Researchers Take Their Shots At Explaining Gamblers’ Behavior

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It’s not a proper Wednesday morning on the Las Vegas Strip until the trays of shots come out.

This held true this week at UNLV’s 18th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking, only the shot glasses were filled with non-alcoholic smoothies containing spinach, kale, apples, and pears.

Booze, however, was a focal point of a presentation by University of Memphis grad student Tori Horn titled “Alcohol Consumption While Gambling: New Evidence Within a Responsible Gambling Framework.” Working with a sample group of 769 weekly gamblers, 70% of whom said they’d gambled under the influence of alcohol, Horn found that there was a “high likelihood that people who report gambling problems might also be at risk for a drinking problem.”

This correlation — which also applies to problem gambling and binge drinking, according to a featured poster detailing the results of a separate UNLV study — can hardly be considered surprising, nor can Horn’s finding that survey respondents on the higher end of the problem gambling spectrum tend to take a dim view of commingling alcohol with gambling. 

Serious drinkers, however, are basically delusional when it comes to how they associate their intake with gambling.

To wit, the majority of respondents who registered dangerously high scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT, said they felt drinking while gambling made them more focused, increased their skill level, and enabled them to win more money.

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As audience members either gasped or giggled in disbelief, Horn dryly declared, “From a responsible gambling perspective, messages might inform gamblers that their chances of winning do not increase when they drink and that alcohol does not make them better at gambling.”

Watching what you bet

In another study, Ellen McGrane of the University of Sheffield presented her findings about the influence of sports betting advertising on British punters during soccer’s 2022 World Cup, which was held in Qatar.

In England, World Cup matches were broadcast on the BBC, which does not air commercials, and ITV, which does. Since UK laws don’t permit the airing of sports betting advertising “whistle to whistle,” or during the actual duration of sporting events, McGrane looked at bettor behavior in the minutes and hours leading up to the World Cup matches. She found “there was a significant increase in frequency of bets placed when the game was on ITV than when it was on the BBC.”

Interestingly, she found that responsible gambling advertising that aired in the run-up to the ITV telecasts did nothing to deter people from placing bets. She theorized that might have had something to do with the fact that the spots were commissioned by sports betting operators and not independent entities.

“The industry commitments might not be preventing harm,” she said.

From there, Raymond Wu of the University of British Columbia took a look at whether watching gambling streams on Twitch, where online slot streams are particularly popular, exacerbated problematic betting behavior.

The answer? Yes and no.

Narrowing his focus to actual problem gamblers, Wu was not surprised to learn that watching gambling streams caused these folks to crave participating in the activity themselves. But many problem gamblers said they watched gambling streams in an effort to regulate their cravings  — in essence, to fulfill a sensory yearning without putting a dent in their bank accounts. 

Among the group of problem gamblers who streamed as a means of self-control, Wu found that this tactic worked, to a certain degree.

Same-day parlay

While presenting research that painted a picture of how gambling habits differ among high- and low-frequency sports bettors, Harvard Medical School’s Sarah Nelson reported that the median bettor in her 32,000-person international survey (most participants hailed from Europe, while none were from the U.S.) gambled on 19 days within the space of eight months, placed 15 bets during that time frame, and lost 36% of the amount they wagered (100 Euros, on average).

Of the average bettors’ wagers, 16% were in-game bets and 26% were parlays. But Nelson found that 2% of the bettors in her survey “were fundamentally different from the rest of the sample.” Case in point: The top 2% in terms of cumulative amount wagered lost just 1% of their total bankroll, on average, with 97% of their wagers placed in-game and only 3% on parlays.

“Most involved does not necessarily equate to problem gambling,” she concluded.

These studies — and the vast majority of betting studies, really — focused largely on gambling behavior among men. But during a keynote address, “Luck Be a Parlay-dy: Bet on Women,” delivered via videoconference by Jaymee Messler and Marissa Coleman of the Gaming Society, the focus was on female involvement in the sports betting space.

Coleman, a former WNBA player who co-hosts the Gaming Society’s See You in the Lobby podcast, talked about how many player props and betting options she could have taken advantage of during the previous night’s NBA playoff game between the Celtics and Heat. Conversely, although BetRivers offers house-concocted same-game parlays and FanDuel has broadened its women’s basketball bet menu, most sportsbooks offer fairly barebones WNBA markets.

“You can’t make a parlay [on a WNBA game],” Coleman said. “At this point, it’s performative. These sportsbooks are just checking boxes. Pushing a narrative that sportsbooks are not creating equitable lines and odds, I truly believe fans of women’s sports will get behind that messaging.”


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