You wouldn’t know it, but there’s actually a lot of gambling research out there. The reason I haven’t pulled the trigger on self-funding a PhD is that most of it goes completely unnoticed.
To be fair, that’s because a lot of it is niche and slightly boring. Presumably the richest seams of investigation have been mined and we’re now in the phase of learning more and more about less and less.
Here are three recent examples from the Journal of Gambling Studies:
Some Canadians spent eight years tracking gambler awareness of their equivalent of GamCare (and related services), and they found that there has been a steady increase in knowledge among regular customers. However, most people still don’t really know about them or what they do, so a lot more has to be done to promote harm minimisation.
It’s a bit like how smokers don’t flinch if there’s a picture of tumour-ridden lung on their packet of cigs. It makes the industry feel a bit better about what they do, and appear to care, whilst actually having minimal impact on profits.
Meanwhile, some Australian academics looked at whether the closure of brick-and-mortar casinos during lockdown has had any impact on gambling behaviours. They simultaneously measured states with and without restrictions and found a slight decrease in engagement where live gambling opportunities were limited.
That seems like a pretty obvious finding, because it’s substantially harder to play roulette when the croupier is in the local ICU. Nonetheless, the gambling reduction was only temporary, and problems were found back at normal levels not long after the venues reopened. Also obvious.
Finally, a group of Italians carried out an investigation into loss chasing. The results were still predictable, but at least they were borderline interesting. Firstly, it was found that loss chasing can cause cognitive distortions like losing track of time. Being in a financial hole can be very stressful, so it’s no surprise that brain function becomes impaired.
But they also found that the severity of a gambler’s problem didn’t predict whether they would chase their losses. It seems the presence of the Gambler’s Fallacy or Illusion of Control are a better way to identify if a gambler is likely to keep digging when they’ve got themselves in a hole.
Basically, loss chasers are the ones that don’t realise they have no agency over the game and believe that their luck is going to turn soon after a nasty run of losses. The Italians believe this information could come in handy when tailoring treatment for gambling problems, and I tend to agree.
There are good studies though, and when they come along, they tend to make the news. Just like the one I read about in the Guardian today.
Some folks from the University of Bristol decided to look at how gambling venues are geographically located around the country. They found there is a significant skew towards targeting poorer areas.
The 10% of poorest areas in the country accounted for 21% of the more than 10K gambling premises. So that means Glasgow and Liverpool are the places to go if you fancy doing a high-density crawl of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
Conversely, the richest 10% of the country have only 2% of the gambling sites. So good luck if you’re looking to blow your Universal Credit in Beaconsfield or Harpenden.
In truth, this isn’t a surprise finding. It fits exactly with what we know about the psychology of gambling. The people with the least to lose (and most to gain) are the ones that are most likely to seek out risk.
But it’s fascinating to see it quantified so clearly. It’s a great example of how underlying data can reveal the truth if someone takes the time to comb through it. This is clear and compelling evidence that gambling companies are deliberately focusing their resources on targeting the poor.
The response of the industry’s Betting & Gambling Council was defiant and utterly tone deaf. In short: “You anti-gambling people are stupid. We create lots of jobs and pay lots of tax”.
It might seem like it sometimes, but I’m not anti-gambling. I bloody love it. But I am against designing addictive products that disproportionately ruin the lives of people who already have enough challenges in their lives.
Unfortunately, as the Australians found, the solution isn’t as simple as closing venues and making it harder to gamble. Online gambling is so prevalent now, that eventually the customers of betting shops, casinos, arcades and bingo halls will move online.
The government will need to implement more creative (and effective) solutions and prevent this cynical targeting in the first place. I’ve already written about how that might work, but I would go a lot further in terms of product design and availability.
The review of UK gambling laws is due any time now, and as this article points out, is already well overdue. I just hope this latest insight is not overlooked.
I’ve been pretty slack with my betting in the last few weeks, because frankly the Olympics and The Hundred are rubbish events to bet on. But the Premier League is underway and England still have three tests to endure against India, so I’ll probably be more active now. I already had a £20 win on India in the second test and £7 profit on Lukaku scoring against Arsenal, so I have a little bankroll to burn.