Current Advances in Gambling Research 2019

Stephanie Bramley is a Research Associate at the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. (982 words)

Unit researcher Stephanie Bramley attended the first Current Advances in Gambling Research 2019 conference on 12th July which was held at the University of East London.  The conference was organised by Dr. Steve Sharman and was supported by the Society for the Study of Addiction.

Two keynote addresses were given, one by Prof. Marcantonio Spada and another by Prof. Gerda Reith.  There were also invited talks from eight academics with Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE giving the opening and closing addresses.

Henrietta opened the conference with some exciting news as she is intending to develop a National Research Centre in Behavioural Addictions, so watch this space.  Following this Prof. Spada (London South Bank University) spoke about the role of metacognitive beliefs in predicting problem gambling. Prof. Spada put forward his view that metacognition was not addressed within cognitive behavioural therapy and that CBT relies on semantic change which could be a factor that leads to relapse, following research studies conducted about anxiety, depression and nicotine.  He called for more research with adolescents and relapse prevention in the U.K. following on from studies currently being conducted in Italy.

Dr. Phillip Newall (University of Warwick) presented his research on gambling warning labels.  He suggested that gambling labels and messages could be improved if they were reframed so that gamblers were more clearly informed of the ‘house edge’ rather than within current ‘return-to-player’ messages. He also spoke about the potential risks to gamblers who engage in sports betting as details about the ‘house edge’ are seemingly ‘well hidden’ on gambling operators’ websites and therefore may prevent gamblers from making an informed decision about their gambling participation.

Dr. Alice Hoon (Swansea University) presented research about the influence of symbolic generalisation on simulated slot machine choice.  Oliver Scholten (University of York) gave an overview of gambling using cryptocurrency which is presently unregulated, unrestricted and does not require any details from users.  Oliver took the opportunity to provide attendees with online access to a large data set and also stated that cryptocurrencies could be an emerging market related to gambling.

The morning session concluded with a presentation from Prof. Robert Rogers (Bangor University) who asked “Why don’t (some) gamblers learn the value of losing games? And what can we do about it?” He presented research about the role of mindfulness and its potential to enable gamblers to improve their decision making.

The afternoon session opened with a presentation of our Unit research on improving the understanding of migrant gambling in the U.K. This study was conducted in conjunction with Dr. Heather Wardle from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine (LSHTM). Further information about the project.

Next Scott Houghton, a PhD student at Northumbria University, presented his research into the content of Twitter posts by gambling operators and gambling affiliates.  He found that operators posted more content about sport, humorous posts and promotional content compared to affiliates whose posts comprised direct advertising, betting assistance (i.e. suggesting bets), customer engagement and updates.  Neither affiliates nor operators uploaded content about responsible gambling or safer gambling.  Furthermore, there was a lack of age restrictions on affiliates’ websites.  Scott suggested that more research is needed to investigate how gamblers respond to social media posts from operators and affiliates, and whether social media can effectively communicate responsible gambling messages.

Next Dr. Joanne Lloyd (University of Wolverhampton) presented a qualitative study which investigated the links between gambling behaviour and deprivation.  Joanne focused on the concept of money which was mentioned by her interviewees and identified several themes within the data including financial circumstances, gambling being perceived as a way to make money, the meaning and value of money, and the affordability of gambling.

Following this Dr. Heather Wardle (LSHTM) spoke about mapping gambling-related harms and presented a case study of Newham, London.  Heather shared exciting news that a risk map of Great Britain which has been produced by Geofutures will be made available online to help identify ‘hotspots’ of places within communities to inform licensing decisions and locations for gambling treatment services.  This also complements Heather’s research into the ‘social fragmentation index’ which is an indicator of how connected communities are and whether factors including marital status and housing status are potential markers of vulnerability to gambling-related harm.

The second keynote address was given by Prof. Gerda Reith (University of Glasgow) who reiterated calls for gambling-related harm to be considered as a public health issue.  Gerda argued that the U.K. is at a tipping point in its public discourse about gambling and highlighted that the time is right for discussions about gambling’s place in society and the need for a population-level approach to protecting the public.  Gerda called for legislation and regulation to tackle the fundamental ways that gambling is made available to the public, a reduction in advertising, sponsorship, personalised marketing, affordability checks, a ban on credit card gambling, more independent research, gambling to be shifted from the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to the Department of Health and Social Care, and a mandatory levy to fund research, education and treatment. Gerda quoted Sir Austin Bradford Hill – “health statistics represent people with the tears wiped off” and eloquently illustrated this point by playing an emotional video produced by the charity Gambling with Lives which contained stories of people bereaved by gambling-related suicide.

Henrietta closed the conference by thanking all of the contributors, the organising team and calling for the government to “move in the right direction” by shifting gambling-related harm to the Department of Health and Social Care, and for a co-ordinated approach to research within the field of gambling studies.

To conclude, this conference has demonstrated the enthusiasm, passion and commitment to improving knowledge about gambling-related harm and I’m looking forward to seeing how the field will develop over the next year. The conference presentations are available.

Until next year’s conference…

Stephanie Bramley is a Research Associate at the NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.