National Study: Electronic Games A Worry Despite Decrease In Problem Gambling

Written By Jose Colorado on April 14, 2022
A blurred anonymized shot of a slot machine - video poker room, with lights glowing in the dark. A person, dressed in red, is playing at one machine

Problem gambling is on the downswing, but electronic gambling machines remain a concern in Canada’s gaming industry.

That’s the overarching theme coming out of Alberta following a first-of-its-kind National Gambling Study.

The three-year comprehensive project (2018 – 2020) helped researchers unearth several important findings to better understand Canada’s gambling landscape.

More results are on the way, and the timing couldn’t be better.

Ontario’s wagering market is now live, with billions expected to flow into the provincial economy in the coming years.

March marked Problem Gambling Awareness Month, but staying on top of the potential dangers of the industry remains a year-round effort.

“My overall thoughts on the study is that it provides an up-to-date profile of Canadian gambling and problem gambling that can be used by the general public and policymakers to guide further policy-making,” said Dr. Rob Williams, principal investigator, via email to PlayCanada.

Study examines problem gambling at depth

Problem gambling is consistently one of the fieriest topics in pro and anti-gambling debates.

But according to Canadian scholars, it remains a minimal issue within the greater Canadian public. In fact, stats show that problem gambling decreased between 2002 and 2018 from 1.1% to 0.6%.

However, it’s important to note the amount of harm caused to individual gamblers has likely increased.

According to the report, overall, fewer people are gambling. Yet gambling revenues have not declined over the years. That means more spending belongs to each gambler/gambling trip.

“The ANP team has been able to identify a decrease in problem gambling prevalence relative to historical prevalence rates,” said Dr. Carrie Leonard, project manager, via email.

“This is good, as high prevalence rates indicate not only far-reaching harms but also unsustainable business.”

EGMs drive concern in gambling industry

Hand-in-hand with problem gambling is the usage of electronic gambling machines.

By design, EGMs maximize money and time spent playing (e.g., slots).

Researchers found the machines to be the “primary predictor of problem gambling status” for Canadians.

Not only are EGMs addictive—they are everywhere.

Perhaps uncoincidentally then, increased problem gambling rates exist in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the study found higher EGM participation.

Reducing EGMs in the future

Dr. Williams noted to PlayCanada that the EGM finding was “probably” the most significant breakthrough of the study.

The report summary went as far as to say constraints on the availability of EGMs “would likely have the greatest single public health benefit.”

Dr. Leonard added that these changes could “maximize the benefits of gambling while simultaneously mitigating the harms associated with problematic gambling engagement.”

Lethbridge, Alberta universities team up for project

More than ten faculty members from the University of Lethbridge and the University of Calgary got in on the act.

Lethbridge, however, took the lead. Principal investigator Dr. Williams and project manager Dr. Leonard are Lethbridge scholars.

Beyond problem gambling and EGMs, the study covered various other topics. Each holds a crucial piece to understanding the Canadian gambling puzzle to better.

The overarching objective was to find a way to maximize gambling benefits while minimizing harm to Canadians. To get there, the scholars documented the prevalence, pattern and impacts of gambling on Canadian society.

Big topics covered in Canadian Gambling Study

The ten topics covered in the Canadian National Gambling Study:

  • Laws and legislation surrounding gambling in Canada and in each province
  • Gambling participation and problem gambling numbers in Canada and each province
  • Measuring Canadian involvement in online gambling
  • Uncovering Canadians’ attitudes, views and knowledge of gambling (survey)
  • Developing Canadian Low-Risk Gambling Guidelines
  • A better understanding of Indigenous – Canadian experience in gambling
  • What is the ‘typical’ profile of Canadian problem gamblers?
  • What is the cause of problem gambling, and why do Canadians relapse?
  • Examine the impact legal gambling and harm-minimization initiatives have on problem gamblers
  • How has Canada’s legalization of cannabis impacted gambling behaviour?

Thousands of Canadians surveyed in National Study

Researchers employed three specific methods to get to the bottom of those questions.

The first included a 17-question ‘Rapid Response’ Stats Can survey. In total, 28,000 Canadians received the questionnaire.

Next was the administration of a Baseline Online Panel Survey to 10,000 online panellists across Canada. Each panellist had to be a member of LegerWeb – Canada’s most extensive online panel with 400,000-plus members.

Researchers intended the panel selection process to include – and better understand – those with problem gambling.

Finally, researchers surveyed critical informants from crucial sectors in the gambling industry.

Those included:

  • Major provincial stakeholders
  • Indigenous leaders
  • Casino patrons
  • Problem gamblers in treatment

Canada lagging in global gambling industry

One of the key reasons for the massive undertaking was Canada’s lack of research on the subject.

Take Australia, the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Despite gambling issues in each area, Williams contends there have at least been efforts to understand the problems.

For instance, Australia has the Productivity Commission – an independent research commission detailing issues affecting Australians.

Meanwhile, the US has the United National Gambling Impact Study.

Each helped discover several critical revelations that had the potential to impact government policy.

“Gambling is just as important, prominent, pervasive and problematic in Canada as it is there,” said Dr. Williams, via a promotional video done for the U. of Lethbridge.

“Yet we have never undertaken such an investigation, and we hope to do something analogous to that.”

Understanding Canadian gambling issues

Despite being late to the party, Canada has taken steps toward understanding its gambling landscape.

For starters, as mentioned, March marked Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

That served as a perfect moment for the industry to emphasize the Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines created by The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

Essentially, the guidelines serve as an evidence-based way to reduce the risk of experiencing harm from gambling.

For the curious, the guidelines are:

  • Gamble no more than 1% of household income before tax per month
  • Gamble no more than four days per month
  • Avoid regularly gambling on more than two types of games
  • Additionally, nearly every province or territory has a 24/7 helpline available for problem gamblers.

Resources, treatment options and trained professionals are commonly available through each service.

More research needed as Ontario online gambling launches

Punters will remember Ontario’s free market has officially launched – and it’s off to a roaring start.

Much of that is primarily because some of North America’s largest operators are now in play in Ontario. More gambling can mean more problems – making research projects such as these all the more needed.

A fact not lost on the industry.

Multiple organizations helped to fund the National Gambling Study, including:

  • Alberta Gaming Research Institute
  • Consortium for Gambling Research
  • Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction
  • Gambling Research Exchange Ontario

PlayCanada encourages everyone to gamble responsibly.

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Jose Colorado

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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