Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Gambling in the Public Marketplace: Adaptations to Economic Context

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Gambling in the Public Marketplace: Adaptations to Economic Context

Article excerpt

For players of games of chance, the legal gambling environment has never been richer. Nearly all U.S. states have become sponsors of gambling in some form, providing many different gaming options to the public. Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, provides a case in point: Since a scratch-off game and a public lottery were first introduced in 1985, the state's gaming milieu has grown to include break-open game cards, daily number draws, a huge multi-state lottery, bingo-like random number games, sports betting, and video gambling terminals offering poker and slot games. The motivation for the expansion of gambling is clear: In the 2011 fiscal year, sales of Oregon's public games totaled over $1 billion, of which almost $560 million went toward state programs (Oregon State Lottery, 2011).

Several factors participate in a gambler's choice among games, or in the decision to place a wager in a single game, and researchers have various methodologies for collecting relevant data. An experimental analysis of gambling behavior can identify important psychological, biological, and contextual influences on betting, although there are unique methodological concerns (Lyons, 2006; Weatherly & Phelps, 2006). Unlike the experimental analysis of drug and alcohol use, in which either human or animal subjects can be exposed to the direct effects of substances under carefully controlled experimental settings, it is not ethical (or practical) in human gambling research to allow subjects to lose significant sums of their own money, or to win large amounts of currency, under conditions manipulated by researchers. Experimental analogues using animal subjects can model some important aspects of human gambling, including the discounting of delayed rewards (Madden, Ewan, & Lagorio, 2007), but other important gambling consequences, such as accrued debt, remain elusive. Laboratory investigations of human gambling have avoided some of the ethical barriers by studying hypothetical choices (considered the simplest alternative by Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) or by employing tokens of limited value in place of currency. These methods have produced important information about how the small probabilities in lotteries are overweighted, leading to violations of expected utility theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979); the rate at which problem gamblers discount delayed rewards, compared to non-gamblers (e.g., Dixon, Marley, & Jacobs, 2003); and the role of verbal behavior, including derived relational responding, in wagering preferences (e.g., Dymond, McCann, Griffiths, Cox, & Crocker, 2012). While improvements in laboratory analogues of gambling hold promise for an experimental analysis, the fact that human subjects are shielded from the actual contingencies of real-world gambling leaves the ecological validity of these methods uncertain.

Some useful data can also be derived from naturalistic observations of gamblers, operating within the socioeconomic environment (Ghezzi, Lyons, & Dixon, 2000). Limited by their non-experimental status, such observations nonetheless reflect authentic gambling contingencies, in which large sums of money may be won or lost. The methodology of observing what players actually do provides a valuable alternative to self-report studies that have dominated gambling research over the past 30 years (LaPlante, Gray, Bosworth, & Shaffer, 2010). On a very large scale, natural gambling data can be collected from the state offices that conduct legal games, and this approach has been used in some instances to identify gambler preferences and biases. For example, Turner (2010) examined the history of a large Canadian lottery and found that although lottery outcomes were random, the number 7 was chosen by bettors disproportionately, confirming its popular status as a "lucky" number. Other studies have explored game characteristics (such as prize magnitude or game frequency) as influences on group-level betting. …

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