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The dangers of conflating gambling-related harm with disordered gambling

Commentary on: Prevention paradox logic and problem gambling (Delfabbro & King, 2017)

Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors: Matthew Browne and Matthew J. Rockloff

In their critical review of the prevention paradox (PP) applied to gambling-related harm, Delfabbro and King (2017) raise a number of concerns regarding specific assumptions, methods, and findings as well as the general conceptual approach. Besides discussing the PP, the review also considers the merits of considering a “continuum of harm,” as opposed to the more traditional categorical approach to classifying problem gamblers. Their critique is carefully modulated and balanced, and starts a useful dialogue in the context of a public health approach to gambling. Unfortunately, some of Delfabbro and King’s (2017) arguments rest on the treatment of gambling harm as a binary state and conflates gambling-related harm with disordered gambling. In this reply, we argue that the application of PP logic to gambling harm has not yet been addressed by us, and is only indirectly related to the more important objective of understanding how gambling can reduce ones’ quality of life.

Open access

Background

The prevention paradox (PP) describes a situation in which a greater number of cases of a disease-state come from low-risk members of a population, because they are more prevalent than high-risk members. Past research has provided only tangential and disputed evidence to support the application of the PP to gambling-related harm.

Aims

To assess whether the PP applies to gambling, the prevalence of a large set (72) of diverse harmful consequences from gambling was examined across four risk categories for problem gambling, including no-risk, low-risk, moderate-risk, and problem-gambling.

Methods

Respondents who had gambled on non-lottery forms in the past 6 months completed an online survey (N = 1,524, 49.4% male). The data were weighted to the known prevalence of gambling problems in the Victorian community.

Results

The prevalence of gambling harms, including severe harms, was generally higher in the combined categories of lower risk categories compared to the high-risk problem-gambling category. There were some notable exceptions, however, for some severe and rare harms. Nevertheless, the majority of harms in the 72-item list, including serious harms such as needing temporary accommodation, emergency welfare assistance, experiencing separation or end of a relationship, loss of a job, needing to sell personal items, and experiencing domestic violence from gambling, were more commonly associated with lower risk gamblers.

Conclusion

Many significant harms are concentrated outside the ranks of gamblers with a severe mental health condition, which supports a public-health approach to ameliorating gambling-related harm.

Open access

A diverse class of stimuli, including certain foods, substances, media, and economic behaviours, may be described as ‘reward-oriented’ in that they provide immediate reinforcement with little initial investment. Neurophysiological and personality concepts, including dopaminergic dysfunction, reward sensitivity and rash impulsivity, each predict the existence of a latent behavioural trait that leads to increased consumption of all stimuli in this class. Whilst bivariate relationships (co-morbidities) are often reported in the literature, to our knowledge, a multivariate investigation of this possible trait has not been done. We surveyed 1,194 participants (550 male) on their typical weekly consumption of 11 types of reward-oriented stimuli, including fast food, salt, caffeine, television, gambling products, and illicit drugs. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to compare models in a 3×3 structure, based on the definition of a single latent factor (none, fixed loadings, or estimated loadings), and assumed residual covariance structure (none, a-priori / literature based, or post-hoc / data-driven). The inclusion of a single latent behavioural ‘consumption’ factor significantly improved model fit in all cases. Also confirming theoretical predictions, estimated factor loadings on reward-oriented indicators were uniformly positive, regardless of assumptions regarding residual covariances. Additionally, the latent trait was found to be negatively correlated with the non-reward-oriented indicators of fruit and vegetable consumption. The findings support the notion of a single behavioural trait leading to increased consumption of reward-oriented stimuli across multiple modalities. We discuss implications regarding the concentration of negative lifestyle-related health behaviours.

Open access

Background and aims

Impulsivity has consistently been associated with over-consumption and addiction. Recent research has reconceptualized impulsivity as a two-dimensional construct (). This study explores the relationship of the two components of impulsivity, reward drive (RD) and rash impulsivity (RI), on a broad group of 23 hedonic consumption behaviors (e.g., gambling, substance use, eating, and media use). We tentatively grouped the behaviors into three descriptive classes: entertainment, foodstuffs, and illicit activities and substances.

Results

RD and RI positively predicted elevated levels of consumption in a community sample (N=5,391; 51% female), for the vast majority of the behaviors considered. However, the effect sizes for RD and RI varied significantly depending on the behavior; a pattern that appeared to be at least partially attributable to the class of consumption. Results support the view that RD is related more strongly to the consumption of products that provide social engagement or a sense of increased status; whereas RI better reflects an approach toward illicit or restricted products that are intensely rewarding with clear negative consequences.

