New Research Shows Gamblers Often Break Own Limits On Stressful Days

Written By Jose Colorado on December 5, 2022
The University of Guelph study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors also concluded losses were higher on days when gamblers violated their own limits.

Skip the gambling if you’re feeling stressed tonight says a new University of Guelph academic study.

According to the findings – published in the journal of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors – gamblers often ignore their limits when having a stressful day. Those who have to resist other everyday temptations – such as drugs and alcohol – are even more at risk of breaking boundaries.

It’s a concerning discovery said lead study author Dr. Sunghwan Yi – especially given the uptick in gambling’s popularity of late.

Ultimately, Yi said responsible gambling strategies must evolve past their current simplistic form.

“Limit-setting strategies can be effective for some gamblers – and they are often suggested as a way to minimize harms. However, we don’t know when limit-setting strategies are effective, nor the reasons why some gamblers find it more difficult to not violate their gambling limits.”

103 Canadian gamblers asked to record daily gambling habits over three-week span

Named, “A daily diary investigation of self-regulation in gambling”, the research followed 103 regular Canadian bettors over a three-week span. Yi’s research team defined a “regular gambler” as someone who wagered at least once a week.

Those participating journaled for 21 days.

Yi’s team was most interested in the following:

  • Level of stress and temptation they encountered on a daily basis
  • Benchmarking self-imposed money and time limits of each participant
  • Determining whether participants exceeded their limits or not and why

Key findings show breaking limits leads to higher loses

According to the U of G, the Daily Diary study is believed to be the first-of-its kind. No other academic research has examined the factors that impact self-control as it pertains to gambling limits.

To that end, breakthrough findings were aplenty.

For starters, self-imposed gambling limits did little to curtail excessive playing. For instance, gamblers often broke their own restrictions. In fact, on nearly 23% of gambling days, players broke their own limits.

Compounding the issue were the losses. The research team concluded losses were significantly higher on days when gamblers violated their own limits. In contrast, when punters stuck to their goals or had no gambling limits, they retained more of their cash.

Stressful days, prior temptations could mean more reckless gambling

Stress also plays a big role.

Gamblers who reported stress from resisting other temptations throughout the day (e.g., drugs, alcohol, smoking, food) were more likely to exceed their own playing limits.

Yi – who studies addictive and compulsive consumer behaviour at the U of G – hypothesized:

“It’s possible that having exerted a lot of mental resources to deal with prior temptations in other domains, these gamblers may have become too tired to cope with the urge to go beyond their gambling limits.”

However, the professor offered another explanation as well:

“They may have already experienced frustration or other negative feelings by the time they started gambling. So, for them, continuing gambling in the hopes that they may be able to win and thus feel better is likely to be more important than sticking to their limits.

“In other words, escaping the negative mood is more important than attaining the goal of self-control.”

Disciplined and high “self-control” people also at risk when stress hits

Among the study subjects were a contingent of ‘high self-control gamblers.’ According to Yi, such participants reported exceptional discipline in other areas of life.

But even they are not safe when highly stressful days hit. In fact, under such circumstances, Yi said such people were just as likely to exceed their owns limits as ‘normal gamblers.’

Granted, overall, highly-disciplined bettors were better at sticking to their limits compared to others. Nonetheless, they are still susceptible, said Yi.

“That tells us that even those with high trait self-control are not well prepared to deal with temptations to keep betting once gambling starts.

“This is an interesting finding because these are the gamblers most likely to already take measures to limit themselves, such as bringing small amounts of cash with them or leaving their credit cards at home.”

“Know your limit, play within it” theme much too simplistic

Today, gambling is more prevalent – and tempting – than ever.

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to watch a major sporting match without coming across multiple operators slapping flashy ads in bettors’ faces. Recently, a pan-Canadian coalition of provincial lottery corporations was put together to deal with the issue.

Amplifying everything, however, is Ontario’s iGaming market. Alongside that is the decriminalization of single-event betting. Together, the pair of events have cascaded Ontario into one of North America’s highest-earning jurisdictions in less than a year’s time of being fully operational.

For its part, the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation (OLG) – alongside many other lotteries – have long campaigned for players to “know your limit, play within it.”

But it’s a hollow attempt, said Yi.

“That campaign assumes people will be able to just stop when they are getting close to their limits. But these findings suggest when people have hard days, they often don’t have a good ability to stop themselves.”

Yi: Responsible gambling programs need to take into account situational circumstances

Instead, Yi said he would like to see more gambling prevention devices and interventions built directly into websites.

His suggestions included:

  • Implement a player mood-rater and gambling limit prior to gambling
  • Warning appears when player is close to breaking own limit
  • Inform player this may be due to their negative mood
  • Suggest to gambler they are potentially more susceptible to bad decisions/losses because of mood

Yi pitched another idea as well:

“Or maybe it could be a system that forces the gambler into a cooling-off period once a certain threshold had been exceeded, so they are forced to take a break.”

The main point, Yi said, is that operators need to know situational factors – such as stress and other temptations – can have a strong influence on self-imposed limits.

Every responsible gambling portfolio needs this, he commented.

U of G continues contributions to gambling research field

Over the years the University of Guelph has been a key contributor to Canada’s gambling research field.

Consider just last year the institution detailed a paper on sports bettors being at greater risk of problem gambling than others. The research is particularly relevant given the introduction of single-game sports betting in Aug.2021. More recently, brick-and-mortar sportsbooks have been popping up throughout Ontario.

Thus, moving forward, the findings could prove vital given the increased popularity of the category.

Other important topics covered by the U of G team over the years include:

  • Gamblers unwilling to talk about it (2010)
  • Casino atmosphere impacts gambler behaviour (2012)
  • Small cues can activate gambling desires (2014)

University of Manitoba, Guelph and Toronto involved in study

The Daily Diary research was funded by the Manitoba Gambling Research Program of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries.

Besides Yi – who is a professor in the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics (U of G) – other co-authors included:

  • Abby Goldstein (Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto)
  • Sasha A. Haefner (Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, U of T)
  • Hai Luo (Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba)

The study states approximately 76% of Canadians gamble.

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Jose Colorado is a British Columbia-based writer. He lives in Burnaby and loves sports, anime, writing, business and the occasional walk on the beach.

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