representative sample of Italian youth, and to identify and then further examine a subgroup of online gamblers who reported higher rates of gambling problems. Design: Data from the ESPAD®Italia2013 (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) Study were used for analyses of adolescent Internet gambling. Setting: Self-administered questionnaires were completed by a representative sample of high school students, aged 15–19 years. Participants: A total of 14,778 adolescent students. Measurements: Respondents’ problem gambling severity; gambling behavior (participation in eight different gambling activities, the number of gambling occasions and the number of online gambling occasions, monthly gambling expenditure); Socio-demographics (e.g., family structure and financial status); and control variables were measured individually (i.e., use of the Internet for leisure activities and playing video games). Findings: Rates of problem gambling were five times higher among online gamblers than non-online gamblers. In addition, factors that increased the risk of becoming a problem online gambler included living with non-birth parents, having a higher perception of financial family status, being more involved with gambling, and the medium preferences of remote gamblers (e.g., Internet cafes, digital television, and video game console). Conclusions: The online gambling environment may pose significantly greater risk to vulnerable players. Family characteristics and contextual elements concerning youth Internet gambling (e.g., remote mediums) may play a key role in explaining problem online gambling among adolescents.

Pallesen, S., Hanss, D., Molde, H., Griffiths, M.D. & Mentzoni, R.A. (2016). A longitudinal study of factors explaining attitude change towards gambling among adolescents. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 59–67

  • Background and aims: No previous study has investigated changes in attitudes toward gambling from under legal gambling age to legal gambling age. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate attitudinal changes during this transition and to identify predictors of corresponding attitude change. Methods: In all 1239 adolescents from a national representative sample participated in two survey waves (Wave 1; 17.5 years; Wave 2; 18.5 years). Results: From Wave 1 to Wave 2 the sample became more acceptant toward gambling. A regression analysis showed that when controlling for attitudes toward gambling at Wave 1 males developed more acceptant attitudes than females. Neuroticism was inversely related to development of acceptant attitudes toward gambling from Wave 1 to Wave 2, whereas approval of gambling by close others at Wave 1 was positively associated with development of more acceptant attitudes. Continuous or increased participation in gambling was related to development of more acceptant attitudes from Wave 1 to Wave 2. Conclusions: Attitudes toward gambling became more acceptant when reaching legal gambling age. Male gender, approval of gambling by close others and gambling participation predicted development of positive attitudes toward gambling whereas neuroticism was inversely related to development of positive attitudes toward gambling over time.

Ciccarelli, M., Griffiths, M.D., Nigro, G., & Cosenza, M. (2016). Decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in adolescent problem and non-problem gamblers: An experimental study. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

  • In the psychological literature, many studies have investigated the neuropsychological and behavioral changes that occur developmentally during adolescence. These studies have consistently observed a deficit in the decision-making ability of children and adolescents. This deficit has been ascribed to incomplete brain development. The same deficit has also been observed in adult problem and pathological gamblers. However, to date, no study has examined decision-making in adolescents with and without gambling problems. Furthermore, no study has ever examined associations between problem gambling, decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in youth. To address these issues, 104 male adolescents participated in this study. They were equally divided in two groups, problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers, based on South Oaks Gambling Screen Revised for Adolescents scores. All participants performed the Iowa gambling task and completed the Gambling Related Cognitions Scale and the alcohol use disorders identification test. Adolescent problem gamblers displayed impaired decision-making, reported high cognitive distortions, and had more problematic alcohol use compared to non-problem gamblers. Strong correlations between problem gambling, alcohol use, and cognitive distortions were observed. Decision-making correlated with interpretative bias. This study demonstrated that adolescent problem gamblers appear to have the same psychological profile as adult problem gamblers and that gambling involvement can negatively impact on decision-making ability that, in adolescence, is still developing. The correlations between interpretative bias and decision-making suggested that the beliefs in the ability to influence gambling outcomes may facilitate decision-making impairment.

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

Further reading

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. (2010). Asian national adolescent gambling surveys: Methodological issues, protocols, and advice. Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, 1, 4-18.

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.

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.

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.

Risky business: A brief look at simulated gambling in video gaming

Recent empirical research studies suggest that children and adolescents access online gambling activities using digital devices such as personal computers, laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices. Three national adolescent gambling surveys carried out for the National Lottery Commission in Great Britain have all shown a small minority of children and adolescents can and do gamble online. A 2011 study by Ipsos MORI reported that 2% of 11-16 year olds had played online lottery games and 2% had gambled on other online games (i.e., online casinos, online poker, online bingo and/or online sports betting). These data suggest that the first gambling experiences by some children and adolescents might occur via the Internet, mobile phones, and/or interactive television rather than in a traditional offline gaming venue such as a casino, amusement arcade or bookmakers.

