Problem Gambling Focus of New Research Lab

January 07, 2008 - News Release

A group of University of Guelph professors has opened Ontario's first comprehensive gambling research laboratory dedicated to studying the behaviour of people in casinos.

The facility, supported by the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, officially opens today. The University community and general public are invited to an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. at the lab, located at 824 Gordon St.

Equipped with leading-edge technology, the research lab is the first to have a Panoscope 360, a panoramic virtual-reality viewer that displays a full 360-degree cylindrical image, giving the effect of standing in an actual casino.

This technology will allow researchers to study how the environment affects a person's gambling behaviour and, more specifically, what design elements can be included in a casino that will encourage people to gamble responsibly.

The lab also contains eight slot machines.

“This technology is crucial for studies on problem gambling since casino operators don't typically allow researchers inside their facilities to conduct research,” said Karen Finlay, a professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies and the lab’s principal researcher.

“The establishment of a slot machine laboratory and a 360-degree immersive virtual reality unit will allow for realistic testing of the effects of casino design elements and of the characteristics of slot machines that promote harmful gambling.”

Using the new facility, Finlay, as well as Profs. Jane Londerville and Vinay Kanetkar of the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies and Harvey Marmurek of the Department of Psychology, will be able to continue research into how casino environments and the design of gaming machines affect people's willingness to put their money at risk.

Researchers are currently studying how introducing different lighting, music and images can help break the trance-like state most gamblers experience when they are in a casino environment for long periods of time.

“If we can break this type of trance, then people will be more likely to stop and think about how long they have been in the casino and how much money they have spent,” said Finlay.

Another study is focused on the design of slot machines and how fast-paced music and different lighting can help gamblers realize the passage of time. Researchers are also examining ways of incorporating certain images into the casino environment to help distract gamblers and encourage them to make better decisions about their gambling behaviour.

Research subjects include high-risk or problem gamblers, as well as moderate users. Low-risk and non-problem gamblers are also included in studies to show the difference in effects. People who take part in the gambling studies are given information related to counselling and treatment options.

Finlay said the researchers' findings may influence government policy-makers and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Association, who oversee how the province's casinos are built, managed and promoted.

The Ontario Problem Gambling Centre, located in Guelph's Research park, has a mandate to examine problem gambling using a multidisciplinary approach. The provincial agency is funded by two per cent of the revenues from slot machines at charity casinos and racetracks.

Over the years, U of G has received more than $1 million in grants to support gambling research projects.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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