Risky Business: UNLV Gambling Conference Leaves No Card Unturned

Triennial academic gathering digs deep into the science of betting
Anastasia Hronis UNLV

According to 2022 data, the average age of a visitor to the city of Las Vegas is 40.7. Millennials visit Sin City more than any other generation, followed by Gen X, Gen Z, and baby boomers, in that order.

Thirty years ago, 90% of Vegas visitors gambled during their stay for an average of five hours per day. Today, those figures are 75% and 2.6 hours, according to Kevin Bagger of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Vegas has changed. People (families even!) come for all kinds of reasons, from musical and theatrical performances to top-notch cuisine and live sporting events. The city no longer fits into a box, and neither does the gambling industry itself.

Case in point: the 18th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking, which got underway Tuesday at the Park MGM. Put on every three years by UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, the event attracts academics and those interested in deep-dive gambling research from all over the world. 

Whereas annual industry confabs like the Global Gaming Expo and the SBC Summit North America tend to be schmoozy, macho affairs, the IGI conference can be summarized in three words uttered toward the beginning of the proceedings by Jonathan Gilbert, an assistant marketing professor at Northern Arizona University:

“Theory is sexy.”

Shame is lame

Gilbert was among a group of researchers who discussed responsible gambling advertising on Tuesday morning. Midway through the session, he said he was “shocked at the lack of collaboration between public health experts and people in advertising” in the area of RG messaging.

To this end, Anastasia Hronis (pictured at left in the above image) from the University of Technology Sydney brought up an Australian ad campaign that depicted a problem gambler going broke. It was ineffective, similar to other campaigns seeking to discourage negative behavior that have played up the element of “shame,” as Gilbert put it.

In terms of what has worked, UNLV’s Marla Royne Stafford said alcohol advertising that has focused on people drinking a sensible amount has shown more promise than more punitive messaging.  The same goes for responsible gambling.

“Responsible gambling is important for people to have fun,” she said.

Playing house

The “house money effect” is the notion that financial risk-taking increases when a bettor is winning. This is taken for granted, “but it’s somewhat unclear why it occurs,” Jussi Palomäki of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said at the onset of his afternoon session, which was amusingly accompanied by the pulsating rhythms of a pool party on the floor below.

While much of the research presented at the IGI conference is still in the process of being completed, Palomäki has already reached several conclusions. Analyzing the horse betting habits of 11,220 Finnish males between the ages of 36 and 55, Palomäki sought to determine whether personality and intelligence played a role in susceptibility to the house money effect.

It turns out they do.

Palomäki found that after a winning wagering session, a person’s daily bet size would increase, while the days between betting activity would decrease. He found no evidence to support that a significant percentage of bettors are prone to chasing losses, although he conceded that there were some “outliers.”

He also found that the house money effect was stronger for people with low IQs, low conscientiousness (defined as “diligent and good with their money”), and high extroversion. According to Palomäki, “extroverts engage in social situations because they feel inherently rewarding,” while more conscientious gamblers exhibit “reduced impulsivity, increased self control, and diligent financial management.”

Universally, albeit to varying degrees, Palomäki concluded that “winning has a biasing influence on subsequent decision-making.”

Photo: Mike Seely


Related Posts