As gambling on the internet has expanded, a wide range of ‘gambling-like’ activities has emerged on smartphones, social networking sites, and within video games. There are also opportunities to gamble without spending money on both commercial gambling websites and social networking sites. These ‘free play’ simulations of gambling activities provide opportunities for youth to practice or become more familiar with gambling activities without spending real money. Despite the proliferation of non-monetary gambling simulations, there has been little research or policy attention on them. Simulated gambling activities and gambling themes also feature in many modern video games. In a paper published in a 2012 issue of International Gambling Studies, I and my research colleagues (Dr. Paul Delfabbro and Dr. Daniel King of the University of Adelaide [Australia], and Dr. Jeff Derevensky of McGill University [Montreal, Canada]) noted that video games that feature gambling may be categorised according to the following three categories:

  • Standard gambling simulation: A digitally simulated interactive gambling activity that is structurally identical to the standard format of an established gambling activity, such as blackjack or roulette. For instance, Texas Hold ’em (TikGames) is a standard gambling simulation of the poker variant of the same name. Poker is played using virtual credits against a computer opponent or in competition with other online players. Playing poker represents the entirety of the gaming experience in this video game. In contrast, the video game Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar) features a casino situated within the virtual game world that allows players to gamble using in-game credit with or against other players in social competitions. However, the gambling content within this type of video game represents only a small part of the overall gaming experience.
  • Non-standard gambling simulation: An interactive gambling activity that involves the intentional wagering of in-game credits or other items on an uncertain outcome, in an activity that may be partially modelled on a standard gambling activity but which contains distinct player rules or other structural components that differ from established gambling games. For instance, the video game Fable II Pub Games contains three unique casino-style games, partly modelled on craps (dice), roulette, and slot machines. Players can wager ‘gold coins’ on chance-determined outcomes (i.e., patterns in cards, dice throws, spinning wheels, etc.) in order to win greater amounts of gold, as well as other items and prizes.
  • Gambling references: The appearance of non-interactive gambling material or gambling-related paraphernalia/materials within the context of the video game.

Online video games may also feature opportunities to gamble. For example, online games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft include player-operated gambling activities using the in-game currency. These activities are usually supported through websites adjunctive to the video game (i.e., wagers are placed outside the game), but the gambling activity (i.e., winning and losing) takes place in the game world. Gambling activities include sports betting (e.g., placing bets on the outcome of player duels and battles) and lotteries (e.g., selling raffle tickets for a chance at winning a prize). The relative scarcity of in-game assets, including currency and items, makes them valuable to the game’s community of players. Some players will exchange real money for in-game currency as way of advancing more quickly in the game. The option to exchange in-game currency and other content (virtual goods) to other players for real world money thus gives these activities a limited, albeit indirect, financial element.

Modern video games provide realistic and sophisticated simulated gambling opportunities to youth. According to a paper we published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, the potential risks of young people engaging in simulated gambling include:

  • Greater familiarity with gambling and acceptance of gambling as a ‘normal’ entertainment activity;
  • The development of gambling strategies and the ability to practice these strategies without need of money;
  • The development of positive gambling beliefs and thoughts of ‘winning big’ associated with gambling;
  • Exposure to the excitement of gambling wins, including bonuses and jackpots;
  • False expectations about how gambling operates and an inflated sense of its long-term profitability.

Simulated gambling has the potential to offer positive experiences associated with gambling without the typical barriers to entry associated with gambling (e.g., money, age restriction). Although no actual money is involved in simulated gambling, it is recognised that people (including youth) are not only motivated to gamble for financial reasons. Gambling can provides excitement, relief from boredom, a way of coping with problems, and a means of social interaction (i.e., playing with friends). Very simply, gambling is engaged in not only for financial rewards, but for physiological, psychological, and/or social rewards. Simulated gambling activities may also enable youth to feel more comfortable with gambling per se, which may assist the transition from simulated gambling to gambling with real money.

A risk associated with video games that feature simulated gambling is that activities may often combine the skill and fast-paced action of a video game with the chance-based nature of gambling. This combination of skill and chance may set up false expectations about the governing rules and player control involved in gambling activities. For example, younger players may believe that, with sufficient practice, they can overcome and master the challenges of the game.

