CAGR Conference – abstracts

Dr. Phil Newall (University of Warwick) – Equivalent gambling warning labels are perceived differently

Equivalent gambling warning labels are perceived differently. The same information may be perceived differently depending on how it is described. For example, food labelled as “90%-fat-free” is perceived to be healthier than the same food equivalently labelled as “10%-fat.” The risk information given on many gambling warning labels tends to accentuate what a gambler might expect to win, rather than what a gambler might equivalently expect to lose. We assessed the effect of reframing gambling warning labels from the current, “This game has an average percentage payout of 90%,” (return-to-player) to the equivalent yet novel, “This game keeps 10% of all money bet on average” (house-edge). UK nationals with experience of virtual online gambling games, such as online roulette, participated across 3 short hypothetical online experiments (total N = 1,006). In Experiment 1, participants rated their perceived chances of winning (on a 0 – 100 scale) as higher under equivalent return-to-player than house-edge labels, across a range of average payouts consistent with international gambling products. Experiment 2 replicated this effect using a 7-point Likert scale for participants’ perceived chances of winning. In Experiment 3, a higher proportion of participants gave correct answers to a factual question about what the house-edge warning label meant (71.3%), compared to participants given an equivalent return-to-player warning label (46.5%). The return-to-player format that is preferentially used on current gambling warning labels leads to optimistic and flawed perceptions of product risk.

Dr. Alice Hoon – (Swansea University) – The influence of symbolic generalisation on simulated slot machine choice

Traditional behavioural accounts of gambling emphasised the role played by direct contingencies of reinforcement. Research shows that gamblers are not always sensitive to schedules of reinforcement, thus do not make choices which maximise reinforcement. The casino environment however offers the gambler a multitude of game choices, which may have similar reinforcement schedules but differ in their structural characteristics. The present study examined how structural characteristics may interact with reinforcement contingencies and affect slot machine choice. Eighty-eight participants learned a relational series of arbitrary nonsense words that were either ‘more-than’ (E > D > C > B > A) or ‘less-than’ (A< B < C <D < E). Participants were then exposed to a slot-machine payout probability phase to establish one machine, labelled with the middle-ranking word, C, as having a low likelihood of winning. Another machine, labelled with a novel word X, had a high likelihood of winning. In the test phase, participants were given choices of slot-machines labelled with all remaining nonsense words. It was predicted that slot-machine choices would be influenced by the underlying relational hierarchy of nonsense words. Findings supported this, with choices showing a gradient-like pattern, despite no prior experience with the payout probabilities. This suggests that slot machine choices could be influenced by structural properties, and not just payout probability.

Oliver Scholten – (University of York) – Distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrencies in gambling

Data driven gambling research has historically been limited by the availability of rich large-scale data sets, which have seldom been published for replication studies. In contrast, new gambling services built using distributed ledger technology, as underpins cryptocurrencies, allow inspection of gambling activity through these services at the individual transaction level. The granularity of these data sets, paired with their built-in pseudo-anonymity, mean that previously intangible questions such as how user spending varies across individuals, games, and time, and how user clusters may interact, can be investigated and findings reproduced. The aims of our work are two-fold, to create a combined open data set containing the transaction level time series of the most popular ‘blockchain gambling’ platforms, and to perform basic analysis of these data sets to act as a basis on which more specialist studies can be performed. As a demonstration of our dataset’s utility, preliminary findings using 1,420,292 transactions (~£240M) across 17,046 individual addresses reveal a median lifetime expenditure per account of ~£98 across a median 7 transactions. Users also appear to naturally divide past the upper (box-plot) limits in both lifetime expenditure and transaction count into ‘high rollers’ and ‘low ballers’, with few but larger transactions versus more numerous but smaller transactions respectively. With mean lifetime expenditures of ~£14,130 and mean transaction counts of 83, outliers in the dataset also appear to heavily skew averages so may be of particular interest. This platform-specific data set will be made available in CSV format for download, offering rich transaction information upon which reproducible, generalisable, and publicly verifiable research can be performed – an exciting prospect in this historically opaque field.

Prof. Robert Rogers – (Bangor University) – Why don’t (some) gamblers learn the value of losing games? And what can we do about it?

Cognitive errors about probability and randomness have been linked with gambling problems and constitute a central therapeutic target for cognitive-behavioural interventions. However, little is known about how cognitive biases operate to sustain the psychological value of gambling games in the face of mounting monetary losses that might increase the risk of gambling-related harms. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that community-recruited (and broadly non-problem) gamblers with strong beliefs that they can predict winning outcomes in gambling games fail (ironically) to use the tracked history of good and bad outcomes to identify optimal actions in a probabilistic learning game. In Experiment 2, we use an analog ‘mindfulness’ procedure to interrupt the connection between cognitive biases and the sub-optimal use of previous outcomes in gamblers’ action selections. We show that a brief induction to promote ‘attentional openness to experience’ increases gamblers’ use of previous game outcomes in action selections while an induction of analytic thinking ‘about the causes and reasons for things’ diminishes their use. In Experiment 3, we show that these intervention effects are not evident in people with only very minimal gambling histories and are, therefore, specific to regular gamblers. These experiments suggest that strong gambling-related cognitive biases undermine the ability of regular gamblers’ to use the reinforcement histories of gambling games when deciding what to do next, perhaps reflecting a conviction that ‘they know better’ than what the history of game outcomes already tells them. Our results provide important clues about how cognitive biases operate to constrain how gamblers learn about and evaluate games.

