Research looks at why people gamble

Dr Dave Clarke from the School of Psychology at New Zealand's Massey University is contributing to a multidisciplinary research team looking at gambling in New Zealand.

The team is investigating what causes people to become gamblers and what causes the shift from social or recreational gambling to problem gambling.

The research team is headed by Dr Samson Tse at the Centre for Gambling Studies, School of Population Health at the University of Auckland. It includes investigators from the Auckland University of Technology, along with Maori, Pacific Island and Asian researchers. The team has successfully tendered for a contract to develop a methodology to examine why people in New Zealand gamble and progress from moderate levels to more problematic gambling. The research project is funded by the Problem Gambling Committee and administered by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Dr Clarke says whilst there is much international epidemiological research on the prevalence of problem gambling, there is a paucity of research conducted within the unique cultural context of New Zealand. Worldwide, little is known about the determinants that influence the shift from recreational or social gambling to problem gambling.

The present research consists of four main phases:

  1. a New Zealand and international literature review,
  2. interviews with researchers, practitioners, problem gamblers and focus groups,
  3. development of the framework and methodology, and
  4. testing the methodology in South Auckland.

Interviews and focus groups include four streams of people: European/Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Island (Niuean, Tongan & Samoan) and Asian (Chinese). Dr Clarke says organising focus groups of individuals who gamble has proven to be much more challenging than anticipated. “Reasons include intense feeling of shamefulness, sense of privacy or secrecy associated with gambling and heavy workloads of counsellors who have agreed to assist in recruiting people for this study.”

The reasons given so far by the participants about gambling and the movement between recreational or social and problem gambling are varied. Some are individual and some are environmental. “These reasons or factors have various levels of impact on the person who gambles at different stage of the transition process,” says Dr Clarke. “The effects of cultural and social background and difficulties in post-immigration adjustment have become apparent.”

Amongst contributions to the project, Dr Clarke has completed a literature review and presented a paper at a recent international conference, Gambling and Problem Gambling in New Zealand, held in Auckland. The paper reviewed literature on factors leading to substance abuse and suggested implications for gambling in New Zealand. Many of the reports reviewed in the paper were from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study and the Christchurch Health and Development Study, with major contributions by Massey SHORE researchers.

Dr Clarke says on the basis of the substance use and abuse literature, it was hypothesized that social, cultural, situational and environmental factors are likely to be more influential than personal factors in initiation, low-level or early gambling involvement. Personal factors are likely to influence continuation, higher and later levels of involvement.

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