Youth gambling represents a serious social problem. Therefore, it is important for researchers, health professionals, and parents to be informed about emerging media risk factors for problem gambling. Commercial video gaming technologies provide young people with unrestricted access to realistic gambling and gambling-like experiences. This blog has highlighted that some commercial video games feature casino-style gambling activities that enable players to gamble using in-game credit with or against other players in social competition.

Simulated gambling in video games is often associated with incentives and rewards, such as virtual currency, rare in-game items, and other content of large contextual value in the game. While some video games with simulated gambling may be intended for use by adults only, many video games (e.g., Pokémon) feature content that appeals mainly to a younger audience. This material could therefore be considered a form of gambling advertising targeted at youth. Furthermore, simulated gambling in video games may enhance young players’ familiarity of casino and card games. Given the brief overview presented here, we would recommend that policymakers should critically consider the growing presence of gambling in online gaming and social media technologies, and associated issues of social responsibility as these activities become more monetised and/or promote or otherwise endorse involvement in monetary gambling activities.

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

Additional input: Dr. Daniel King and Dr. Paul Delfabbro

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

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

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.

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. (2007). Adolescent Internet gambling: Preliminary results of a national survey. Education and Health, 25, 23-27.

Ipsos MORI. (2009). British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling 2008–09: Report of a quantitative survey. London: National Lottery Commission.

Ipsos MORI. (2011). Underage Gambling in England and Wales: A research study among 11-16 year olds on behalf of the National Lottery Commission. London: National Lottery Commission.

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

Volberg, R., Gupta, R., Griffiths, M.D., Olason, D. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2010). An international perspective on youth gambling prevalence studies. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 3-38.

Slots of fun? A brief overview of adolescent gambling

Last night I appeared in BBC Radio 1 documentary on gambling (“Don’t Bet On It: The Story of Young People and Gambling”) that had a specific focus on youth gambling. Having written two books on the topic, it is an area that I am highly passionate about and is an area that I will always want to do further research into. But what do we know empirically about adolescent gambling? There have been many studies examining the patterns of gambling and problem gambling among adolescents across many countries. A number of comprehensive reviews of adolescent gambling have examined the methods and results of all the adolescent prevalence surveys that have been carried out in North America (the United States and Canada), Europe and the Nordic countries, and Australasia (Australia and New Zealand).

In the United States, the prevalence of past year adolescent gambling in the only national study was 67% with a past year problem gambling rate of 1.3%. However, state-by-state across more than 20 studies show there are large variations ranging from 20% to 86% (past year adolescent gambling prevalence rates) and 0.9–5.7% (past year adolescent problem gambling prevalence rates). In Canada, there has been no national study, only provincial surveys. These have shown a past year adolescent gambling prevalence of 24–90% and a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 2.2–8.1%.

In Europe, there have been relatively few studies of adolescent gambling and the quality is variable in terms of sample size, representativeness, and quality of data. Adolescent gambling prevalence rates have been reported for a number of countries. These include Belgium (42% lifetime prevalence), Estonia (75% lifetime prevalence), Finland (52% past year prevalence), Germany (62% past year prevalence), Great Britain (19–70% past year prevalence), Iceland (57–70% past year prevalence), Norway (74–82% past year prevalence), Romania (82% lifetime prevalence), Slovakia (27.5% lifetime prevalence), and Sweden (76% past year prevalence). Adolescent problem gambling prevalence rates have been reported for a number of countries. These include Estonia (3.4% lifetime prevalence), Finland (2.3% past year prevalence), Germany (3% past year prevalence), Great Britain (2–5.6% past year prevalence), Iceland (1.9–3.0% past year prevalence), Italy (6% past year prevalence), Norway (1.8–3.2% past year prevalence), Romania (7% lifetime prevalence), Spain (0.8%–4.6% past year prevalence), and Sweden (0.9% past year prevalence).

In Australia, there has also been no national study, only territory surveys. These have shown a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 41–89% and a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 1.0–4.4%. In New Zealand, the two national surveys have shown a past year adolescent gambling rate of 65–68% and past year adolescent gambling problem gambling prevalence rates of 3.8–13%.

