Gamblers “In the Zone” at Higher Risk for Problem Gambling [Research]

Gamblers who describe being “in a zone” while playing slot machines are more likely to be at risk for gambling problems, according to new research by the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The study involved participants playing a real slot machine placed in a lab. Panels positioned on each side of the machine displayed changing shapes. Participants were asked to press a button every time they noticed that a white circle on the panels changed into a red square. Researchers also measured participants’ heart rates and asked them questions about their gambling.

The study, which was recently published in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, discovered that players with higher levels of immersion, such as feeling like they were in a trance or losing track of time, were at higher risk for developing gambling addiction. Additionally, the researchers found that higher-risk gamblers were also more likely to miss the changing shapes on the panels next to the slot machine.

The study notes that slot machines, a popular form of gambling worldwide, are consistently linked to addictive betting behavior. Luke Clark, senior author and director of the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, said that the findings suggested the potential for a slot machine modification or new features that would promote responsible gambling.

Gambling Resources in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA

If you are a health care or education professional in Lancaster or Lebanon who would like additional problem gambling resources that help you better serve your clients or students, call Compass Mark at 717-299-2831. Also visit:

Gambling Addiction Resources
Treatment Providers in Lancaster, Lebanon, and the Surrounding Area
Gambling Addiction Treatment Blog


Do Casinos Enable Problem Gamblers? [Gambling in the News]

What role do casinos play in the development or enablement of gambling addiction? John Rosengren recently investigated in How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.

The article, published in The Atlantic, begins with the story of a gambling-addicted man on the brink of suicide after his behavior triggered criminal charges for alleged theft from his employer.

Rosengren’s reporting then reveals that casinos have developed a way to calculate the “predicted lifetime value” of an individual gambler. Repeat gamblers who lose lots of money are called “whales.” He reports that casinos often cater to “whales” to get their repeat business. In one case, the article recounts, an Iowa casino reportedly upped one frequent gambler’s limit on some slot machines and even gave her the opportunity to be the first to play a new slot machine the casino had installed.

The article also describes the potential danger of virtual reel slot machines, which use technology—not mechanics—to determine where the wheel stops. Furthermore, virtual slots create “near misses,” which give the player the impression he or she almost won—a tantalizing catalyst to bet even more. (Get more info on how gambling machines are addictive by design.)

Rosengren’s article is heartbreaking and worth the read.

Gambling addiction is a complex condition, and, while the role of casinos is certainly a factor to consider, specific risk factors also increase the chance of developing it. A few risk factors include:

  • Starting to gamble at an early age;
  • Having a history of impulsive behavior;
  • Having a family history of addiction;
  • Having a personal history of addiction;
  • Experiencing trauma.

If you’re concerned about your gambling behavior or that of someone you love, take the assessment quiz on our home page. You may also want to check out a list of Gambling Addiction Treatment Providers in Lancaster, PA and the surrounding area. For additional help, use our online help form.


New Program Gives Gamblers In-Play Budget Reminders

Casino-goers in Massachusetts can now budget and monitor their slots play with the new Play My Way program from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC).

Play My Way is designed to allow slot machine players to voluntarily pre-set a gambling budget, according to a Digital Trends article. The player then receives regular onscreen notifications as they approach or reach their limit.

Although the tool will not cut off gamblers who have reached their limit, it’s believed the increased awareness will help players make healthier decisions about money spent on slots. Its creators say Play My Way is a prevention initiative, rather than one aimed at those already struggling with serious gambling problems.

The gambling addiction prevention program was introduced in June 2016 at the only operating casino in Massachusetts. So far, it’s garnered more than 3,200 enrollees, about 7.4% of the casino’s regular player population. If the program is proved effective, it may be implemented at two new state-regulated casinos underway.

MGC says this is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the United States. Similar systems are already in place in other countries, such as Australia, Norway, and Sweden.

Gambling Addiction Prevention in Lancaster, PA & Lebanon, PA

No such in-play prevention programs exist yet in Pennsylvania, however you can access gambling education and prevention resources by contacting Compass Mark at 717-299-2831.

In addition, if a person suspects or knows they have a gambling problem, Pennsylvania offers a Self-Exclusion List. A gambler can voluntarily add his or her name to the list to be barred from gambling at any state-licensed facility. Those violating self-exclusion may be arrested and prosecuted for trespassing.

Self-exclusion isn’t a cure for gambling addiction, but it can provide an additional consequence that nudges a person in recovery toward healthier decisions about gambling. Learn more in What is Self-Exclusion?

