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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Aberdeen chapter.

Gambling: a UK epidemic

Compulsive gambling or gambling disorder is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Gambling means you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something even greater.

Symptoms of compulsive gambling include being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly gambling, needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill and gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness guilt, anxiety or depression.

Gambling is a recreational activity enjoyed by around 70% of the British public at least annually, and the gambling industry is a useful source of revenue. For a minority of individuals gambling

is a spiralling habit that they become unable to control.

Whether you are gambling on slots, roulette or blackjack the chances are that they would have been arranged to ensure a steady profit for the owner.

In the Department of Experimental Psychology, Dr Luke Clark is interested in how gamblers overestimate their chances of winning, including the effects of near misses and personal choice. These features of gambling games promote an illusion of control: the belief that the gambler can exert skill over an outcome defined by choice.

Previous research has shown a reliable pattern of brain activity when humans receive monetary wins. A region called the striatum, near the centre of the brain, is a crucial component in a reward circuit that also responds to natural reinforces like food and sexual stimuli, as well as drugs of abuse like cocaine. In ongoing research, Dr Clark is measuring activity in this reward circuit as volunteers experience near-misses and choice effects during a gambling task. Both near-misses and personal choice cause gamblers to play for longer and to place larger bets. Over time, these distorted perceptions of one’s chances of winning may participate in ‘loss-chasing,’ where gamblers continue to play to recoup accumulating debts. Loss-chasing describes the tendency of a gambler to amplify their betting to recoup prior losses. Qualitative descriptions of disordered gambling describe how loss-chasing establishes and maintains a downward spiral of negative consequences for the gambler’s finances, relationships and mental well-being.

Uncontrollable gambling leads people to promote an illusion of control. The illusion of control is the belief that a skill or ability can affect the outcome of a random or chance event. Gamblers who hold strong illusion of control beliefs may focus on certain winning moments in a gambling experience despite losing overall. Near misses occur when the outcome is close to the jackpot, but no actual won. A moderate frequency of near-misses encourages prolonged gambling, even in student volunteers who do not gamble regularly. Problem gamblers often interpret near-misses as evidence that they are mastering the game.

Gambling has undergone steady expansion in recent decades with advances in modern slot design, online accessibility of gambling and gambling marketing.

One of the secrets of successful game developers in creating a good slot machine is by making sure that the artwork is impeccable for it. Subconsciously a slot’s art design is the initial force that pulls people toward it. People may notice when someone hits the jackpot in a busy casino. However, remove the players from the machines and just try to imagine the slots’ unique, lively and colourful artwork. 80% of a casino’s earnings are from slot machines.

“How the imagery is represented on the game- the colours, the graphics- is important to the experience,” said Joe Sigrist who is the vice president of product management for International Game Technology. He continues to say, “And you want to connote fun, you want to connote the brand that’s being supported.”

Slots would sell better if people could relate more to them. For example, many slot players in the East are very much superstitious than those in the West. So, it only makes sense to incorporate art design into slots that feature lucky symbols such as jade bracelets or red Chinese envelopes.

There are “certain themes that resonate with players over others,” says Mike Mitchell who is Bully Technologies vice president of game development. The motion graphics and music of slot machines provide some sensory reward even if you have just lost money. Flashing lights and audio fanfare invite the user to try their luck again, minimising the indication of loss as much as possible and veiling it with a sense of celebration.

A recent survey found that 6 in 10 people see gambling adverts or sponsorships at least once a week.

The UK advertising market is growing at a rapid rate. In 2019 advertising reached 22 billion. However, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that advertising strategy has changed significantly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the gambling industry. Concerning advertising for gambling there have been numerous changes. The Betting and Gambling (BGC) announced the removal of TV and Radio gaming product advertising during the first national lockdown and new measures to stop under 18s from being able to view betting advertisements.

Whilst sponsorships and traditional advertising are consistently seen among all age groups, online advertising is more likely to be seen among younger age groups.

Structural characteristics are those characteristics that manufacturers deliberately design into their products either to increase gambling or to facilitate continued gambling. These features are responsible for reinforcements, may satisfy gamblers’ needs and contribute to excessive gambling.

The basic objective of casino marketers is to invite patrons into the casino, to induce and maintain playing activity while in the casino, and to promote future casino visits, the same goes for a pub which has slot machines or a betting shop. Research has shown that in the UK the majority of arcades which have slot machines offer at least one alternative service such as food to entice new customers and keep regulars in as long as possible.

Constant noise and sound in casinos give the impression of a noisy, fun and exciting environment and that winning is more common than losing as you don’t hear the sound of losing. Another tactic to entice people is a near miss, such as two winning symbols and a third losing one just above or below the pay line, which is still strongly reinforcing at no extra expense to the machine’s owner.

Hello! I am a third-year student studying English and International relations at the University of Aberdeen. I enjoy reading and photography.