From these reviews, a number of conclusions have been made. First, from a methodological perspective, the reviews show that school-based surveys and telephone surveys were the primary modalities used to collect data in adolescent prevalence surveys. Second, a methodological trend of increasing sample sizes over time was noted. Early adolescent gambling surveys in the late 1980s and early 1990s tended to include samples of only a few hundred whereas most recent surveys are much bigger. For instance, the five national prevalence surveys in Great Britain have typically had sample sizes of approximately 8000 or more. Third, it was noted that the most widely used problem gambling instruments are derived from adult problem gambling screens and may not be suited to assessing gambling-related problems in younger people. However, pending a better-validated problem gambling instrument for adolescents, these instruments are likely to continue to be viewed as the best approximations for the measurement of problem gambling among adolescents.

The reviews have also made a number of other generalizations. Male adolescents are more likely than female adolescents to gamble, and more likely to experience problems, a finding that is well established. However, there is no evidence that problem gambling among females indicates a more serious problem. It also appears that, while adolescents from certain ethnic groups are less likely to gamble than other adolescents (e.g., Native American and African American youth in North America, non-Francophone youth in Quebec, indigenous youth in Australia, and Pacific Island youth in New Zealand), they are more likely to gamble regularly when they do gamble and to experience problems. However, there may be other confounding variables such as socioeconomic status.

There are also other clear demographic patterns. For example, the most popular youth gambling activities tend to be private, peer-related activities such as card games and betting on sports. Older youth are more likely to engage in accessible forms of age-restricted gambling, such as lotteries. The one notable exception is in Great Britain where slot machines are legally available for adolescents to gamble on at seaside arcades and family leisure centers. Unlike most other countries, Great Britain’s adolescent problem gamblers are most likely to be experiencing gambling problems associated with slot machines. Other common demographic characteristics are that youth problem gamblers are more likely to start gambling at a younger age and to have parents who gamble.

Other research has shown that young problem gamblers are also more likely to have begun gambling at an early age, have had a big win early on in their playing career, and to be from a lower social class. In addition to the risk factors based on personal characteristics, the social and physical environment in which young people gamble and the gambling activity also play a part. Research has indicated that the most problematic and addictive gambling activities to be those (such as slot machines) that involve high event frequencies, short interval between stake and payout, near miss opportunities, a combination of very high prizes and/or frequent winning of small prizes, and suspension of judgment.

Like other potentially addictive behaviors, problem gambling in adolescence causes the individual to engage in negative behaviours. In Great Britain, research has indicated these negative behaviours include truanting in order to play the slot machines, stealing to fund slot machine playing, getting into trouble with teachers and/or parents over their machine playing, borrowing or the using of lunch money to play slot machines, poor schoolwork, and in some cases, aggressive behavior. One study demonstrated that around 4% of all juvenile crime in one English city was gambling-related based on over 1850 arrests in a one-year period.

Furthermore, teenage problem gamblers also appear to display bona fide signs of addiction including withdrawal effects, tolerance salience, mood modification, conflict, and relapse. Some young people gamble as a means of coping with everyday stresses and problems (avoidance) and as their gambling becomes more problematic so their problems, such as debt, increase and consequently their need to gamble also increases. This therefore creates a vicious circle whereby gambling behavior is experienced as both a problem and as a strategy for dealing with problems. It has also be noted that adolescent gambling is often part of a lifestyle that includes increased prevalence in many risky behaviors (such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and taking illicit drugs).

Adolescent gambling, and more specifically adolescent problem gambling, is a cause for concern with a small but significant minority of adolescents having a severe gambling problem. Furthermore, the prevalence of problem gambling in adolescents tends to be approximately three to five times higher than that in adults (depending upon the jurisdiction and the opportunities for adolescents to gamble). This suggests that many adolescents stop gambling when they reach adulthood, although there have been no longitudinal studies to date. Retrospective reports in the literature suggest that many adolescent gamblers ‘mature out’ of gambling and that there are some events in the lives’ of older adolescent that may be triggers in spontaneous remission (such as getting a job, getting married, and birth of a child). However, these are anecdotal and further research is needed to help identify protective factors for problem gambling.

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

With additional input from: Dr Rachel Volberg (Gemini Research, USA), Dr Rina Gupta (McGill University, Canada), Dr Paul Delfabbro (University of Adelaide, Australia), and Dr Daniel Olason (University of Iceland, Iceland)

Further reading

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J. & Derevensky, J. (2011). Online gambling among youth: Cause for concern? In J.L. Derevensky, D.T.L. Shek & J. Merrick (Eds.), Youth Gambling: The Hidden Addiction, pp. 125-143. Berlin: DeGruyter.

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

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Volberg, R., Gupta, R., Griffiths, M.D., Olason, D. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2010). An international perspective on youth gambling prevalence studies. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 3-38.