Is Gambling Addiction Really A Problem?

Research suggests that the majority of households in most developed nations do not have enough savings to pay for even small emergencies, should the need arise. Coupled with this, it is widely understood that we humans experience heightened levels of anxiety and shame when our financial situation is not good.

In such an environment, the levels to which a small, but meaningful, proportion of society plays in games of chance or gambles on sporting events should be a worry to the mental health sector, personal finance sector and government departments.

What Is Gambling Addiction?
There are a range of characteristics that are used to qualify this behaviour. However, the preferred approach of Safer Gaming can be found in this paper: a disorder in which an individual becomes intensely preoccupied with a behaviour that at first provides the desired or appetitive effect but where eventually the long-term disadvantages outweigh the short-term benefits.

Numbers vary, but the numbers of people in developed society that are considered to be either problem or pathological gamblers is estimated to be around 3%.

There are clearly levels at which some harmless entertainment becomes much more than that. For example, research in Australia has suggested that problem gamblers lose an average of AUS$21,000 per year. And that video poker machines cause losses more quickly than most other forms of wagering, suggesting that they are something that you really do not want to become addicted to.

Even though gambling in the United States is illegal, except for under certain circumstances, it is clear that problem gambling is very real. However, in 2013, only 39 States operated publicly funded services related to problem gambling. Amazingly, the total budget for these programs was just US$60.6m for the year, which highlights just how under served this group of society is. The estimated number of problem gamblers in the US was 5.7 million in 2012, which shows just how little progress the allocated budget can be making in terms of help, treatment and solutions. When compared to the tens of billions of dollars that the world’s major gaming firms bank as income each year, these numbers seem even less impressive.

However, these numbers do not take into account other activities that might be classed as gambling. For example, many people describe the stock market as “the world’s greatest casino” and when using high levels of leverage, the risks can be massive.

As data from Ireland suggests, less than 1% of people that need treatment for this disease actually receive it. This statistic lies at the heart of why Safer Gaming was founded.

Even Skill Games Can Pose A Problem
The rise of daily fantasy sports in recent years provides a number of other problems. While the games pitch themselves as being skill based, and the most successful players are clearly very skillful, the majority of their players will not be using the skills required to excel, meaning that for those players, the games become lottery-like. In other words, it is only a skill game if you have those skills.

The recent legal actions in various American states highlighted the scale of fantasy sports players in the country. For example, estimates were made of more than 500,000 players in New York state alone. Player numbers like these will provide a significant number of problem gamblers in future years. Many of whom are in denial about whether they even gamble.

What Is Being Done To Help People?
There are now efforts under way to from other organisations to identify and treat people that suffer from gambling addiction, as well as industry efforts to protect people. While we are sure that everyone agrees that companies having policies to help gamblers is a good thing, more can and should be done.

For example, a recent report relating to gambling machines by the Responsible Gambling Trust investigated ways in which it is possible to protect people that need protection whilst not impacting people that are not in need of those protections. The overall concept that player monitoring should be done in real time will not be pleasant news for the gaming firms, but ought to be a good first step to helping players with real problems.

What Will Safer Gaming Add To This?
It is within this gap that we plan to operate. It has been clear to the founders of Safer Gaming for some time, that operators of all sizes pay too little attention to the needs of their most vulnerable players.

At Safer Gaming we are developing multiple plans to create more research opportunities in universities, improve the environment for funding – from governmental agencies and corporations – for charities and non-governmental groups and to spread the message far and wide that destructive gambling is real, it is a problem and the people that suffer need our care and attention.