Falling for the “kick factor”

Young men and gambling. Photo by Giulia Mastrantoni.
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Lonely young men are the most vulnerable to pressure to gamble. Giulia Mastrantoni reports.

Young men, especially if lonely, are the most vulnerable to pressure to gamble, according to a Melbourne-based mental health expert.

Professor of Forensic Mental Health Justice and Legal Studies, Stuart Thomas, said young males are likely to succumb to the “kick factor” of gambling and get to a problematic, if not pathological, stage.

“Three categories of people are likely to start gambling: the ones who get a kick out of it, the ones who are lonely and have a try and the ones who need to escape from home,” Professor Thomas said.

Men are twice to three times as likely as women to develop a problem with gambling, a research conducted in 2014 by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation revealed.

The “kick factor” is the excitement that one gets when the win is unsure but is still a possibility.

“It is addictive and it plays an important role. The customers’ excitement is crucial for the casinos’ owners because it can really push people to keep gambling, either if they started for fun or to escape domestic problems,” Professor Thomas said.

Lonely people, including overseas students, are more likely to develop an addiction to gambling than others due to the combination of loneliness and excitement, according to Professor Thomas.

A 23-year-old mechanics student at Swinburne said his Indonesian male friend came to Melbourne as an overseas undergraduate and started feeling lonely.

“Loneliness is the reason why he went to the Crown in the first place. He lost $1000 on his first night and he keeps coming back at least once a week because he might win,” said the Mechanics student.

He was with his friend when he first tried the excitement of playing pokies and they both ended up losing their money.

“What I understood from that experience was that gambling was a huge waste of time and money. But my friend is lonely, so the kick he gets out of gambling helps him to feel better,” he said.

The student also said his friend’s family knows about their son’s problem, but “they just don’t care because they can afford losing money and they don’t really see how problematic the situation has become.”

The worrying factor is how accessible online pokies and sportsbets are, making it extremely easy for students to gamble and possibly develop an addiction, according to Professor Thomas.

“Problematic doesn’t mean pathological. When you lose only small amounts of money, you might still be losing more than you can afford and this is true especially for old, but it can easily apply to overseas students as well,” Professor Thomas said.

Losing money is the most contentious aspect of gambling and it is linked to a series of factors, according to an expert in Statistics at Swinburne University.

“People think they can predict the outcomes of their bets, but they don’t because there is absolutely no way to do so”, said Emeritus Professor of Statistics Stephen Clarke.

“When it comes to online sports bets, then the collection of data on the internet might help you beat the system, but have to really be into mathematics and statistics to be able to do so,” he said.

The Double It system is what puts people at risk of losing their money in the casinos, according to Professor Clarke.

“People bet a small sum, they lose it and they double it. They just don’t realise how quickly it goes up, let alone when it comes to online gambling,” he said.

According to a 26-year-old Swinburne marketing student from France “online gambling can also just be a pastime, something one does because it’s fun.”

Professor Thomas said that as a student, while still living in the UK, he and his friends used to gamble as well.

“We used to buy a lottery ticket once a week, but we never let it slip out of control and this is really what gambling is about. Don’t let it get out of control,” he said.

Many students don’t take the possibility of gambling into account at all.

“I miss my family and I haven’t met other people from Bangladesh in Melbourne, but the idea of gambling to feel less lonely really sounds silly,” said a 26-year-old female Marketing Swinburne student from Bangladesh.

“Making good and trustworthy friends is what studying abroad is about,” she said.

A 25-year-old Italian male exchange student to study engineering at Swinburne said: “Casual sex can really help you face loneliness, not pokies.”

A 22-year-old female marketing student from Indonesia said “one needs to have a social life when studying overseas, otherwise you will get lonely and do stupid things just like starting to gamble.”

Professor Clarke highly recommends that people enter casinos cautiously.

“They are places based on profit, just like other businesses, so the enjoyment is going to cost you some money,  in the same way a movie or a meal would,” he said.