Gambling is no ordinary commodity. As a phenomenon it is fabricated and learned socially and culturally. In order to spend money on a game, humans must not only learn the logic of the game (“four cherries in a row are worth more than three hats”) but they must also be internalised in a (il)logical bundle of justifications in terms of the value of doing so (“it is fun”; “I will become rich”, or “If I play enough times, the likelihood of winning increases”). In this issue of Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs the latter circumstance of a cultural internalisation is demonstrated by Egerer and Marionneau’s (2019) article on cultures and the convenience of gambling among Finnish and French gamblers. Their study shows that the activity has a different cultural position in the two countries: the internalising into gambling belongs in Finland to the sphere of everyday life, but in France it is connected with the peculiarities of the casino environment (see also Marionneau, 2015). This makes gambling such an intriguing case for cultural studies.
In many countries, lottery games and other gambling activities were first provided and handled by civil society associations in order to collect incomes for their work. This is indeed a practical way of generating money: readers are likely, for example, to be familiar with school events where there is a lottery, and the revenues go to a school trip or some other venture that supports the children’s school atmosphere or educational path.
When a need arose by jurisdictions to regulate gambling more thoroughly, it was primarily for fiscal reasons (Sulkunen et al., 2018). In addition, there were a string of issues attached to this question of regulation: who was to gain revenues from gambling and how much; who was allowed to play; and where should the gambling activities take place? The bigger the gambling industry grew, the more questions followed – and appeared to have been overlooked historically.
Now that the global gambling market is worth almost 500 billion USD gross yield (Statista, 2018), there is a great societal demand for making gambling policy a more integrated object of sociological, social political, and political science research. This thematic issue of NAD tries to answer this need by filling a small part of the gap in the Nordic literature.
Article available online
Reference: Hellman, M. (2019). Gambling – No ordinary commodity. Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 36(2), 63-65. https://doi.org/10.1177/1455072519826739
Background and aims: The current randomized controlled trial tested whether there was benefit to providing an online gambling intervention and a separate self-help mental health intervention for anxiety and depression (i.e. MoodGYM) (G + MH), compared to only a gambling intervention (G only) among people with co-occurring gambling problems and mental health distress. The primary outcome of interest was improvement in gambling outcomes. Secondary analyses also tested for the impact of the combined intervention on depression and anxiety outcomes.
Methods: Participants who were concerned about their gambling were recruited to help evaluate an online intervention for gamblers. Those who met criteria for problem gambling were randomized to receive either the G only or the G + MH intervention. Participants were also assessed for current mental health distress at baseline, with three quarters (n = 214) reporting significant current distress and form the sample for this study. Participants were followed-up at 3- and 6-months to assess changes in gambling status, and improvements in depression and anxiety.
Results: Follow-up rates were poor (47% completed at least one follow-up). While there were significant reductions in gambling outcomes, as well as on measures of current depression and anxiety, there was no significant difference in outcomes between participants receiving the G only versus the G + MH intervention.
Discussion and conclusion: There does not appear to be a benefit to providing access to an additional online mental health intervention to our online gambling intervention, at least among participants who are concerned about their gambling.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02800096; Registration date: June 14, 2016.
Article available online
Reference: Cunningham, J.A., Hodgins, D.C., Mackenzie, C.S., Godinho, A., Schell, C., Kushnir, V., & Hendershot, C.S. (2019). Randomized controlled trial of an Internet intervention for problem gambling provided with or without access to an Internet intervention for co-occurring mental health distress. Internet Interventions, 17(September, 100239). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2019.100239
Abstract: The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) is a screening instrument frequently used to identify risk and problem gambling. Even though the PGSI has good psychometric properties, it still produces a large proportion of misclassifications. Aims: To explore possible reasons for misclassifications in problem gambling level by analysing previously classified moderate-risk gamblers’ answers to the PGSI items, in relation to their own current and past gambling behaviours.
Methods: Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 19 participants reporting no negative consequences from gambling. They were asked the PGSI questions within an eight-year time frame (2008 to 2016). Ambiguous answers to PGSI items were subject to content analysis.
Results: Several answers to the PGSI items contained ambiguities and misinterpretations, making it difficult to assess to what extent their answers actually indicated any problematic gambling over time. The item about feelings of guilt generated accounts rather reflecting self-recrimination over wasting money or regretting gambling as a meaningless or immoral activity. The item concerning critique involved mild interpretations such as being ridiculed for buying lottery tickets or getting comments for being boring. Similar accounts were given by the participants irrespective of initial
endorsement of the items. Other possible reasons for misclassifications were related to recall bias, language difficulties, selective memory, and a tendency to answer one part of the question without taking the whole question into account.
