Tuesday, 7 December 2010

‘The Hidden Addiction’ - National Problem Gambling Clinic 1st Annual Conference, London

Yesterday I attended the National Problem Gambling Clinic’s first annual conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London and I wanted to share some highlights from the day.  The clinic is headed by Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones and provides treatment services for people with gambling disorders in the UK. 

Mark Griffiths, a professor in gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, was the first speaker and talked predominantly about the impact of technology on the gambling industry and the opportunities and threats that this poses.  Mark shared with us his predictions on the trends he believes are going to shape gambling in the future, such as an emphasis on location-based marketing, greater use of behavioural tracking of player data and the growth of the in-play mobile market.

Professor Jim Orford from Birmingham University (recently awarded the Jellinek award for his academic contributions to addictions) talked about some of the key themes from his new book called ‘An Unsafe Bet’ and the dangers that gambling poses to public health.  The key takeaways from this talk were that over the years there has been an extraordinary increase in the gambling within society and that this causes concerns given gambling is dangerous and addictive.  He also argued that the public’s resistance to gambling is being eroded and that government and society are compliant in supporting industry interests in making gambling more socially acceptable, with one explanation being ‘Adaptation Theory’, which stipulates that an increased prevalence in gambling is coupled with society developing an ‘immunity to gambling’.  He shared an interesting statistic from the Australian Gambling Productivity Commission Report; "40% of gambling was problem gambling", which generated some debate.  A very frank and thought-provoking (and arguably controversial) talk indeed.

Back in June I wrote a short blog about a fascinating article in the Economist about the joys and perils of a near miss and I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet and listen to one of the key figures behind the research, Dr. Luke Clark from Cambridge University.   Amongst other findings from his research, Luke shared some very interesting brain imaging data looking at how the brain responds to near misses.  I would advise those interested in reading more about Luke’s research to read the original Economist article I referenced earlier in the year.  

Other speakers also included Dr. Neil Smith, principal psychologist at the clinic who discussed research into three approaches to cognitive-behavioural therapy undertaken by Robert Ladouceur, Nancy Petry and Tian Oeiand.  Also, Professor Wim van den Brink from the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research shared insights from his research into addictions, discussing how genes and heritability, risk factors and social and environmental factors all play significant roles in determining addictions.  Henrietta wrapped-up with a presentation outlining research on what is known about social issues and pathological gambling, specifically discussing homelessness, physical health, crime and domestic violence.  Henrietta also paid tribute to Malcolm Bruce (Head of Sustainable Gambling at Betfair) who was instrumental in helping to arrange the funding for the clinic when he worked at the Responsible Gambling Fund before joining Betfair. 

A final note to two ex-gamblers who have received treatment at the clinic and who shared their experiences with the conference.  Nothing quite brings home the negative consequences of problem gambling as hearing first-hand the pain it can cause to people and their friends and families.  So a great conference which focused  on interesting themes and exciting research – I look forward to next year!