10 Dec

New treatment for Problem Gambling teaches how Pokies really work

Australia is notorious for being home to the highest rate of problem gambling in the world. A radical obstacle deserves a radical approach to its solution, and that’s exactly what researchers have come up with. The Gambling Treatment Clinic at the University of Sydney says the new method is not only showing positive results for pokies addicts, but at an extremely high rate.

Dr. Fadi Anjoul is a clinical psychologist at the University. After finding that traditional methods of therapy were infamous for their low rate of success, he began looking into a new form of treatment for problem gambling. What he developed, known as Cognitive Deconstructional Therapy, is a new program based on a simple concept of teaching addicts the truth behind the mechanics of pokies.

Researchers now believe that the majority of gamblers who have a problem don’t understand the way pokies really work. Dr. Anjoul says that they have a misconception that predetermined payout percentages will ensure large wins on a regular cycle. Thus his new program teaches problem gamblers the true logistics of pokies in terms of probability and randomness.

“Every single person that we’ve treated who plays poker machines has come in…a belief that the more losing that occurs, the closer you are to winning,” explained Dr. Anjoul. “So when you’re down you continue to gamble because you think a machine is due to pay. And when you’re up you continue to gamble because you think it will pay more.”

He teaches his patients that in reality, pokies “come in with no predictability whatsoever. In other words,” he said, “you’re playing the machine under false pretenses.” Dr. Anjoul admitted that, yes, if one plays a machine for a long enough period of time, a “fairly big win” is likely.

However, he pointed out that, “What’s missing from that whole proposition is, how long did it take you to get there? What was the cost?” He further explained what his patients who suffer from problem gambling eventually realize throughout treatment is that their lifetime losses “far exceed” any amount they might win in a “discrete period”.

Rowan Burckhardt, a fellow psychologist at Australia’s Black Dog Institute, believes that Dr. Anjoul’s treatment could be extended to other genres of problem gambling, particularly horse betting. “What we have to address is you believe that you’re a better punter and you believe you’re able to turn a profit when in fact you haven’t been able to do that and can’t do that,” said Burckhardt.

“The only way you can turn a profit from horse betting is finding what they call value bets.” He described these as bets “where the odds offered are better than what the probability of that horse winning is.” Unfortunately, value bets are a rare find in the horse racing industry.

According to studies of TAB betting accounts, only 5% of punters actually turned a profit over the last 12 months. When looking at the statistics over multiple years, the percentage declines to just 1%. After applying Cognitive Deconstructional Therapy on his clients and explaining just how badly the odds are stacked against them, Burckhardt found that many of his clients no longer felt the same thrill when gambling.

The Gambling Treatment Clinic reported that their success rate in treating problem gambling has been very high. 80-90% of their patients either reduced or completely stopped gambling on the pokies. For Burckhardt’s patients, he said that 90-95% of his clients “either stops or gets their gambling right down to a level they want to be doing.”