Conclusions: Answers to the PGSI can contain a variety of meanings based on the respondents’ subjective interpretations. Reports of lower levels of harm in the population should thus be interpreted with caution. In clinical settings it is important to combine use of screening instruments with interviews, to be able to better understand gamblers’ perceptions of the gambling behaviour and its negative consequences.
Article available online
Reference: Samuelsson, E., Wennberg, P., & Sundqvist, K. (2019). Gamblers’ (mis-)interpretations of Problem Gambling Severity Index items: Ambiguities in qualitative accounts from the Swedish longitudinal gambling study. Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 36(2), 140–160. DOI: 10.1177/1455072519829407
Abstract: Smartphone users engage extensively with their devices, on an intermittent basis for short periods of time. These patterns of behaviour have the potential to make mobile gambling especially perseverative. This paper reports the first empirical study of mobile gambling in which a simulated gambling app was used to measure gambling behaviour in phases of acquisition and extinction. We found that participants showed considerable perseverance in the face of continued losses that were linearly related to their prior engagement with the app. Latencies between gambles were associated with the magnitude of reinforcement; more positive outcomes were associated with longer breaks between play and a greater propensity to end a gambling session. Greater latencies were associated with measurements of problem gambling, and perseverance with gambling-related cognitions and sensation-seeking behaviour.
Article available online
Reference: James R.J.E., O’Malley, C., & Tunney R.J. (2019). Gambling on smartphones: A study of a potentially addictive behaviour in a naturalistic setting. European Addiction Research, 25,30-40. doi: 10.1159/000495663
Introduction: Pre-commitment tools – allowing users of gambling services to pre-set a limit for how much money they may spend – are relatively common. However, there exist no clear evidence of their effectiveness in preventing gamblers from spending more money than they otherwise planned. The aim of the study was to compare gambling intensity between users of an online gambling service prompted to set a deposit limit and non-prompted customers, both in the whole sample and among most active users based on the total number of gambling days. Prospective customers of a publicly governed gambling operator from Finland were randomized to receive a prompt to set a voluntary deposit limit of optional size either (1) at registration, (2) before or (3) after their first deposit, or (4) to an unprompted control condition.
Data on customers from Finland with online slots as a preferred gambling category (N = 4328) were tracked in the platform for 90 days starting at account registration, gambling intensity being measured with aggregated net loss. The intervention groups did not differ from each other in either proportion of participants with positive net loss or size of positive net loss. The pooled intervention group did not differ from the control group regarding proportion of gamblers with positive net loss (OR = 1.0; p = 0.921) or size of net loss (B = -0.1; p = 0.291).
The intervention groups had higher rates of limit-setters compared to the control condition (ORat-registration/pre-deposit/post-deposit = 11.9/9.2/4.1). Customers who have increased/removed a previously set deposit limit had higher net loss than the limit-setters who have not increased/removed their limit (Bat-registration/pre-deposit/post-deposit/control = 0.7/0.6/1.0/1.3), and unprompted limit-setters lost more than unprompted non-setters (B = 1.0).
Prompting online gamblers to set a voluntary deposit limit of optional size did not affect subsequent net loss compared to unprompted customers, motivating design and evaluation of alternative pre-commitment tools. Setting a deposit limit without a prompt or increasing/removing a previously set limit may be a marker of gambling problems and may be used to identify customers in need of help.
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Reference: Ivanova E., Magnusson K., & Carlbring P. (2019). Deposit limit prompt in online gambling for reducing gambling intensity: A randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 10:639. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00639
Available online – Policy paper published in the Journal of Gambling Issues.
Abstract: A rapidly growing globalized and digitalized gambling industry has compelled European jurisdictions to take action in order to secure some level of gambling market control, to secure public funds from gambling, and to protect citizens from gambling-related harm. This study concerns the market protectionist endeavour to merge three gambling operators into one state-owned monopoly in Finland in 2017. The justification of the systemic change is analysed in key policy documents and media reporting that discerns the political narratives that nudged the monopoly merger from the idea stage to its completion. Within the narratives, the merger is presented as necessary due to the threats of market intrusion by foreign gambling operators and the likelihood of an internal system implosion framed by European Union (EU) law. The worries expressed in the studied materials plug into a general zeitgeist of globalization. The justifications of the systemic change presuppose the inevitable determination of the change and an innate and constant human desire to gamble. Critical views on the merger were introduced in the media at a late stage, stressing the role of the media as a facilitator and manufacturer of political consent. The study demonstrates how market protectionist justifications can, through the maintenance of a regulated gambling market, assure preservation of national public funds obtained from gambling in the EU. The official gambling policy objective of securing public health played a secondary role in the process. Full article
Reference: Selin, J., Hellman, M. & Lerkkanen, T. (2019). National market protectionist gambling policies in the European Union: The Finnish gambling monopoly merger as a case in point. Journal of Gambling Issues, 41. Retrieved from http://jgi.camh.net/index.php/jgi/article/view/4040.