If you’ve ever had a cigarette, you know what this means. South Africa hasn’t yet switched to the plain packaging, and all cigarette packs show you a grim image. It’s either an image of your lungs on nicotine, or a slogan that discourages you from smoking.

The UK is going to introduce the same warnings on gambling machines. Read the article to learn why.

Problem gambling as a health hazard

You may not know this, but gambling can be very addictive. If you don’t understand how you can possibly lose more than you intend to, you belong to the happy majority.

Most gamblers will never experience the bad influence of gambling. When you play, you have a small budget that you won’t exceed. For many people, that’s just R100 a week. Once it’s gone, the fun is over for now, and you wait for another opportunity to gamble.

However, there are a lot of people who can’t do this. There are 4% of gamblers who just can’t stop. The thing is, gambling is inherently addictive. Neurologically, we tend to get bound to a positive feedback chain. This means when you win, you create a positive association with the game. Add the adrenalin rush to the mix, and you have a game that is as addictive as cocaine to some people.

Whether a problem gambler can’t stop because they lack self-control or they have a problem they want to forget while gambling, the harm is done. They can go gambling with their salary thinking they’ll double it and lose it all. They can gamble on credit and end up owing hundreds of thousands of Rands to the bank. They can ruin their lives and lives of their children.

Will it work?

Gambling can be bad sometimes, that’s true. But will this initiative help solve the problem?

When the same thing is applied to cigarettes, it doesn’t. That is to say, there’s no clear evidence that it does. Some studies show that people who smoke cigarettes with scary labels are more concerned about the things it warns them about but don’t quit smoking anyways. Other studies show the possibility that the labels may help, but can’t show real numbers.

This idea can fail to help people just as cigarette warnings do. There are more chances of new gamblers not wanting to try than an actual gambler quitting, but any results are good.

A better idea would be to make FOBT terminals ask gamblers are they sure they’re in control of the situation or offer them a blue screen of death with a gambling addiction hotline before they start playing. If a problem gambler tries to wager on a slot, he’ll have more chances to stop if he’s given a hand than if there’s a warning.

The larger picture

Even though this idea may not work for all gamblers, it’s not the only one in the arsenal of instruments to combat problem gambling. For instance, banning ads, especially those that target minors is going to save a lot of people from addiction.

If you have a gambling problem, look for the self-exclusion option, that all modern casinos already have.