Program Warns Seniors of Problem Gambling Dangers

Seniors at Hazleton Active Adult Center are learning about the potential danger of gambling addiction thanks to a program by Pathway to Recovery.

The Hazleton-area non-profit, which opened in 1977, offers addiction education, prevention, and counseling services. Its senior program is designed to educate older residents about problem gambling, a diagnosable disorder. Participating seniors watched a video featuring older problem gamblers telling the stories of their gambling addictions. The group also listened to prevention specialists.

Seniors may be more likely to struggle with gambling addiction.

Education programs like this one can alert seniors–and their families—to the danger of unhealthy gambling behaviors. While gambling problems can occur in a person of any age, gender, or ethnicity, some groups, including seniors, are more vulnerable than others. Why might seniors be at higher risk?

  • Major life transitions: From retirement after a decades-long career to the deaths of loved ones, older Americans transition through several significant life changes—sometimes in a relatively short period of time. This often triggers stress and anxiety, driving some seniors to seek out gambling as a way to “relax” or alleviate negative emotions.
  • Loneliness: Social circles may become smaller as seniors become less able to get around easily and as they experience the loss of friends and family. Casinos go out of their way to make lonely seniors feel accepted—all in an effort to earn their gambling dollars. It’s not unusual for a senior gambler to receive comps or even birthday cards from casino outreach staff.
  • Money concerns: Fixed income worries dog many older Americans, leading some to try gambling as a way to fix their financial situations. They may believe that skill or a “lucky streak” guarantees them a big payout, when the truth is that the house always wins. Always.

If you’re losing sleep over your gambling behavior or if you’re worried about a senior you love, take the gambling risk assessment quiz on our home page. To find Lancaster/Lebanon-area education, intervention, or counseling resources, contact the Compass Mark team at 717-299-2831 or fill out our Help Form.


Rat Study Shows Casino Environment May Trigger Riskier Gambling [Research]

Science is now proving what casino and game designers have long understood: environment can play a role in gambling behavior. A study, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that adding lights and sounds to a gambling task changed how rats made decisions.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia trained rats to gamble for sugary treats. Then the team added lights and sounds to its “rat casino” to mimic the casino environment. After the addition, the rats’ behavior changed, and they began to take more risks to win treats.

“It seemed, at the time, like a stupid thing to do, because it didn’t seem like adding lights and sound would have much of an impact. But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous,” said Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, in a media release.

The researchers’ work didn’t stop at identifying environment as one potential catalyst for problem gambling behavior; they also found that when the rats in the casino-like environment were given a drug blocking a specific dopamine receptor, the rats no longer showed problem gambling behavior. Additionally, the team discovered the dopamine blocker had minimal impact on rats gambling without flashy lights or sounds.

Study authors note the drug finding is significant because it could help lay the groundwork for advancing treatment in substance addiction, which may share some of the same biological underpinnings as problem gambling.

For related game design-addiction information, check out Addictive by Design? How Gambling Machines Can Hook Players.

What does this mean for parents, educators, and other concerned adults?

This study recreated a casino-like environment—something most kids and teens can’t experience until they reach legal gambling age. However, gambling-type apps for smartphones and tablets can be surprisingly realistic and that has the potential to prime children’s brains for problem gambling.

Apps that incorporate slots and other casino games offer engaging play that includes casino-type lights and sounds. Many apps also feature cartoon-like characters that add a kid-friendly veneer to the experience.

Although game designers say their products are intended for adult use, the fact is that many games don’t have robust age verification systems, meaning there’s little to stop a smart kid from downloading an app despite his or her age.

Children and teens who play gambling-related apps aren’t necessarily destined for a life of gambling addiction; however parents and other concerned adults should consider that it could be problematic to introduce casino-type play to some children and teens, particularly those who already have risk factors for problem gambling.

Compass Mark offers age-appropriate gambling education and prevention resources for kids in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA. Call our team at (717) 299-2831 to learn which programs or materials will guide your children or teens into healthier decisions.


Gambling Addiction Treatment Options in the Lancaster/Lebanon Area

September is National Recovery Month, a time when organizations and individuals come together to promote treatment and recovery awareness for addictions of all types, including compulsive gambling.  If you’re worried about a loved one or about your own gambling behavior, here’s what you need to know about finding help and hope:

Gambling Addiction Is Treatable

Whether you’re just starting to worry about gambling or you already owe thousands of dollars in related debt, you can find the path to recovery. A specialized therapist can recommend a treatment plan that will likely include some combination of talk therapy, family or marital counseling, support groups, financial or debt counseling, and lifestyle changes. In some cases, medication is prescribed to help control the urge to gamble.

