Tyrone Burke, August 5, 2021

New Study Finds Financial Motives Are Integral to Problem Gambling Behaviour

 For some people with gambling problems, a trip to the casino provides a respite from life’s problems. For others, a winning bet is a buzz. But gamblers can have other motivations too, and winning money is one that has, perhaps surprisingly, sometimes been overlooked.

Research into gambling addiction has often followed the lead of the academic literature on other types of addiction, particularly alcohol research. This focuses primarily on two different types of motives for addictive behaviours – coping and enhancement. But that framework doesn’t leave a lot of space for financial motives.

Nassim Tabri headshot
Nassim Tabri, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Mental Health and Addictions Laboratory at Carleton University

“An individual’s financial situation can contribute to any type of addiction, but there is something really special about money in the context of gambling. It is the object of desire,” says Dr. Nassim Tabri, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Mental Health and Addictions Laboratory at Carleton University.

Working with Dr. Luke Clark from the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, Tabri recently published a meta-analysis of the gambling addiction literature in Addiction, a leading journal in the field. They found financial motives were associated with increased gambling frequency and the level of a gambling problem.

Luke Clark, UBC, Head shot
Luke Clark, Director, Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia

The level of association between financial motives and increased problem gambling varied between studies, but the overall positive effect across 44 studies was robust and had a moderate effect size. The studies ranged in size from a few dozen participants to several thousand, and included about 38,000 gamblers in all.

“We felt there was a disconnect between lay intuition and what most academic research was looking at,” says Clark.

“If you ask a person on the street why people gamble, you get a very simple answer – that they want to win money. But research on financial motives for gambling is relatively recent. This paper was an opportunity to try and consolidate the work that had been done.”

A better understanding of the role of financial motives in problem gambling behaviour could help develop better policies and devise better clinical treatments.

“One of the key takeaways is that increased gambling involvement cannot simply be explained by coping and enhancement motives,” says Tabri.

“We should be thinking about the role of financial motives. Existing theories of gambling addiction do not consider this, but should start. It could support policy directions to pay more attention to the role of finances as part of the pathway to harm.”

It could also lead to a better understanding of what drives problem gambling behaviour on an even more fundamental level. Some people who gamble could be motivated in part by their perception – and pursuit – of financial success.

stressed man in a poker tournament

“We have been studying the relationship between money and self-worth – a so-called ‘financially focused self-concept’ – in people who gamble. How important financial success is to how you feel about yourself and how much you respect yourself” says Tabri.

“People that overvalue financial success could be at higher risk for gambling problems.  This could relate to their financial motives and contribute to the progression into problem gambling. We want to understand where these financial motives come from. They could develop from an overvaluation of financial success in their sense of who they are.”

The citation of the journal article:

Tabri, N., Xuereb, S., Cringle, N., & Clark, L. (in press). Associations between financial gambling motives, gambling frequency, and level of problem gambling: A meta-analytic review.
Addiction. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.15642

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