Edition #2: Gambling today

Back of man sitting at a poker machine
Back of man sitting at a poker machine

Regular gamblers tell us what they really think

Why do you gamble? Do you gamble responsibly? What does that mean?

These were some of the questions put to 400 regular gamblers – people who gambled once a month or more – in Victoria in June this year.

Recruited in hotels, pubs and online, the gamblers were participating in a foundation research project looking at how regular gamblers feel about responsible gambling and Victorian gambling help services.

Addressing gaps and misperceptions about responsible gambling is an important priority for the foundation. Knowing who is most likely to have these misperceptions, and what they are, allows us to more effectively and efficiently work to change behaviour and reduce harm.

Surveys reveal some home truths

Led by Professor Nerilee Hing, the project was conducted over three separate survey periods in June 2014, September 2014 and June 2015, with similar questions asked each time.

Before being surveyed, participants were assessed using a measurement scale called the Problem Gambling Severity Index. This allowed the research team to classify them as a non-problem, low-risk, moderate-risk or problem gambler.

These surveys provide insights into the differences in attitudes towards gambling by different sorts of gamblers. They show that in some areas, but not all, there are widely different perceptions. Those gambling with little or no risk often felt very differently from those having problems with gambling.

The fact that across all three surveys, only 40 to 50 per cent of regular gamblers were extremely confident they understood what is meant by 'responsible gambling', means the foundation still has a lot of work to do.

What is a responsible amount of money to gamble?

Participants were asked what percentage of net income should be the upper limit of spending when gambling responsibly.

In the third survey, participants categorised as non-problem and low-risk gamblers were more likely than those categorised as problem gamblers to say one per cent or less of net income was the upper limit of gambling responsibly. This result actually accords with work done by Canadian researchers around safe levels of gambling published in the journal Addiction.

By contrast, 28 per cent of people considered to be problem gamblers believed spending 20 per of net income on gambling was a responsible upper limit.

Graph depicting responses to question: which of the following percentages of net income do you think is the upper limit of responsible gambling expenditure? Question: Which of the following percentages of net income do you think is the upper limit of responsible gambling expenditure? (survey responses, June 2015)

How often is too often for responsible gambling?

When asked what they thought was a responsible frequency for gambling, between 52 and 63 per cent of participants across all three surveys said gambling once a week would be the upper limit. Research suggests that, for some forms of gambling, this is still too high for many people.

This information provides valuable insights into what is considered normal among regular gamblers. As gambling frequency is associated with the development of gambling problems, the foundation is keen for gamblers to be encouraged to gamble in a benign, non-harmful way. Gamblers' perceptions of how often they can gamble without putting themselves at risk of problems is a key factor to address.

Graph depicting responses to question: Which of the following do you think is the upper limit of gambling frequency in order to gamble responsibly? Question: Which of the following do you think is the upper limit of gambling frequency in order to gamble responsibly? (survey responses, June 2015)

Why do you gamble?

When asked about their main motivation for gambling, between 72 and 81 per cent of participants in all surveys either agreed or strongly agreed that gambling for pleasure and entertainment was the main reason.

This motivation for gambling aligns strongly with responsible gambling messages that gambling is expenditure – that is, the value for the money is in the experience. If it is not an entertainment, even when you lose, then it unlikely to be responsible and more likely causing some form of harm.

Over a third of participants said forgetting worries and stresses was a motivation. Of these people, 64 per cent were classified as having a gambling problem. Much research on problem gambling points to it as a means to escape the pressures of life or a response to conditions of anxiety or depression.

Graph depicting responses to question: Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement in relation to your motivation for gambling Question: Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement in relation to your motivation for gambling. (survey responses, June 2015)

How do you control your gambling?

When asked about ways to keep a lid on their gambling, participants were aware of numerous strategies but it is of note that less than 50 per cent used them.

Of particular concern is why those in the moderate risk or problem gambling categories did not use the strategies. It may mean the foundation needs to provide more information or guidelines on strategies to control gambling. But it also may be that other means of helping these gamblers are needed.

Graph depicting responses to question: Are you aware of, or do you use, the following strategies to control your gambling? Question: Are you aware of, or do you use, the following strategies to control your gambling? (survey responses, June 2015)

Thank you

The foundation thanks the many participants who completed the three surveys of the Gamblers' Attitude and Perception Index.

We are also very grateful to the businesses who generously allowed the researchers to speak with gamblers inside their venues, as well as the online wagering providers whose customers participated.

All have enabled the foundation to gather valuable information to support our work in reducing gambling harm. While the study is not representative of the Victorian population, or of regular gamblers in general, the findings will feed into our strategy, programs and activities, and will inform further research.

Find out more about Professor Nerilee Hing and her recent report on how the sports betting operators' race to win customers undermines responsible gambling.

For further research on pokies and problem gambling, read about what turns a sweet spot into a perfect storm in this edition of Inside gambling.

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