New gambling technology
Professor Gerda Reith’s research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has found that new technology in UK betting shops may encourage new types of gamblers and potentially more harmful betting habits.
“Touch-screen Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) allow players to bet on the outcome of various games and may be encouraging new types of customers as well as new styles of play," states Professor Reith. “This widening appeal may have harmful consequences in terms of problem gambling.”
While older, working-class males used to make up the majority of customers, betting machines appear to appeal to first-time gamblers, particularly young males and ethnic minority groups.
"A proportion of older gamblers are also attracted to FOBTs, a change from their traditional bets," Professor Reith points out. These machines are now hugely popular. Profits from FOBTs, which were introduced in 2001, easily match profits from traditional over the counter bets on horseracing, greyhounds and football.
Professor Reith says: "Gambling itself is not dangerous, it’s how people deal with it that can cause harm. That said, some types of gambling are more risky than others and FOBTs seem to be one of the products most associated with harm at present. For example, we have evidence that some older betting shop customers who did not have problems with gambling in the past have begun to develop problems when they start to use betting machines."
The research, which was conducted in partnership with the National Centre for Social Research, found that betting machines are particularly risky in terms of problem gambling because of the enormous speed with which they take gamblers' money. "Compared with some forms of gambling such as horse races or even casino table games, betting machine games are extremely quick, the stakes are high and the losses can very quickly become higher," Professor Reith explains.
Findings from Professor Reith's earlier research shed light on the causes and paths of people's gambling behaviours. Her research shows individuals are not born gamblers but rather become gamblers (and problem gamblers) through complex processes of social interaction with their environment. Gambling as a behaviour: whether problem or not; fluctuates over the life course, sometimes to quite a high degree. Hence, 'problem gamblers' are not a discrete group. Rather, gamblers can move in and out of 'problem gambling' during their lives.
Understanding this dynamic, researchers suggest, is key to identifying effective interventions, and informing policy so that the harms associated with gambling remain at a minimum.
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