A UK academic who has presented some controversial online gambling studies in the past, Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University, has presented a report on responsible gambling research to the European Parliament in collaboration with British MEP Malcolm Harbour.
The report "Problem Gambling in Europe" highlights the lack of known empirical evidence surrounding gambling and problem gambling, presenting an overview that suggests that many governments are not doing enough research into this critical important subject.
Professor Griffiths conducted a country-by-country analysis of the known empirical evidence on gambling and problem gambling in Europe and found that only one-third of the nations surveyed had carried out comprehensive surveys.
The findings will be read with considerable interest in an environment where state gambling monopolies frequently justify their stranglehold on national markets by claiming that it is to protect citizens from compulsive gambling.
Griffiths revealed that countries that had carried out national studies on gambling and problem gambling of varying representativeness, quality and empirical rigour included Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Sweden and Switzerland.
However, he found Austria, France, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain lacking, commenting that these countries had only conducted their research at a regional or local level.
And almost nothing is known about gambling and problem gambling in Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Portugal.
“The debate about gambling is multi-faceted,” said Adrian Morris, deputy managing director for StanleyBet, which has seen its share of legal struggles against state monopolies.
“Many reasons and interpretations are put forward as to why a particular [European Union] state does or does not grant access to its market by operators from other Member States, be they online or offline, be they casino, betting or other type of gambling operator.
“I have become increasingly concerned that this debate is informed by little or no information and the argumentation seems to be based on myths appealing to emotion rather than facts informing reason and leading to policymaking. Unfortunately, to this day, it seems that emotion continues to overrule facts.”
The Griffith report comes in a week where the Las Vegas Sun newspaper drew attention to startling new research into gambling addiction involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the human brain during gambling.
The scans provided the first biological evidence of what treatment providers had long known from working with the hardest cases: For addicts, gambling is truly compulsive and becomes all-important - eclipsing commitments to family and work with a need not unlike scoring drugs and getting high.
The research hopefully opens the way to more effective help for the small but tragic percentage of gamblers who fall prey to addiction.
The Las Vegas Sun article reports that a growing collection of research has found that the most afflicted gamblers have the kinds of biological brain disorders that are found among drug and alcohol abusers.
"Before the relatively recent use of MRI machines, scientists could only view people's behavior, dissect the brains of the deceased or study brain chemistry by drawing fluid from the body. Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows real-time study of the brain by measuring changes in blood flow as well as oxygen levels in the blood," the report notes.
The report goes on to examine the phenomenon of dopamine, a feel-good chemical secreted by the brain which in the words of one eminent researcher 'highjacks' the brain's reward system to create intense cravings and an obsessive focus on gambling.
"The brain pulls off this mutiny by figuring out that, if it can identify and connect with an addictive target - say, a slot machine - it can produce its own jackpot - a flood of rewarding dopamine," the article explains. "Triggering that dopamine overflow can overwhelm brain circuits that normally moderate risky behavior."
Addicts in this situation seek out gambling not for pleasure, but for the dopamine rush, which in turn creates a vicious circle where the person focuses more intensely on gambling at the expense of everything else.
In further studies, the dopamine rush among addicted research subjects occurred before any gambling and in response to cues indicating that gambling was about to occur, such as an image of a slot machine or the person's favourite casino.
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