Risky business - new study seeks to probe gambling mindset

10 May 2013

Problem gambling imposes serious costs on the community but we understand surprisingly little about how individuals perceive the risks associated with gambling.

"Research shows that problem gamblers experience significantly more harm than other gamblers, yet somehow also remain more optimistic in their expectations," said Michael Spurrier, a PhD candidate in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, who is researching how gamblers perceive risk.

"What has received little attention is how gamblers perceive and weigh up risk when making decisions - though this seems to be important according to research in other areas of addiction like drug and alcohol abuse."

In Australia, which has one of the highest levels of gambling in the developed world, the cost to the community of problem gambling is an estimated $4.7 billion a year and up to 500,000 Australians are at risk of becoming or already are problem gamblers.

Problem gamblers experience significant disruption to finances, relationships, mental health, and other aspects of daily life due to difficulty controlling gambling expenditure. The amount of research looking at gambling has grown substantially over the past few decades, and shows problem gamblers significantly overestimate the likelihood that they will win and their ability to control outcomes.

Spurrier’s survey is aimed at English speakers aged over 18 who engage in any form of gambling such as gaming machines, horse racing, sports betting or internet gambling.

The research will provide a better understanding of risk perception and evaluation.

"We want to create a clearer picture of how people weigh up positive and negative possibilities when making decisions. We hope to gain insights about what is behind the apparent disconnect between experience and expectation in certain gamblers’ decision making."

"Given the high levels of gambling in Australia, reflecting its importance in our culture, it’s surprising we don’t know more about how gamblers make choices," said Spurrier.

"Perception of risk is an important aspect of decision making but is not something necessarily considered when we provide treatment. This could help improve interventions, such as preventative education or therapy for people experiencing, or at risk of, gamblingrelated harm," said Spurrier.

The survey is available online and is also open to people outside Australia.