Renewed funding for gambling research will allow for further study of new gambling tech

Founded in 2014, the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC has established collaborations with other UBC departments such as psychology, psychiatry, and the Center for Brain Health on research about gambling issues in British Columbia as well as worldwide trends.

With $1.36 million of renewed funding from the BC government and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, the centre will further concentrate on its research into slot machine games, new addictive technologies like online gambling and gambling video games, as well as the neuroscience of gambling addiction.

Research into new technologies is currently of great interest at the centre, as scientists investigate the unclear relationship between mobile phone gambling and the increased prevalence of gambling problems. More scientific research is needed to conclude whether portable mobile devices and convenient payment through credit cards make the public more prone to gambling addictions.

One of the main research concentrations in the first phase of the funding focuses on emotional reaction of gamblers at slot machines, aiming to explain their addictive nature. Researchers will focus on specific features of slot machines, such as their fast speed, the presence of flashing lights and loud noises in the games in order to identify the components behind the addictive nature of the games. A more recent alternative explanation is that the immersive environment, called the slot machine zone is created by the combination of all components.

The centre is also making an effort to improve gambling policy and gambling regulation backed up with scientific evidence in order prevent the development of gambling problems. Gambling problems are caused by risk factors similar to those related to the development of substance addictions, involving brain systems of reward processing, risky decision making, impulse control.

Dr. Luke Clark, an associate professor in the department of psychology and the director of the centre, believes that gambling should be more broadly recognized as a behavioral addiction and a public health concern, which will help dissolve the stigma around seeking for professional help related to gambling. While the centre is yet to conduct studies in the Downtown Eastside, more research into the effect of gambling on employability, financial stability, mental health issues and substance usage of the residents in the neighborhood would be very important, said Clark.

Within the student population, the centre has also conducted experiments with undergraduate groups at UBC as non-experienced gamblers in order to analyze their reactions to different features of the games. The risk of developing problem gambling for university students is relatively high, as young adulthood is the general age at which addictions tend develop. Academic pressures can further push students towards negative stress-coping mechanisms, said Clark. He highly recommends students with gambling issues connect with BC Problem Gambling as well as on-campus counseling for support.

The study of gambling has increasingly garnered the attention of undergraduate students through the establishment of a third-year psychology course called Gambling and Decision Making. Students can learn about the foundation of decision making, behavioral economics and the relationship between the science of addiction and public policy.

Beyond the scope of research on campus and within the field, Clark hopes to see an increase in public awareness and encouragement towards people with gambling issues to reach out to professional help. “Everybody should be aware and engaged in this discussion, both the positive and the negative sides of gambling,” he said.