Lancaster & Lebanon Gambling Addiction Recovery Resources

Treatment Providers– This page lists inpatient and outpatient centers with therapists trained to work with gambling-addicted people. You’ll find providers in Lancaster, Lebanon, Harrisburg, and the surrounding areas.

Intervention Resources- When family and friends need to help a compulsive gambler understand how destructive the behavior has become, a professional interventionist offers the tools to guide loved ones through the process. Contact Compass Mark to find gambling addiction intervention services in Lancaster or Lebanon.

Gamblers Anonymous (GA)- Based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model of healing, this group is comprised of problem gamblers in the recovery process. Meetings are anonymous and they’re open to anyone who wants to stop gambling. Find local meetings here.

Gam-Anon– This group is specifically for the family and friends of problem gamblers. Meetings provide a safe place to find support from others going through the same experience. The group is open to people regardless of whether their loved one is actively gambling or in recovery. Find a local meeting here.

PA Self-Exclusion List– Self-exclusion allows a gambler to voluntarily ban him- or herself from licensed gaming facilities in PA. When you place yourself on this list, you’re prohibited from betting or collecting winnings. If you do, you can be arrested and charged with trespassing.

Contact Compass Mark for additional problem gambling resources, including education and prevention materials. Call us at 717-299-2831 or get in touch by using our online addiction help form.


Addictive by Design? How Gambling Machines Can Hook Players [infographic]

Gambling machines, like virtual slots, are designed to get gamblers to spend more money and play for longer periods of time. Check out The Addictive Design of Gambling Machines infographic from Injury Free Nova Scotia, a community-based Canadian group focused on eliminating preventable injuries, including the damage caused by addictions like alcohol and gambling. The infographic was created using info from the Princeton University Press book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas by Natasha Dow Schull.


Learn more in Virtual Slots Cause Addiction Concern, Say Researchers.

To find out if you or someone you love is at risk for problem gambling, take the simple quiz on our home page. You can also contact Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 or use our Gambling Addiction Help Form for no-cost guidance or treatment referrals in Lancaster, PA or Lebanon, PA.


Maryland Feeling Impact 5 Years After Casinos Open [Gambling News]

Almost five years after Maryland opened its first full-fledged casino, residents, law enforcement, and treatment advocates are starting to tally the growing social cost. City Paper recently chronicled that cost in an article that features the story of a recovering gambling-addicted man who relapsed after a casino opened near his Maryland home.

City Paper’s Sam Skolnik reports:

  • The number of Gamblers Anonymous weekly chapters in Maryland has jumped 31% since 2012.
  • Maryland’s toll-free problem gambling help line fielded 619 calls for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, compared to 431 calls in fiscal year 2013.
  • Maryland’s self-exclusion list, which allows gamblers to voluntarily ban themselves from state casinos, could be an estimated 70% higher in 2015 than 2013. The state’s gaming agency expects about 350 gamblers to sign up this year. (Each state has its own self-exclusion requirements. To find out more about the process in Pennsylvania, see What is Self-Exclusion?)
  • Since 2011, there have been 131 cases of Maryland gamblers violating self-exclusion agreements, resulting in arrest and criminal trespass charges.
  • One 98-year-old woman and at least 13 children have been left in parked cars while their adult child or parent gambled inside Maryland casinos. (Learn more about How Problem Gambling Hurts Families and How to Find Help.)

Gambling Addiction is a Community Problem

Unhealthy gambling behavior takes a toll that goes far beyond the gambler’s bank account. From an increased risk of substance abuse and depression to higher rates of domestic violence and homelessness, problem gambling affects the entire community. Gambling addiction, which is a recognized brain condition, also impacts the workplace because it can be a catalyst for theft and embezzlement. (Read more in PA Woman Addicted to Gambling Embezzles $250,000 from Bank Customers- Tips for Employers.)

In Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA, Compass Mark offers gambling addiction education and prevention, including We Know BETter, a prevention curriculum for kids in grades 4-8. We also offer confidential, judgment-free guidance and treatment referrals. Contact us 717-299-2831 or fill out a Gambling Addiction Help Form.


PA Casino Readies Itself for Legal Online Gambling [News]

Are PA casinos preparing for legal online gambling? Yes, according to an official from one of the state’s leading casino operators.

