Fay Laidler

Call problem gamblers what they are


January 14, 2022

Anyone who has attended a workshop with Matt Gaskell will understand when I say that what is shared about gambling harms in ‘Addiction by Design’ (Schull 2012) is mind blowing.  (PDF) Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas by Natasha Dow Schüll | Kah-Wee Lee - Academia.edu
Matt is a clinical director of the NHS gambling clinic in Leeds, UK. https://youtu.be/2WxT8uFBqE4 
He is an authority on the environments created by gambling operators to ‘maximise revenue per customer and time spent on their devices’. This is a normal goal of business, of course, but if you’re offering high risk products, it’s a recipe for disaster. I agree with Matt that the risk of harm rate for online gambling at 45% ‘is way beyond what is ethically and morally acceptable’. https://youtu.be/bny1qgKO46A 
What made me sit up also, was the concept that gambling harms comes from problem practices rather than problem gamblers. People who are already vulnerable, or at risk of becoming vulnerable, are sitting ducks for the gambling industry. People who are vulnerable are not ‘problems’. They are vulnerable. 
There are many perspectives on what it means to have an addiction, including 
  • Moral failing 
  • Choice 
  • Disease 
  • Goal directed behaviour 
  • Habit  
  • Compulsion 
Matt highlights the fact that ‘scientific literature has undermined the first two positions’, despite what we are told by proponents of the responsible gambling narrative.  
What is based on science is that ‘the more people engage in a habit or compulsion, the harder it becomes for the brain to escape the changes that happen in the brain over a period of time.’   
Imagine a child, maybe your child, attracted perhaps by the sponsorship and advertising of gambling that runs riot through sport. They are persuaded to gamble from a young age and changes will take place in their developing brains over time. ‘My son was shaking, trying not to go online’: how the gambling industry got its claws into children | Family | The Guardian 

Deliberate targeting of children makes it very hard for them to stop gambling when they are an adult. This is not the story of a problem gambler, but of a vulnerable young person. Child gambling a 'growing problem' - study - BBC News  
I learned from Matt about the ABC of behaviour: 
A is for activating stimuli. If we think about all the places where gambling is mentioned and the work that goes into convincing us that a win is just there for the taking, it’s hardly surprising that children are gambling more and more often.  
B is for behaviour...gambling 
C is for consequences. The formation of a compulsion which is generated over and over by A. 
I also learned about operant conditioning Operant Conditioning (nih.gov). Matt says, ‘Gamblers frequently talk about early wins and then it unravels, but there is reinforcement by the industry to keep them trying to win. An immediate reinforcement to drive the behaviour, rather than delayed, is crucial to creating the compulsion.’ Most people will know that children love immediate gratification, as do many adults, so gambling is tailor made to appeal.  
If that child, or adult, is also vulnerable because of unpleasant stuff going on elsewhere in their life, Skinner’s theory of negative and positive reinforcement means gambling ‘takes away pain or adversity elsewhere.’ and ‘by the time it isn’t fun anymore, it's too late to escape the ABC of behaviour.’   
This doesn’t sound like people who are problems to me, or any other words indicating moral failings. It sounds like vulnerable people being locked in.