Dr. Stephanie Bramley (Kings College London) – Improving understanding of migrant gambling in the UK: Insights from three studies

England has one of the most liberal gambling policy regimes in the world and there is concern that those migrating from jurisdictions with more restricted gambling cultures may be at heightened risk of harm and disproportionately affected by gambling. Problem gambling is linked to a range of harms affecting resources, relationships and health. To date there is no UK research examining migrant gambling and little research internationally. Funded by a joint grant from King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, we investigated the type of support that may need to be made available to new UK migrants. This comprised of: a) rapid evidence review; b) secondary analysis of Health Survey for England 2012 and 2015 data; and c) workshops attended by organisations which support migrants affected by gambling in Leeds and London – places with higher than average migrant communities. This has provided initial evidence of a “harm paradox” – non-British born males were less likely to gamble, but if they did, were more likely to be classified as problem gamblers compared to British born males. Workshop participants viewed gambling as highly accessible, a way to supplement income and to relieve acculturative stress. Participants also thought that existing gambling support services may not meet the needs of migrant communities. Work should be done to ensure that gambling support services are accessible to migrants and culturally sensitive. Future research should investigate gambling-related harms from migrants’ perspectives to improve the promotion, design, delivery and accessibility of gambling support services.

Scott Houghton (Northumbria University) – Content analysis of gambling companies’ twitter posts

The current study aimed to assess the type of content posted on Twitter by British gambling operators and gambling affiliates; third-party firms who are financially incentivised to attract custom to gambling operators. Five thousand and twenty nine tweets from 5 gambling operators and 8,315 tweets from 5 gambling affiliates were collected over a 2 week period. A summative content analysis was carried out whereby each tweet was coded for its main content. Tweets were grouped together into content categories and the percentage of tweets in each content category was calculated for both operators and affiliates. The 9 categories of content found were; direct advertising, betting assistance, sports content, customer engagement, humour, update of current bet status, promotional content, safer gambling and ‘other’. Gambling operators had a higher proportion of posts in the sports content and humorous content categories, whilst affiliates had a higher proportion of posts within the direct advertising and betting assistance categories. These findings suggest that the affiliates were more direct in their posting style whereas operators followed a more indirect approach, reflective of a branding strategy. There was also very little focus on safer gambling from gambling operators and even less so from gambling affiliates. Future research should address how interacting with different types of gambling content on social media impacts upon gambling behaviour – some preliminary data from a study I am currently running may be available to briefly discuss whether regular sports bettors respond to marketing from operators and affiliates in a different way.

Dr. Joanne Lloyd (University of Wolverhampton) – Deprivation and Gambling behaviour

Gambling establishments cluster in areas of socio-economic deprivation (Wardle et al, 2014), and believing oneself to be deprived relative to peers can increase a person’s urge to gamble (Callen et al., 2015). This may be symptomatic of an underlying desire to seek social justice (Callan et al., 2008), but there has been no direct research into whether this is a conscious process or motivation for gamblers. In a study funded by the Staffordshire Centre for Health and Development, twenty-five in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews with regular gamblers explored perceptions about whether, and how, deprivation related to their gambling behaviour. Interviews also explored attitudes towards money staked, won, and lost while gambling, more broadly. Thematic analysis identified themes relating to desire for an improved financial status and quality of life, but the importance of this as a motivating factor varied across individuals. Some individuals described gambling because they lacked alternative routes to financial security, or because they wanted a quick or easy way to gain funds, while others described cautious and budgeted gambling expenditure, and explicitly recognised the improbability of wins exceeding losses. Themes were also identified around the meaning of gambling winnings; for some, winnings meant the opportunity to purchase luxuries or ‘extras’ that wouldn’t usually be affordable, while for others the value of winnings was less concrete and related to feelings of success or ‘beating the bookie’. These findings contribute to our understanding of gamblers’ diverse motivations, particularly around the different meanings that winnings hold, which may have the potential to inform interventions.

Dr. Heather Wardle (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) – Spatial Mapping of the risks of gambling harms

Gambling harms are socially determined. This means regulation, legislation and corporate actions have the power to influence unequal gambling outcomes. Part of this is manifest in the unique spatial distribution evident of land-based gambling opportunities, whereby Licensed Bookmakers Office’s cluster in areas of greatest deprivation. This is particularly acute in Newham, East London. This paper will present results of a spatial mapping of the risks of gambling harms in Newham, highlighting areas where people who are more vulnerable to gambling harms are more likely to be. This draws on a methodology developed for Westminster and Manchester City Councils and also for Public Health Wales to help local authorities better understand the likely spatial distribution of harms in their jurisdictions and to build this insight into their strategic policy planning. This paper will also give a brief overview of the national risk model methodology and discuss the continuing utility of such models in light of the stake changes on B2 machines.