Gambling Disorder

Typically, addiction to substances (e.g. cocaine, cigarettes, alcohol) was thought to be the only form of addiction. However, recently, the definition of addiction has been extended to include a wide array of other non-substance abuse behaviours like gambling disorder, internet gaming, sex, exercise and shopping addiction.

While there exists little research on some of these non-substance disorders, evidence suggests that certain repetitive behaviours activate the same reward systems as those activated by drugs, and that the resulting behaviours are comparable to those produced by substance use disorders. Therefore, when one is addicted to non-substance behaviours (e.g. gambling, internet gaming), your brain acts in a similar way as when one is addicted to substances (like cocaine, or alcohol.)

Why do People gamble?

For most people, gambling is a form of recreation (just like walking, fishing, exercising, reading, traveling and attending movies, or sporting events). But when this recreation becomes a habit, gambling becomes an addiction with negative personal and social consequences. In Kenya, the most common types of gambling are Sport Pesa, Shinda Mamilli and lottery scratch cards.

Compulsive gambling is an addiction to gambling. It affects people from all cultures, ages, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic groups. Some of the symptoms of compulsive gambling include:

  1. Preoccupation with gambling,
  2. A need to bet increasing amounts of money with increasing frequency.
  3. Restlessness and mood changes when a person attempts to stop gambling.
  4. ‘Chasing’ losses or trying to make up for money lost by gambling more in an attempt to win.
  5. Inability to stop gambling even when the person is confronted by serious negative consequences.

Where does gambling happen?

Gambling can occur in regulated gambling institutions and in informal places. In Kenya, gambling is run by well-crafted betting sites and lottery games; like Sportpesa,Odi bets, oneX bet, and Lotto. For most of these sites, one can gamble on them using the internet or using text-messaging. Betting in Kenya has gone further to include betting physical locations where users can pop in and place a bet in a betting shop.

How does gambling work?

Gambling has been there for a long time and it is built on three ideas: illusion of control, hypersensitivity to reward, and beginner’s luck. Each of these ideas affect one’s willingness to take on risk, and we’ll examine them in detail below.

Illusion of control is the belief that people have much more control over a random outcome than they actually do. When people believe they have control over the outcome of a game, they are likely to take greater risks, even if objectively they have no control at all. There are several ways to elicit the illusion of control in a game of chance. One way is to give the player something to do, or some decision to make, even if they have no control over the outcome of what they’re doing; for example in sports betting, you are tasked to choose the matches to place the bet on.

Hypersensitivity to reward is where most analyses of games of chance are framed in terms of millions of how much you will make if you win, and in shillings or cents of how much will you lose if you don’t win. But for many people – compulsive gamblers especially – this isn’t necessarily the right perspective. Sometimes, people don’t gamble because they think they can win. Rather, they gamble because it feels good to win.

Beginner’s luck: Most people tend to win in their first bets placed, and this is alluded to the scheme of ‘beginner’s luck’. Some sports betting site gives you back all or part of your money committed if you lose in your first bet in an attempt to keep you thinking you are still lucky and you didn’t begin on a bad note.

On these three pillars, betting firms hook on innocent people who want to win big money. In reality, betting firms do not offer free money, they give part of your money back. Betting is a mathematical game, and mathematics can never be wrong: The betting company always wins.

Benefits and disadvantages of gambling:

Although sports betting is the softest gambling game, as you predict on something you can see; gambling is meant for people who wants to have leisure, not for those who want to make money. Gambling creates employment, offers sponsors (e.g. to football clubs), supports charity, and also is a source of government revenue as it is heavily taxed. However, gambling has a bucketful of ills.

  1. It is addictive. It affects mental growth, to a point where one ‘doesn’t reason’ of other ways of economic empowerment.
  2. Gambling can lead to poverty especially when someone uses all their money to bet. We have heard cases of where gamblers have gambled their payslips!
  3. Gambling can lead to dysfunctional families. Most gamblers will not spend enough time with family, and they waste family resources on gambling.
  4. Gambling can lead to social problems like higher crime rate. This happens when people steal, rob with violence or even commit murder in order to get money to gamble, or to rob others of gambling wins and riches.
  5. Gaming has also led to loss of many significant relationships, jobs, or educational or career opportunities for many people.

How to get help if one is addicted to gambling:

Seeking professional help from psychologists and counselors is advised for people who have gambling disorders, or show symptoms of addiction to gambling. Personal therapy can be used if one is not too addicted, and it requires great levels of discipline and commitment to prevent relapsing into the gambling activities.

Seeking alternative forms of leisure can assist to avoid getting addicted to gambling. Nature walks, joining book clubs, safaris and expeditions, taking on a new physical sport can all help to avoid or recover from gambling addiction.

Role of society to tackle gambling addiction:

The government needs to craft and implement more stringent policies and laws on gambling. In Kenya, currently, young people who have no jobs or stable source of income get into gambling and get addicted easily. The government can have laws that can protect young people’s exposure to gambling, and ensure that they understand the benefits and consequences of gambling when they are of age to participate in it.

Also, media platforms, universities, researchers and private institutions (e.g. religious institutions) should be at forefront to highlight the problems of gambling disorders.

Gambling cannot be, by any imagination, fit for a society where majority of the population lives under one hundred shillings a day. We all have part to play, whether to play gambling responsibly, or to assist to stop it and it’s associated vices.