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News Release

January 18, 2006

Profs Receive $500,000 for Gambling Research

University of Guelph marketing and consumer studies professor Karen Finlay and her colleagues have received $500,000 from the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre to continue researching the effect casino design has on gambling behaviour.

The research team, which has previously conducted studies using video images of casinos, will use a virtual-reality simulation unit to examine the role casino “runways” have on a gambler’s willingness to play beyond the level they initially intend to.

“The term ‘runway’ describes the area right before you enter the casino,” says Finlay, who’s working on this project with psychology professor Harvey Marmurek and Profs. Jane Londerville and Vinay Kanetkar of the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies. “In Las Vegas, designers are paying attention to this ‘runway’ area by using specialized design elements like sights and sounds that are intended to put people into states of different emotional arousal or excitement. We’re trying to determine the effect this area has on gamblers and their gambling behaviour.”

The first year of the three-year project will involve refining software and shooting video images which will be programmed into the virtual-reality unit for testing in 2007, said Finlay. The unit will incorporate a set of eyeglasses and a glove along with an actual slot machine. The team will transport the system to gambling communities to collect data. Respondents will play the slot machine while viewing a gambling setting in 3-D format.

“We’re trying to get as close to reality as we can,” said Finlay. “Among other things, we’re interested in studying whether a changes in gambling setting or the emotions it induces changes a gambler’s plans.”

They will also explore the use of “soft fascinations” or images that people will be involuntarily drawn to look at which reduce the anxiety that concentrated gambling can create. An example of a soft fascination is a child bouncing a ball or playing with a puppy, although Finlay plans to use different images, including a Japanese garden.

“These soft fascinations may provide gamblers with a mental break and the ability to refocus their gambling behaviour in a more responsible way,” she said. “It’s believed that gamblers who are given such an opportunity won’t continue behaviours like thinking the machine will pay out because it hasn’t paid out for a long time or chasing their losses.”

The researchers hypothesize that, if people are restored psychologically, they’ll make better decisions about their gambling. “Gambling is a very directed activity,” said Finlay. “While gambling, your attention span can wear out and you can become cognitively fatigued and behave less responsibly than you should.”

This team of researchers has been studying the role personality and environment play in problem gambling in hopes that their work may eventually be used in public education, to promote awareness among policy-makers and for clinical treatment plans for problem gamblers.

In 2003, they concluded 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. Based on this discovery, the researchers believe designing casinos with rooms containing comforting, natural, yet limited stimuli for problem gamblers could help control their over-the-top impulses.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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