Apr 26, 2010
What motivates gambling addicts?
SINCE Resorts World Sentosa opened as Singapore's first casino early this year, there have been cases of people committing fraud or running up large gambling losses.
In anticipation of this, several initiatives such as exclusion orders were introduced. Exclusion orders allow individuals to apply to be barred from entering casinos here because of their gambling addiction.
Families of problem gamblers can also seek these orders. Singapore is only the second country in the world after Australia to have such a social safeguard.
The number of calls in February and last month to the National Council on Problem Gambling's helpline has more than doubled.
The nature of the calls has also changed. Callers used to seek information about gambling addiction. Now, they seek advice on how to deal with gambling addiction. The number of self-exclusion orders has also risen.
To identify and treat their addiction more effectively, we need to know what motivates problem gamblers.
Some are driven to gamble because it is a form of self-medication: They use it to escape from negative emotional states, such as depression and stress.
Others become addicted to gambling because they gain pleasure from it.
Thus, there are two types of gambling addicts: self-medicating gamblers and pleasure-seekers.
While the motivation of problem gamblers may vary, we found that there are demographic and behavioural characteristics associated with each of the two types of gambling addicts.
Self-medicating gambling addicts, more than pure pleasure-seeking gamblers, are more likely to have other substance dependencies or addictions besides gambling. And the risk of the self-medicating group to have other substance dependencies becomes greater as their gambling problem escalates.
By contrast, as the pleasure-seekers' problems with gambling worsen, their likelihood of other substance dependencies decreases.
It has also been shown that gambling addicts with a parent who gambled are more likely to have other substance dependencies. And men in this group face a higher risk of having other substance dependencies than women.
Further, our research showed that self-medicating problem gamblers are less likely to commit illegal acts to facilitate their gambling compared with the other group.
We also found that there are some factors that will predict a tendency to break the law to support a gambling habit:
Higher-income gamblers are less likely to commit illegal acts than their lower-income counterparts. And the longer a problem gambler has been gambling, the more likely he is to commit criminal acts. Male gamblers pose a greater risk in these respects than female gamblers.
Finally, older, higher-income individuals with gambling parents are more likely to be self-medicating gamblers.
These findings suggest that different treatments are needed, depending on what motivates the addicts. Self-medicating problem gamblers are likely to be hooked on more than gambling.
Those seeking to help them need to tackle the root causes of their dependency. Otherwise, addicts weaned off gambling may simply turn to other forms of dependency, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
In this context, it should be noted that families of self-medicating problem gamblers who apply to bar them from entering the casinos may inadvertently encourage the addicts to substitute gambling with other dependencies.
Apart from restricting their access to the casinos, perhaps the National Council on Problem Gambling can help to identify such gamblers and direct them to the proper treatment.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUS Business School. This commentary is based on research done in collaboration with Lu Qiang and Rohan Miller, both of the University of Sydney. The research findings were presented to the Association of Consumer Research.