Research Spotlight: Predicting Gambling Risk

Debi LaPlante

Debi LaPlante

Debi LaPlante is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Research and Academic Affairs, Division on Addiction at the Harvard Medical School. She is involved in several emerging research projects including examining the psychiatric comorbidity profiles of repeat driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUI) offenders, randomized clinical trials of the Your First Step to Change guide for problem gambling, and an NIMH-funded meta-analytic study to develop a strength of evidence treatment outcome matrix for behaviorally expressed addictions (e.g., problem gambling, compulsive shopping).

In short, what is the study about?

A survey of 1,160 casino patrons at two Las Vegas resort casino was done to determine relationships between the games that patrons played during the 12 months before their casino visit, the games that patrons played during their casino visit, and patrons’ self-perceived history of gambling-related problems. Gambling involvement, defined as two types, namely the number of games played during a session and gambling frequency over the past year, is widely understood to predict gambling-related problems.

Of the casino patrons surveyed, about 6.4% might have experienced a gambling-related problem in the previous 12 months. By examining the two types of gambling involvement, the hypothesis was that the results will share a relationship with having a gambling disorder.

What are the most important take-home messages from the study?

Playing specific games on-site significantly predicted self-perceived gambling-related problems. Most participants who gambled daily or weekly, played poker, sports book, slots, or blackjack. The games that appeared to attract problem gamblers the most were craps, roulette, poker, and sportsbook. However, after controlling for involvement, the relationships between games and gambling-related problems disappeared or were attenuated. This means that a particular gambling activity is a poor predictor of disordered gambling.

How are these findings important in understanding gambling addiction?

As gambling companies continuously strive to conduct an ethical and safe environment for their patrons, they look at real-time identification of people who have a gambling disorder. Having knowledge of factors that can accurately predict gambling problems at their disposal, will further such an effort. However, this study has shown that easily observable behaviors such as specific games played are not sufficiently accurate. Therefore, rather than focusing monitoring on one or a few games is likely to miss meaningful numbers of problem gamblers. Instead, patterns of gambling should be tracked across gambling types to create a wider safety net.

What other studies are recommended to increase our knowledge in identifying problem gamblers?

Future research should focus on better understanding the link between overall play patterns and gambling disorder, as well as how the knowledge could be utilized to help companies avoid using promotions that encourage such risky patterns of behavior. So, rather than highlighting specific games for their inherent “dangerousness,” a more comprehensive view should be explored that consider biopsychosocial characteristics of at-risk individuals and its interaction with their environment and the gambling opportunities that are available to them.

Follow-up studies that further illuminate and expand the findings are “Expanding the Study of Internet Gambling Behavior” and “Using Opinions and Knowledge to Identify Natural Groups of Gambling Employees.”

Link to the primary paper

LaPlante, D., Afifi, T. O., & Shaffer, H. J. (2012). Games and gambling involvement among casino patrons. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29(2), 191-203. DOI: 10.1007/s10899-012-9307-z

The author of the primary paper can be emailed at and followed on Twitter.

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Latest update: August 30, 2016
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