Your children playing 4D and Toto: What are the odds?

The next World Cup is in 2018 and in Russia. Local anti-gambling ads will perhaps be less eager to give out hot tips which get extra airtime and special attention on US talk shows. But majong tables will likely make their annual appearance at Chinese New Year celebrations next year. And the lure of the national lottery is evergreen anyway.

Dicey games

The prevalence of problem gambling is declared to be stable at 1% of the adult population in the States. And that’s the number that’s been documented for locals too: The 2011 report by the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates 1.4% of the adult population to be probable pathological gamblers (read this review for information about the worldwide trends in problem gambling). In contrast, problem gambling is on the rise in UK where there is access to remote or online gambling (local legislation is likely to deter such gaming).

Although only 1 in 100 or so are pathological gamblers, it’s a problem which affects as many as 24,000 locals (and possibly more). According to H2 Gambling Capital, the amount that the average adult resident lost through gambling last year was S$1,189 (see the graph from the 2011 Economist article “The biggest losers”). Not a terribly small sum.

True, there are relatively few problem gamblers – these are people who show more and more interest in gambling, who feel the need to bet more money more often to experience the excitement and/or make up for previous losses, who experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability when they try to stop, and feel a loss of control as they gamble even when faced with serious adverse consequences.

But here are some facts you may not be aware of:

1. Recent estimates put problem gambling among young adults in the States at 6 to 9 percent. Although only 3 in 100 local youths are problem gamblers, according to a 2007 local study, it is still a higher proportion, relative to adults.

2. One third of problem gamblers seeking treatment were exposed to gambling before their 18th birthday.

3. Betting on poker-cards, mahjong, and the national lottery starts at the average age of 14 years.

4. A 2014 study found that those with initial losses at horse-racing and football (soccer) bets were more likely to lose in their subsequent bets, and that the likelihood of them winning was even lower than chance! Another 2014 study suggests betting behaviour has a genetic basis involving genes which regulate the pleasure-producing hormone known as dopamine.

5. Signs and symptoms of a young problem gambler include an unexplained need for money, unexplained charges on credit card bills, withdrawal from friends/family, depressed mood, feelings of anxiety, sudden decline in grades, and/or loss of interest in things which he/she was previously interested in.

6. Problem gambling is more likely for teens with a parent with a gambling problem, who engaged in gambling at an earlier age, and/or who are given to impulsivity (risk factors listed here).

7. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI) are found to be effective in treating problem gambling (read this fact sheet). Using as a complementary therapy with CBT and MI, mindfulness can be effective in helping individuals reducing their gambling behaviours.

8. Most games are based purely on chance. Here’s a look at how they work. And if that’s not convincing, play this game and take this gambling IQ quiz to understand how the house always wins.

9. Ways to help someone with a problem gambling concern, include providing emotional and social support and listening without being judgemental. Here’s a guide on how to talk to others (including your children) about problem gambling in the family.

10. Interventions are available with the National Addictions Management Service and the National Problem Gambling helpline. But parents may want to start by talking to their kids about gambling in a loving and caring way (here’s a fact sheet).

The odds? The answers are all here.