The global online gambling market is expected to reach $115.13 billion in 2026 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.2%. (researchandmarkets.com). In other words, Houston we have a problem.
To take a gamble, to have a bit of a flutter, is incredibly seductive, especially when times are hard because it is during such times you are more likely to feel lonely or disconnected. There is simply a void in your life that needs filling. For some, gambling can seem like a solution. It offers an escape into an anonymous world where reason can be dropped and control released. In this aleatoric world, there is a possibility, albeit a tiny one, of significant financial rewards and possibly achievement.
From casinos to online betting forums, lottery draws, and fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT), each has its own lure. Add in targeted marketing, the global economic downturn, a feeling of being disconnected and wanting to escape, and you have a heady brew. The desire for financial autonomy can make gambling appear a cost-effective solution to life’s woes. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
THE TIPPING POINT
There is a moment when the thrill of flutter can impact personal and professional relationships. If left unchecked it will reap havoc with personal finances. As Professor Sandra Adell (a confessed slot machine addict) explains: ‘I started taking out advances on my credit card, then I started going into my salary using my earnings to gamble. It was a very rapid decline. Along the way I’m telling myself I need to stop because I’m going to destroy everything.
The moment gambling takes hold, careers, relationships, finances, and achieving long- term goals are jeopardized. For some, the initial hook that lures them onto the journey of decline is a small, humble win. For others, it is the thrill of the chase. For everyone, the possibility of further wins means more time and money are lost. The accumulating debt is somehow erased from memory as the next opportunity to gamble takes hold.
Unfortunately, the understandable draw of financial stability also disconnects people from the reality of gambling. Gamblers adopt a wildly optimistic mindset as they dive into a world of apparent boundless opportunities. Such people disengage from the experience and memory of the hours, days, weeks, months, or years it has taken to earn the money they are flittering away. It is as though the reality of loss is replaced by the dream of a big win.
Still, others ignore the consequence of their speculative investments because the money they are spending is not their own, possibly because it has been loaned to them, inherited, or borrowed. Yet, when it is all lost, you are likely to hear the refrain, ‘Oh, it’s just money’. Actually, that is a cry for help. A call to connect. There is a need, or a driven desire, for change. As Dr. Nancy Irwin explains: ‘Many people who suffer from gambling addictions are genetically predisposed, meaning there is an abnormality on the dopamine receptor in the brain which sets them up to have an impulse control disorder’. For some people, gambling is an internal wiring issue, that requires professional attention.
Addictive gambling has serious repercussions. As former attorney, recovering gambler and peer counselor Peter Harrington explains, it is partly about acknowledging your reality: ‘If I needed some spending money, I had to go to my wife… And that was the way our family was run and that was fine with me. But this (money won gambling) was nice, and I was getting thousand dollars, five hundred, fifteen hundred in cash, and the wife never had to know. It gave me some independence, and I thoroughly enjoyed that independence. I never told her.
Peter’s addiction centered around casinos. They made him feel important with complimentary perks such as free cigarettes, tickets to sporting events, and even on one occasion arranging transportation to a wedding party to the tune of forty thousand dollars. By his own admission, he developed a sense of entitlement both at the casino and at home.
He became disconnected from his family, finances, and future. This type of disconnection is facilitated through the exchange of cash into valueless chips, betting slips, tokens, or credits. As Kusyszyn rightly observes, that is where ‘money loses its economic value’ (1984).
Another critical disconnect is known as a brown-out. It refers to the moment a gambler loses all sense of time and space. It is a dangerous state to enter as decisions and judgments become heavily compromised. Add in the disconnect from family or friends, and detachment comes at a price. Those with your best interests at heart become marginalized as the resolution is sought through playing games.
The issue of marginalization is further exasperated by the contemporary development of online gambling. As it allows gambling anywhere at any time, it is particularly problematic. Further, online gambling forums openly promote becoming part of their online communities. Yet these are empty social spaces where impulsivity is celebrated and luck and superstition go hand- in-hand.
SUPERSTITIONS AND SKILLS
Gamblers are attracted to the win; their positive mindset fuels the belief that the time to win is now, and any losses they endure are purely a result of bad luck. Essentially, their initial wiring and logic become increasingly scrambled.
The practice of sitting in a specific place, wearing a particular item of clothing, or engaging in a specific action all become part of the ritual gamblers associate with success. They chase the near miss because they got so close last time; superstition, algorithms, luck, and skill transform into misplaced optimism. However, as Dr. Nancy Irwin explains: ‘You cannot beat the House. Of course, we’ve all heard about big wins, and they occur, but the reason they’re so successful in making so much money and tantalizing addicts is that they use a variable ratio of reward response: meaning you get enough small wins’.
Whether the win is small or large, the real jackpot is to stop gambling altogether: by acknowledging a gambling problem a successful life is no longer left to chance.
Kusyszyn, (1984) During gambling, money loses its economic value
Kusyszyn, (2016) ‘The Psychology of Gambling’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716284474001012
Online Gambling Global Market Report 2022: Increasing Adoption of Smartphones With Improved Internet Accessibility Driving Growth – ResearchAndMarkets.com https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220805005351/en/O
Problem Gambling: No One Wins, Holland Hospital (YouTube)
How Gambling Nearly Destroyed This College Professor’s Life, Megyn Kelly TODAY with Dr Sandra Adell (Author of
Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen) with insights from Dr Nancy Irwin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJwcH3HA7Lg