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.


Problem Gambling in Veterans May Have Links to Military Experiences, Other Factors [Research]

Researchers have found that military experiences and post-deployment stressors may be associated with higher rates of problem gambling in U.S. veterans.

The researchers collected secondary data from 738 American military veterans who had participated in the Survey of the Experiences of Returning Veterans (SERV) study. The veterans answered questions about their psychiatric health, gambling behavior, and military service history. In addition, they responded to questions about post-deployment stressors, including legal or financial issues and violent encounters, as well as post-deployment support.

The findings, which were analyzed by WAGER, revealed that 4.2% of the veterans reported at-risk or problem gambling. Other key findings include:

  • Those with at-risk or problem gambling were more likely to report PTSD, panic disorder, depression, and substance abuse.
  • Those with at-risk or problem gambling scored higher on non-sexual harassment during deployment and post-deployment stressors, and they scored lower on post-deployment support.
  • Those with at-risk or problem gambling and those who gambled socially were more likely to report Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

This research supports previous findings that show military veterans are at risk for gambling problems. They also suggest a connection between service-related experiences, both during and after deployment.

Unhealthy gambling is a problem for many in our nation’s military. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates about 36,000 active-duty service members may be at risk for problem gambling—an issue not helped by the fact that American military installations overseas are home to at least 3,000 slot machines.

How to Get Help for Problem Gambling

If you’re a veteran concerned about your gambling behavior, contact your VA medical center or community clinic. You can also check out Make the Connection, an online mental well-being resource from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To find additional gambling addiction prevention and treatment resources in Lancaster, PA or Lebanon, PA, contact the Compass Mark team at 717-299-2831 or fill out our simple 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?

One Face of Gambling Addiction: 36-yr-old Mom of 6

“What does a gambling addict look like? Well, in my case a gambling addict looks like a 36-year-old mother of six.”

Those are the words of Kate Seselja, an Australian woman in recovery from compulsive gambling.

Seselja recently wrote a special commentary for CNN about her experiences with gambling, which started with lottery scratch cards as a child. She chronicles how her gambling behavior spiraled out of control over the next decades.

“I would go [to gamble] before work, after work, in lunch breaks, on nights out and days off. It’s easy to see now why some people call Pokies [slot machines] the “crack cocaine” of gambling. I was hooked,” she writes.

By age 32, the addiction had such a hold over Seselja’s life that she considered suicide as she sat pregnant and broke at a slot machine. “The nil balance on the screen was too much…Completely alone and feeling like there was nowhere to turn, my brain was trying desperately to figure out how to kill myself in such a way that my body could be kept alive in order to let my unborn baby be delivered to term.”

Compulsive Gambling Can Affect Anyone.

Problem gambling can impact anyone, regardless of their age, gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. If you’re losing sleep because of gambling–whether it’s your behavior or that of a loved one–it’s time to reach out for a helping hand.

Visit these resources to learn more about gambling addiction:

Compulsive Gambling- The Must-Know Fact for Gamblers & Their Families

Stop Losing Sleep Over Problem Gambling: Do’s and Don’ts for Recovery

Gambling Addiction Treatment Options in the Lancaster/Lebanon Area

Compass Mark guides individuals and families in Lancaster and Lebanon to the resources that help them prevent and heal from addictions like gambling. Call us at 717-299-2831 or get in touch using our simple online 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.


Compulsive Gambling Research Round-Up, Part 4

It’s time for our round-up of studies examining compulsive gambling. Check out these studies, which add to the growing body of research used to prevent, identify, and treat this serious, but often unrecognized, condition.

Brain Views Near-Misses Much Like Wins

Gamblers who experience “near-misses” while playing slot machines show brain changes similar to those in gamblers who win. The study, from British researchers, examined the effect of near-misses, or when a slot machine indicates a player has almost won—for example, the machine matches 3 out of 4 reels. Researchers discovered that although a near-miss is an actual loss (no money is won), the brain’s electrical activity suggests it interprets it as similar to a win. In addition, brain activity during near-misses was linked to the player’s problem gambling severity and their vulnerability to developing the condition in the future. Study authors note the “almost winning” effect could play a role in why a person continues to gamble even after losing.  [Science Daily]

Casino-Like Environment Influences Decision-Making

The casino atmosphere may contribute to how gamblers make decisions. In a European pilot study, participants performed the Iowa Gambling Task, a test designed to simulate decision-making processes while gambling. Players who gambled in a room with casino-like lights and sounds made faster decisions and failed to respond more slowly after losses than those who played in a room without those lights and sounds. What’s more, players who were placed in the same room as another player also made decisions more quickly. This suggests the casino environment, which combines a specific sensory experience with a competitive atmosphere, could lead to more aggressive wagering. [WAGER]

Risky Teen Behaviors—Gambling and Sexual Activity—Connected

A study of African-American youth examined two high-risk behaviors: adolescent sexual activity and gambling. It found that nearly 50% had gambled at least once before age 18. Of those who reported gambling, 46% were identified as “frequent gamblers.” Additionally, more gamblers than non-gamblers had engaged in intercourse by age 18. Study authors note this connection falls in line with earlier studies that found a link between these risky behaviors among adolescents. [Science Daily]

Problem Gambling Impacts Domestic Violence, Housing Situations

Two studies highlight the potential effect gambling addiction has on families:

  • About 53% of people who reported problem gambling within the family said there had also been family violence in the previous year. Twenty percent reported they’d been a victim, 11% said they’d been a perpetrator, and 22% were both a victim and perpetrator. [WAGER]
  • People who met or nearly met the criteria for problem gambling were more likely to experience housing instability, which means they did not own or rent a residence. [WAGER]

Learn more in Problem Gambling Increases Risk of Family Violence, Housing Instability [Research].

