Religion, Spirituality and Associations with Problem Gambling

By Clarke, Dave; Tse, Samson et al. | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Religion, Spirituality and Associations with Problem Gambling


Clarke, Dave, Tse, Samson, Abbott, Max, Townsend, Sonia, Kingi, Pefi, Manaia, Wiremu, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


Little is known about the contribution of religion and spirituality to the development of problem gambling. This paper examines one of the reasons associated with religion and spirituality which was given by respondents in a larger study of why people gamble in New Zealand. A survey questionnaire of reasons was derived from focus groups and interviews with practitioners, problem gamblers and their families, and was completed by a convenience sample of 244 regular gamblers in the South Auckland population. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed that the 148 problem gamblers in the sample were more than three times as likely as non-problem gamblers to endorse the reason that gambling gives hope and an opportunity for a better life, after controlling for continuous gambling and demographic risk factors. This aspiration suggests that there might be other salient factors linking religion and spirituality to problem gambling, which need further investigation.

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While theologians and social historians have considered religion in relation to gambling (e.g., Costello & Millar, 2000; Grant, 1994), little attention has been given to religion and spirituality in the development of problem gambling. This is surprising given the stances adopted by major world religions and various Christian denominations with regard to gambling and the strong role of religion in community and family life in many parts of the world. It is also surprising considering that the major mutual help approach to problem gambling, Gamblers Anonymous, is a quasi-religious programme that has a spiritual dimension requiring belief in a higher power (Browne, 1994; Ciarrocchi, 2002; Koski-Jannes & Turner, 1999).

Religion has been defined as the system of worship and dogma that is shared by a group (Boswell, Knight, Hamer, & McChesney, 2001). For the purposes of the present review, two aspects of religion are considered: religious affiliation and religious obligations. The former is usually defined by one's choice of religion nominated or selected on survey questionnaires (e.g., Kassinove, 1998). Religious obligations involve gifting or tithing monies to churches, and social pressures to participate in church fundraising activities such as crown-and-anchor evenings and housie (bingo) sessions (Bellringer, Cowley-Malcolm, Abbott, & Williams, 2005; Perese & Faleafa, 2000).

Spirituality is a broader term that refers to existential and transcendent aspects of life that contribute to a sense of hope, meaning and purpose, coherence and connectedness to others (Spaniol, 2001). It may include belief in God or a higher power, and a religious or other set of values to guide relationships with other people and live one's life more generally.

The Whare Tapa Wha model of health (Abbott & Durie, 1987; Durie, 1994) maintains that te taha wairua (spiritual health and practice of tikanga Maori or custom) is one of four essential foundations for overall wellbeing. Pacific peoples' cultures place similar emphasis on the importance of spirituality in health; for example, the Samoan fonofale model (Mental Health Commission, 2001).

However, there are differences between religion and spirituality. Piedmont (2001) believed that spirituality is an attempt by humans to understand life in the light of death, again stressing the importance of validating why we exist. In this sense, Piedmont (2001) viewed spirituality as a dimension for exploring what motivates us, and what goals we are striving to achieve. Longo and Peterson (2002) recognised that religion is part of spirituality. They believe that religion is organised spirituality, whereas the term spirituality has within it the concept of being individual. They also noted that one of the main barriers to the acceptance of spirituality in rehabilitation is the confusion over the meaning of spirituality.

A recent study of why gamblers in South Auckland start and continue gambling (Tse et al. …

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