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People who have problems with online gambling are more likely to swing between small and large bets.

Are you a high-risk gambler? University researchers can tell

Swinging between small and large bets may be a sign of problem gambling, new research from UBC shows.

By Kathryn Helmore , in City , on November 26, 2020 Tags: , , , , ,

A new study from the University of British Columbia has figured out a way to identify high-risk online gamblers by tracking betting behaviour.

The university’s Centre for Gambling Research collaborated with the B.C. Lottery Corporation in the study and found the most telling sign of a high-risk player is betting that swings between small and large sums of money. 

Luke Clark is the lead researcher in a new UBC study on online gambling. Photo: UBC website.

Lead researcher Luke Clark suspects this is because problem gamblers are more likely to chase their losses.

“The risky gambler is not someone who is consistently betting a lot every session,” he said. “Rather, it’s someone who is showing a more variable pattern. So, a big spend one day, a small spend the next.” 

Clark said betting patterns might also identify when a person is exhausting funds — running out of money and then reducing bets until payday or increasing the amounts when new money is available to them. 

The research was done by using an algorithm to comb through data from 575 billion bets placed on BCLC’s PlayNow.com platform in 2015.  

In analyzing the data, the algorithm was able to identify 75 per cent of account holders who had at one point enrolled in BCLC’s voluntary self-exclusion program, which allows people to block themselves from the PlayNow.com. It was able to identify them because of their pattern of erratic betting.

In 2019, more than 8,000 people enrolled in the exclusion program. 

Research also shows that online gambling has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, said Clark.

As of October 2019, approximately 515,840 people had accounts on PlayNow.com.

‘A message would be a godsend’ 

The Centre for Gambling Research and BCLC plan to use the algorithm to identify and reach out to high-risk players who might be in denial about their gambling behaviour. They might also use it to limit online advertising to these groups. 

For those who have experience with compulsive gambling, measures that limit the addiction are welcome. However, success depends on who is receiving the message.

“The person caught up in their addiction will do anything to stay in action,” said Michael Chrysanthopoulos, who was a compulsive gambler for over a decade. “If you’d told me, ‘You have a problem’ when I was in that stage, I’d have told you to go take a hike. But for the person who knows they have a problem but just can’t stop, a message would be a godsend.”

Chrysanthopoulos runs the Gambling Recovery Facebook group with over 2,000 members. He quit gambling in 2014 after losing millions to his addiction and almost losing his family and business. He said the key to stopping was awareness and acceptance.  

“If the government can incorporate an algorithm into these apps to help gamblers become aware of their problem, then that’s great,” he said. 

If you believe you may have a gambling problem, there are numerous Gamblers Anonymous support groups across the Lower Mainland. 

If you want to read more about the study, click here.