Compass Mark has been guiding individuals, families, educators, and health professionals since 1966. Our staff is committed to reducing the life-altering impact of addiction in Lancaster and Lebanon. For information about addiction prevention, education, and treatment, call (717) 299-2831.

For more in research, check out:

Compulsive Gambling Research Round-Up #1

Compulsive Gambling Research Round-Up #2

Compulsive Gambling Research Round-Up #3


Reduce Gambling Urges with Holiday Stress Relief Tips

The holiday season approaches, and no matter which celebrations you observe, it’s common to feel stress this time of year. While many feel the holiday strain, some will try to relieve those negative emotions by gambling excessively. The problem is that compulsive gambling behaviors fracture relationships, damage careers, and destroy physical and emotional well-being. Here are tips to reduce the craving to gamble over the holidays:

  • Say “no” to “too much.” The holidays are a time when many of us are asked to contribute even more than we do during the rest of the year. Make a list of your priorities, and then commit to focusing only on those. Taking on too many tasks elevates stress, which may make you more likely to feel gambling cravings.
  • Change tradition. A tradition can be a cherished and important part of family life during the holidays…but sometimes traditions cause more trouble than they’re worth. Adjust or get rid of traditions that cause anxiety or conflict. The more relaxed you are, the less likely you may be to turn to potentially risky behaviors, like online gambling or virtual slots. (Check out the dangers of virtual slots here.)
  • Express your emotions creatively. Reduce stress by finding a safe way to transfer worry, anger, or frustration into something tangible. For example, start a journal, write poetry, or take an art class. When loved ones ask what kind of holiday gift you’d like, request a gift card so you can do something that allows you to express yourself, like take those guitar lessons you’ve always wanted.
  • Learn stress relief techniques. Stress produces physical reactions, from muscle tension to increased heart rate, and these reactions compel us to find relief. Instead of turning to potentially destructive gambling behaviors, lower stress levels naturally and safely. Deep breathing techniques and meditation are simple to learn and can be done anytime you feel the anxiety that drives you to gamble. Yoga also lowers stress hormone levels and increases levels of the body’s natural mood-lifting brain chemicals.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Whether you just can’t bear to host another Thanksgiving dinner or you can’t take the stress of the annual Christmas rush, isolating yourself makes you more vulnerable to gambling urges. Reach out for healthy connections that nurture your spirit. Enjoy coffee with a friend you’ve not seen in ages, or take dinner to a shut-in relative. Volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless or to collect donations for the local food bank.

Do you need professional help?

If gambling is causing you to lose sleep, it’s time for treatment. Professionals who specialize in treating problem gambling will use a combination of talk therapy, support groups, and, if needed, medication to guide you back to a life free from addiction. Learn more about Compulsive Gambling Treatment Options.

To find out more about compulsive gambling prevention, education, or treatment in Lancaster and Lebanon, contact Compass Mark.  Our staff will guide you to the resources you need to help yourself, loved ones, students, employees, or clients. Use this online help form or call us at (717) 299-2831.


Virtual Slots Cause Addiction Concern, Say Researchers

Bye-bye, one-armed bandit. Old-school slot machines, the kind with mechanical reels, are going the way of the dinosaurs as souped-up slots take their place. However, these newer machines are causing concern among gambling addiction researchers and addiction professionals, according to “Advanced Slot Machines Transform Gambling Industry and Raise New Addiction Concerns,” an article by The Plain Dealer’s John Mangels.

Older mechanical slot machines were made of 3 reels (sometimes more) with a variety of symbols shown on each. The gambler inserted a coin, pulled a lever, and waited anxiously to see if the symbols (also called stops) lined up to produce a match, or win.

Now, virtual machines use video screens and microprocessors to generate a nearly infinite number of possible outcomes. Why are addiction professionals concerned about these newer slots?

  • Digital slots are much faster. A serious gambler in a “groove” can spin more than 1,000 times an hour.
  • They’re able to disguise losses as wins. Newer machines allow the gambler to bet multiple ways. For instance, she might bet that the symbols line up vertically when the spin stops. The payoff for winning such a bet is often less than what it cost to wager. However, the slot machine still reacts with bells, lights, and music as if the gambler actually won money.
  • Bigger jackpots attract more players. Older slots could only have about 3-5 reels because the addition of more would physically make the machine too cumbersome. Virtual slots are able to utilize more reels and more stops because the entire process actually takes place within a computer inside the machine (the gambler sees a digital display that only represents spinning reels).  This creates longer odds—but also bigger payoffs, which attract people who would normally not be interested in playing slots.
  • Machines are designed to immerse the gambler. Formerly-simple slot machines are gone in favor of machines designed to entice gamblers with video, music, and lights. Many incorporate themes from popular TV shows or movies—themes intended to get players into a “zone.” For example, a Wizard of Oz machine at one casino plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when a player wins.

To learn more, see Game of Trance: How Casinos Play You, a series of articles from The Plain Dealer.

Do you have an addiction to slots? Are you worried about a loved one who might be addicted?

Check out “Do I Have a Gambling Problem? 6 Questions to Ask Yourself or Could Your Loved One Be Addicted to Gambling?

If you’re concerned about compulsive gambling behavior and need help to break free, call Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831 or fill out our online help form. Our team offers judgment-free guidance to families and individuals in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA.