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PROBLEM GAMBLING


What’s the problem?


Problem gambling is frequently cited as a challenge for the industry and society alike, but beneath that phrase lurks a multitude of specific difficulties and solutions. Barnaby Page looks at some of the issues, and ways that the gaming sector and regulators are responding.


P 52 FEBRUARY 2019


roblem gambling, and its more positively-phrased counterpart “responsible gambling”, are persistent items on the gaming industry agenda – not least because regulators are keen they should be. But just what is the problem, and what are


the solutions? One issue that immediately faces anyone trying to develop


a problem-gambling policy is uncertainty about precisely what it is. A commonly accepted definition by psychiatrist Richard Rosenthal calls it “a progressive disorder characterized by a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling; a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money with which to gamble; irrational thinking; and a continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences”, and while few would disagree with his overall thrust, there’s a lot of ambiguity in the nuances. Most notably, many distinguish between “problem gambling” and more serious “pathological gambling”, but there’s little consensus on where exactly to draw the line. Terminology can be a minefield too: “compulsive”, “at-risk”, “disordered” and “excessive” gambling are also spoken of. All the same, the phenomenon itself has been long


recognised (Dostoyevsy wrote about it in “The Gambler” in the 1860s; Freud studied it; Gamblers Anonymous was founded in 1957, with its questionnaire becoming the foundation for many later definitions). Research interest has been growing since the 1990s – with the US and Australia among the leaders – and the subject has become decidedly medicalised, with much talk of concepts like “prevalence” (how widespread it is) and “etiology” (how it develops). In plainer terms, though, an individual’s gambling can be defined as problematic when it starts to have an adverse


effect on lives (not necessarily just that person’s). Financial losses are a big element, of course, but it can also consume excessive time, impact family and job responsibilities, and lead to legal issues (many problem gamblers commit crimes related to their gambling expenditure). Linkages have been made between problem gambling and physical medical issues, as well as suicide. It is widely recognised – at least in some forms – as a


psychiatric issue, and indeed Clark County in Nevada has recently opened a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court where problem gamblers accused of crimes can have their condition taken into account. And there are issues for businesses too. Simple corporate social responsibility (CSR) is part of the reason that the


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