Edition #8: Early signs of harm from gambling

Close up of a man's hand about to press a button on a brightly-lit poker machine.
Close up of a man's hand about to press a button on a brightly-lit poker machine.
Photo: Gilaxia

Looking at how people stick to limits in pokies venues

When people go to pokies venues to gamble, they often intend to spend just a set amount of time or money on the machines. As researchers, we have heard from many gamblers about the personal strategies they use to make sure they stick to their limits. These include leaving cards or cash at home and taking regular breaks from the machines.

However, when we ask someone exactly what they did, thought or felt at a venue when the time came to put their strategies into action, they often find it hard to recall. This makes it difficult for us to conclude which strategies work best for which people, or to explain why some strategies succeed in helping gamblers stick to their limits and others do not. To determine more precisely how people select and implement self-regulation strategies, we need to conduct research as close to the act of gambling as possible.

We have heard from many gamblers about the personal strategies they use to make sure they stick to their limits.

Always have a plan

Many self-regulation strategies may fail because of poor planning. Action planning can help someone specify how, where and when their strategies will kick in during a gambling session. For example, one strategy people use in venues is to take a break from the machines. An action plan for taking a break could stipulate when (for example, after 30 minutes), how (for example, go to the lounge area) and what (for example, make the break 10 or more minutes) will occur.

But having a Plan A (a set of strategies) isn’t enough. Research in the wider health area suggests also having a Plan B to address potential obstacles can significantly improve adherence to personal strategies. Plan B deals with whatever may get in the way of implementing Plan A. For example, losing more than they intended could cause someone to abandon their personal strategies. Having a Plan A and a Plan B in place may make it easier for gamblers to stick to their time and money limits in venues.

Losing more than they intended could cause someone to abandon their personal strategies.

Helping venues and their customers to prevent harm

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation recently funded Turning Point to lead a research project investigating how people gambling in Victorian pokies venues use action planning and coping planning.

We need to conduct research as close to the act of gambling as possible.

As part of the study we will survey 160 people before they start a gambling session about the types of strategies they plan to use during the session. We will then follow up with them after the session to find out if and how their strategies worked.

The aim of this research is to find ways to support gamblers to more effectively implement what they already want to do. The evidence gathered from the study could be adapted as part of any in-venue program aimed at helping gamblers stick to their limits.

From a venue perspective, we expect the project will:

  • provide evidence on the most effective strategies, which venues could then suggest to gamblers through campaigns and information
  • produce findings to inform responsible gambling programs
  • provide a comprehensive list of strategies to help gamblers stick to their limits in gaming venues.

How gaming venues can get involved in the research

Turning Point is currently in the process of informing gaming venues about the project. The study will be conducted across metropolitan and regional Victoria and involve one to two days in each venue.

If your venue is interested in participating in this research, please email Dr Simone Rodda at simoner@turningpoint.org.au, or Prof. Dan Lubman at dan.lubman@monash.edu for further information.

Simone Rodda
Simone Rodda

Dr Simone Rodda has a background in psychology with a PhD from Monash University. Simone is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland and holds honorary positions at Deakin University and also Turning Point (Alcohol and D​rug Centre) in Melbourne. Her current work includes multiple investigations into the use of action and coping planning for limiting a range of addictive behaviours, including the consumption of alcohol, unhealthy eating and gambling.

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