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Does a 7-Day Gambling Break Help Problem Gamblers?

The rise of digital casinos has made gambling opportunities more accessible to Americans than ever before, which is bad news for those who suffer from problem gambling or have difficulty controlling their spending habits. According to the 2019 Spherical Gambling Statistics Report, online gambling earned more than $50 billion in 2017 and is predicted to pull even larger numbers in the coming years.  

An online gambling app offers “20 Free Spins” as a prize

As this instant availability of gambling makes long-term abstinence more difficult, a French research team (Caillon and colleagues) from the Nantes University Hospital have conducted a study testing the impact of a short-term option.  

The study gathered 60 persons who identified as frequent online gamblers and took note of several key factors regarding their relationship with the activity. Researchers recorded each individual’s beliefs towards gambling, the frequency and severity of their gambling cravings, the average amount of money they wagered in a bet, and the time they spent on the sites. 

The 60 people were then randomly assigned to either the control group or the experimental group. The experimental group would be placed on a 7-day exclusion from online gambling, while the control could continue to gamble as normal. 

After the exclusion period ended, the researchers re-recorded the same key factors. They found that after the period was over, all participants in both groups continued to gamble as they had before. In a checkup 15 days later, both groups were seen to be placing similar wagers and spending similar amounts of time gambling. 

One final checkup 2 months later did reveal some differences, however. The experimental group reported lower levels on two of the measured gambling-related beliefs: “Perceived inability to stop gambling” and “Illusion of control”.  

Illusion of control is a common feature in problem gamblers whereby an individual begins to believe that they have some ability to control the outcome of a gamble – i.e. “I’ve lost five times in a row… this means I have to win one soon.”  

In addition, lower levels of a gambler’s inability to stop means a greater belief that quitting is possible. The researchers suggest that these two pathological factors are key predictors of problem gambling, so this tested 7-day exclusion could have some applications as a Long- or Medium-Term recovery method, despite its short-term ineffectiveness.  

Written By Joseph Detrano, CAS Science Writer
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.