Rolling the dice - gambling for money is not the only game in town

Mind Matters | Rolling the dice - gambling for money is not the only game in town

Gambling is a huge business. Think of scratch cards, horse and dog races, casinos, online sports betting, bingo - I could go on.

Companies and governments make billions of dollars every year from gamblers.

The profits are almost sinfully high - and certain.

Because the gambling enterprises set the payout percentage, those organisations can't lose.

The gamblers do lose. Depending on what exactly they bet on they lose, on average, 10-50 per cent of what they wager.

If you look at gambling as a type of entertainment, all those lost billions are not troubling.

If you look deeper, you will see large numbers of people financially ruined by their gambling.

These people lose everything they own, and then they lose everything they can borrow.

Finally, they lose their self-respect.

Gambling experts see problem gamblers as similar to problem drinkers.

To avoid the risk of increased government regulation, gambling enterprises tell their customers to "gamble responsibly."

That sensible warning has not solved the problem. I asked dozens of scientists around the world who study gambling to suggest more useful warnings.

I put their suggestions in a journal manuscript now under review.

Here are some of the warnings they suggested: Gambling is addictive; most people do not gamble every day or even every week; are you gambling more than you intended?; are you honest with friends and family about how much you gamble?; avoid emotional gambling; gamble only with a fixed budget and for a predetermined period of time.

Governments could require commercial gambling organisations to provide these sorts of warnings to customers.

They almost never do.

Governments could provide these warnings to the gamblers buying scratch cards and similar items, but they almost never do.

Money talks.

You might wonder whether any types of warnings would reduce problem gambling.

The evidence suggests that tobacco warnings, especially graphic ones, help reduce smoking.

Maybe we need graphic gambling warnings.

I have an idea about how to help problem gamblers: Guide them to find safer ways to experience excitement.

What those ways might be could vary from person to person. Bungee jumping, anyone? How about mountaineering? Yesterday, I climbed Mount Everest - in virtual reality. Want to take a social gamble? Speak to a stranger in a store.

Gambling for money is not the only game in town.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Mind Matters | Rolling the dice - gambling for money is not the only game in town first appeared on The Canberra Times.