Parx Casino recently partnered with an online gaming company to launch a free-play gambling website. The site, which is expected to go live in late 2014, will offer free-to-play online slots to players nationwide. However, the venture is also expected to provide the infrastructure to launch real-money gambling in the future.  The chief technology officer (CTO) for Greenwood Entertainment and Racing, which owns the casino, said:

“[…] Parx Casino will have the opportunity to launch simulated gaming nationwide before year’s end and be well prepared in the event regulation of real-money Internet gaming emerges in the state of Pennsylvania.” [Source Article]

It’s worth noting that in neighboring New Jersey, which began offering regulated Internet gambling to state residents in 2013, has seen online game revenue fall short of expectations, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The state had estimated legal online gambling would generate up to $180 million in tax revenue its first year; however, those numbers were recently revised to $34 million for the first year and $55 million for the following year.

Potential Dangers of Legal Online Gambling

Many gamblers can play for fun without negatively impacting their lives.  However, problem gambling affects 2-3% of Americans, while gambling addiction, the most serious form of the disorder, affects about 1% of Americans.

In fact, the reality is that problem gambling impacts the lives of many millions more. For example, the spouse of an addicted gambler may be left scrambling to pay bills when the gambler has wagered away a paycheck. A child feels the loss when a gambling-addicted parent gets caught up in playing online slots instead of helping with homework. Even employers and co-workers are impacted by problem gamblers who are late, absent, or less productive because of their condition.

Licensed Internet gambling in PA has the potential to increase 24/7 gaming access to people already struggling with the addiction as well as boost exposure to those at risk of developing the condition.

Find out more by reading these articles:

Will PA Legalize Online Gambling?

Licensed Online Gambling- 4 Ways It Raises the Risk for Problem Gambling

Self-Imposed Online Gambling Limits May Help Reduce Betting [Research]

Problem Gambling Help in PA

Gambling addiction is preventable and treatable. Compass Mark guides individuals, families, educators, employers, and health professionals to prevention and treatment resources in Lancaster, Lebanon, and the surrounding area. Call our team at (717) 299-2831, or fill out the simple online help form.


Problem Gambling in the News- April 2014

Think addiction is easy to spot? That’s not always the case, even when a person abuses alcohol or other drugs. It can be more challenging to see or diagnose when the addiction is focused on a behavior like compulsive gambling. Often the spotlight doesn’t shine on this particular condition unless it’s the object of a study or it generates a news-worthy headline. Check out these examples of problem gambling in the news:

Disadvantaged Youth at Higher Risk for Problem Gambling

About 50% of teens from disadvantaged communities had gambled before turning 18, according to a study from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Among those who gambled, nearly half were considered frequent gamblers. Study authors concluded that adolescents in disadvantaged neighborhoods were 12 times more likely to have gambling problems than those from more stable areas. (As we reported earlier, this study also linked early gambling to another risky behavior: adolescent sexual activity.)

The researchers believe several factors potentially put disadvantaged youth at higher risk:

  • The lure of getting rich quickly
  • Fewer prevention strategies to guide kids with impulsive tendencies
  • Stress stemming from chaos or violence
  • Better access to some forms of gambling, including the lottery, card games, and dice games

Researchers also recommended that compulsive gambling education be included with programs aimed at other risky behaviors, such as substance abuse.

**If you would like more information about We Know BETter, a free gambling awareness and prevention curriculum that includes engaging activities for grades 4-8, contact Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831.

Gambling-Related Embezzlement A Growing Problem

Washington County, PA, which became home to a casino seven years ago, has seen an uptick in crimes linked to problem gambling, according to the Observer-Reporter. Several prominent area officials have been accused of siphoning money to support gambling addictions. For example, a former Cecil Township police chief was accused of taking more than $10,000 from a federal account so he could gamble at the local casino. In another case, a former area police officer was convicted, with two family members, of the homicide of an elderly woman they had robbed of more than $200,000—money used to, among other things, gamble.

PA Self-Exclusion List Tops 6,500 Applicants

The Observer-Reporter (link above) also reported that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has received 6,550 self-exclusion applications since 2007, when only 200 people used the self-banning tool. Self-exclusion allows a gambler to voluntarily prohibit him/herself from playing at licensed Pennsylvania gaming facilities. Learn more about PA’s self-exclusion program.

Self-Exclusion Not a Fool-Proof Prevention Strategy

Revel Casino Hotel in New Jersey was recently fined $27,500 for allowing two self-excluded players to gamble. Both men had requested lifetime exclusions but were able to play blackjack at the facility in 2013. It’s a good reminder that problem gambling is a disorder that affects the brain, and while self-exclusion can be helpful, it’s only one part of gambling addiction recovery. Learn more about the treatment options.

Get the info you need on gambling addiction prevention, education, or treatment. 

Compass Mark guides individuals, families, and organizations to the resources needed to prevent and treat problem gambling. Call us at (717) 299-2831 or use the online help form. Our assistance is free and confidential.