Discussion and conclusion

Results support the utility of the two-factor model of impulsivity in explaining individual differences in patterns of hedonic consumption in the general population. We discuss findings in terms of strengthening current conceptualizations of RI and RD as having distinct implications with respect to health-related behaviors.

Open access

Background and aims

Incentives for wagering products can provide extra value to gamblers. However, there is no financial reason why this added value should lead people to take greater gambling risks. This study aimed to experimentally test if wagering incentives cause gamblers to choose higher-risk (long odds) bets than un-incentivized bets.

Methods

An online experiment was conducted with wagering customers (N = 299, female = 12). Participants bet $4 on each of six video game simulations of a sport that they had wagered on in the past 12 months (Australian Football League, Cricket, or Soccer). Each game offered different common wagering incentives: Bonus bet, Better odds/winnings, Reduced risk, Cash rebate, Player’s choice of inducement, or No-inducement. For each game, participants could bet on long, medium, or short odds, and subsequently viewed a highlight reel of the simulated game outcome and bet outcome.

Results

Participants selected significantly longer odds (i.e., riskier) bets on games when an incentive was offered compared to the No-inducement condition. Better odds/winnings was the most attractive incentive, followed by Bonus bet, Cash rebate, Reduced risk, and No-incentive, respectively. No significant differences were observed based on demographics or problem gambling severity.

Discussion and conclusions

The choice of long odds with incentivized bets increases the volatility of player returns. Increased volatility results in more gamblers in a losing position and fewer gamblers with larger wins. Moreover, if long odds bets are priced to provide poorer value to bettors compared to short odds, they would increase gamblers’ losses and equivalently increase operators’ profits.

Open access

Abstract

Background and aims

The Prevention Paradox (PP) suggests that a large proportion of aggregate harm from gambling occurs to people who do not have a gambling disorder. However, it has not yet been tested using a population-representative sample. We aimed to test whether the PP applies to gambling in Finland. The prevalence rates of diverse harmful consequences from gambling were surveyed amongst a population-representative sample of past-year gamblers.

Methods

The study used first wave data (N = 7,186) of Finnish Gambling Harms survey, collected via online and postal surveys in 2017. A subset of 3,795 adults (≥18 years), who had gambled at least monthly in 2016, were selected for analysis.

Measurements

Gambling-related harms were evaluated with the 72-item Harms Checklist. Problem and Pathological Gambling Measure (PPGM) measured respondents’ probable disordered gambling from the subset of items for impaired control (4 questions) and other issues (3 questions).

Findings

Consistent with previous findings, the majority of harms were reported by those in the less severe PPGM categories (i.e. scoring <5). However, considering each domain separately, this was true only for financial, emotional/psychological, and work/study harms. The PP was not supported for health, relationship, or social deviance harms.

Conclusions

The population prevalence of the most serious harms (e.g. unsafe living conditions) is concentrated among those with severe impaired control issues. However, even excluding the ∼15% of harms occurring to occasional gamblers, most financial, emotional and work/study impacts occur to those with lower levels of control issues. Efforts at harm reduction should focus on the entire spectrum of issues that people experience from their gambling.

Open access

Abstract

Background and aims

Harmful gambling has been associated with the endorsement of fallacious cognitions that promote excessive consumption. These types of beliefs stem from intuitively derived assumptions about gambling that are fostered by fast-thinking and a lack of objective, critical thought. The current paper details an experiment designed to test whether a four-week online intervention to strengthen contextual analytical thinking in gamblers is effective in changing gamblers cognitions and encouraging safer gambling consumption.

Methods

Ninety-four regular gamblers who reported experiencing gambling-related harm were randomly allocated to either an experimental (n = 46) or control condition (n = 48), including 45 males, ranging from 19 to 65 years of age (M = 36.61; SD = 9.76). Following baseline measurement of gambling beliefs and prior week gambling consumption, participants in the experimental condition were required to complete an adaption of the Gamblers Fallacy Questionnaire designed to promote analytical thinking by educating participants on common judgement errors specific to gambling once a week for four weeks. Post-intervention measures of beliefs and gambling consumption were captured in week five.

Results

The experimental condition reported significantly fewer erroneous cognitions, greater endorsement of protective cognitions, and reduced time spent gambling post-intervention compared to baseline. The control group also reported a reduction in cognitions relating to predicting and controlling gambling outcomes.

