Urge to gamble linked to casino designs, say U of G researchers
Reducing the jarring noise and other stimuli in casinos can significantly lower a person's intent to gamble, according to new research by University of Guelph professors.
Consumer studies professor Karen Finlay and psychology professor Harvey Marmurek found that the busier the casino in terms of noise, colours, lights and people, the more likely both problem and non-problem gamblers are to take a chance.
"The amount of information that must be processed in a setting is called the ‘information rate' and it enhances the amount you feel aroused, the amount you feel dominated, the degree to which you lose control," said Finlay. "Because a casino has a lot of lights, jackpots going ding, ding, ding, and other sounds, colours and people, we thought that varying the information rate might help reduce problem gambling behaviour."
Working with consumer studies professors Jane Londerville and Vinay Kanetkar, Finlay and Marmurek took video footage of two typical casino designs in Las Vegas and showed it to problem and non-problem gamblers. Before taking part in the study, all participants completed the 12 questions of the Canadian Problem Gambling Index so the researchers could determine their gambling impulses.
They then surveyed the gamblers to measure their emotional responses to various settings and their urge to gamble through survey questions after they watched the videos. More than 400 participant observations were collected.
When the researchers eliminated the jarring and varied noises from the games and instead played recognizable music, the participants' urge to gamble was reduced by as much as 14 per cent. "When more stimuli were present in the gambling setting, the gamblers generally felt less pleasure, more arousal, higher levels of anxiety and greater loss of control," said Finlay. "This resulted in altered behaviour, such as a person exceeding the amount of time and money he or she intended to spend in the casino."
Emotional responses varied with the design of the gambling venue. Casinos generally fall into one of two designs: the "playground" model that combines comfort with an element of fantasy — running water, lots of vegetation, high ceilings and open space between the games — or the Friedman model where games are laid out in a maze-like pattern.
"The first step was to validate these two designs and recognize that they create differences in pleasure and arousal," said Marmurek.
In the "playground" model casinos, the elements are highly familiar and comforting and measure the highest in terms of individuals maintaining a positive psychological state and a low incidence of problem gambling behaviour. The researchers found that adding music to the mix in this design increased participants' desire to gamble because it was one more stimulus to process and resulted in increased anxiety and loss of control.
In Friedman's model where there are low ceilings with less space and a lot of noise, music helped reduce the amount of information to process and the level of anxiety, so that individuals had better control over their gambling behaviour, said Finlay.
Videos were used because the researchers can't test participants in actual casinos. "There is a good body of literature that says video simulations produce the same direction of results as would measurement in the field," said Finlay. Added Marmurek: "If anything, it probably underestimates the person's reaction because when you're there, the casino environment is more powerful."
Based on their findings, the researchers believe designing casinos with rooms containing comforting, natural, yet limited stimuli for problem gamblers could help control their over-the-top impulses. They're hoping their research will assist addiction counsellors in developing treatment plans and will lead to provincial regulations that will help problem gamblers.
The team of four researchers has received a $184,000 grant from the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre to continue their research on casino design. Over the next year, they will hire videographers to capture a range of specific stimuli found in casinos — the brightness of lights, use of colour, flashing lights, degree of crowds — to pinpoint the stimuli causing gamblers to alter their behaviour. Their new study will focus on the loss of control some people experience as a function of casino design.
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