Conclusion

Cognitive interventions that encourage gamblers to challenge gambling beliefs by reflecting on gambling involvement and promoting critical thinking may be an effective tool for reducing the time people invest in gambling activities.

Open access

Background and aims

In the present research, we experimentally investigated whether the experience of winning (i.e., inflated payout rates) in a social casino game influenced social casino gamers’ subsequent decision to gamble for money. Furthermore, we assessed whether facets of dispositional impulsivity – negative and positive urgency in particular – also influenced participants’ subsequent gambling.

Methods

Social casino gamers who were also current gamblers (N = 318) were asked to play a social casino game to assess their perceptions of the game in exchange for $3. Unbeknownst to them, players were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: winning (n = 110), break-even (n = 103), or losing (n = 105). After playing, participants were offered a chance to gamble their $3 renumeration in an online roulette game.

Results

A total of 280 participants (88.1%) elected to gamble, but no between-condition variation in the decision to gamble emerged. Furthermore, there were no differences in gambling on the online roulette between condition. However, higher levels of both negative and positive urgency increased the likelihood of gambling. Finally, impulsivity did not moderate the relationship between experience of winning and decision to gamble.

Conclusion

The results suggest that dispositional factors, including impulsive urgency, are implicated in the choice to gamble for social casino gamers following play.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors: Nicki A. Dowling, Christopher J. Greenwood, Stephanie S. Merkouris, George J. Youssef, Matthew Browne, Matthew Rockloff, and Paul Myers

Abstract

Background and aims

Problem gambling severity and gambling-related harm are closely coupled, but conceptually distinct, constructs. The primary aim was to compare low-risk gambling limits when gambling-related harm was defined using the negative consequence items of the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI-Harm) and the Short Gambling Harms Scale items (SGHS-Harm). A secondary aim was compare low-risk limits derived using a definition of harm in which at least two harms across different domains (e.g. financial and relationship) were endorsed with a definition of harm in which at least two harms from any domain were endorsed.

Methods

Data were collected from dual-frame computer-assisted telephone interviews of 5,000 respondents in the fourth Social and Economic Impact Study (SEIS) of Gambling in Tasmania. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analyse were conducted to identify low-risk gambling limits.

Results

PGSI-Harm and SGHS-Harm definitions produced similar overall limits: 30–37 times per year; AUD$510–$544 per year; expenditure comprising no more than 10.2–10.3% of gross personal income; 400–454 minutes per year; and 2 types of gambling activities per year. Acceptable limits (AUC ≥0.70) were identified for horse/dog racing, keno, and sports/other betting using the PGSI definition; and electronic gaming machines, keno, and bingo using the SGHS definition. The requirement that gamblers endorse two or more harms across different domains had a relatively negligible effect.

Discussion and conclusions

Although replications using alternative measures of harm are required, previous PGSI-based limits appear to be robust thresholds that have considerable potential utility in the prevention of gambling-related harm.

Open access

Abstract

Background and aims

Loot boxes are a common feature in video games where players win, buy or are gifted a virtual box or other container that is unwrapped to reveal virtual items of value, such as skins, weapons, in-game currency or special abilities. The current study aimed to relate the use of loot boxes to gambling problems and harm.

Methods

An online survey was conducted with 1,954 adolescents and young adults from NSW Australia, 59.9% female (aged 12–24), recruited by online panel aggregator, Qualtrics.

Results

Buying and selling loot boxes was associated with higher 12-month gambling frequency and gambling problems in young adults, aged 18–24 (Problem Gambling Severity Index). Young adults who bought loot boxes additionally had more gambling-related harms (Short Gambling Harms Screen). Young women, aged 18–24, who opened, bought and/or sold loot boxes spent more money in the last 12 months on gambling. In adolescents, aged 12–17, buying loot boxes was similarly associated with gambling problems (DSM-IV-MR-J). Furthermore, adolescent girls who bought and/or sold loot boxes viewed gambling more positively than other girls (Attitudes Towards Gambling Scale). There was no evidence, however, that longer-term experience in opening or purchasing loot boxes, a differentiating feature of the survey, is associated with current gambling problems.

Discussion and conclusions

This study suggests that loot boxes may be attractive to people who are already predisposed to engage in other gambling, and females who use loot boxes may have unique vulnerabilities to gambling problems that could be explored in future research.

Open access