Major Grants

The Effects of Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) Play on Alcohol Self-Administration in Gamblers Who Drink (#81)

Project Approved 2016-17

Dr. Daniel McGrath (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
Google Scholar Profile | ORCid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2772-942X

Mr. Hyoun S. Kim (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
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Dr. Sean P. Barrett (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Dalhousie University
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Dr. David C. Hodgins (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
Google Scholar Profile | ORCiD: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2737-5200 | ResearcherID: F-4201-2011


The proposed research study will directly investigate the role of video lottery terminal (VLT) gambling on alcohol self-administration in community-recruited gamblers who drink. The effects that VLT ‘winning,’ ‘breaking even,’ and ‘losing’ have on alcohol craving and consumption will be explored. It is expected that the findings of this research will have direct implications for policies designed to prevent problematic drinking in gambling venues.

See descriptions below.

In 2023, our research team completed data entry and double coding of all participants information and video. Following the collection of the data, we had volunteer and paid research assistants continue work coding video and entering data from the completed sessions into SPSS. In total, 37 participants successfully completed both sessions.

In addition to the primary alcohol and gambling study, in 2022, we also completed our supplementary survey project. Data collection was completed with 300 total respondents. Braydon Slack, a former MSc student in the lab, analyzed that data presented a poster on the results at Canadian Psychological Association Convention in June 2022. This data was then used for his Masters thesis, which was successfully defended in August 2022.

Data for the final laboratory-based project is still being examined, it is too early to state how the results will advance knowledge per se. However, preliminary findings were presented at the 13th European Conference on Gambling Studies and Policy Issues. We anticipate that the findings will ultimately provide new insight into how gambling outcomes can directly influence drinking behavior. Importantly, this study builds on previous work by also examining the influence of gambling subtypes. In particular, it is anticipated that coping gamblers will be especially vulnerable to losing, and being motivated to gamble as a means of coping will mediate increased drinking behaviour.

This project includes investigators at the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, and Ryerson University. It also represents the first alcohol administration study conducted in Dr. McGrath’s lab in Calgary. It is expected that the same team will work together on future studies building upon this work.

It is still too early to assess the research impact of the project at present. We do expect; however, that these results will have important implications for both treatment and policy. For instance, understating acute administration of alcohol while gambling could provide important insight into how to manage cravings for both activities among dually-addicted individuals.

McGrath, D.S. (2022, September). The effects of gambling wins vs. losses on alcohol self-administration in coping and enhancement motivated gamblers. Presentation at the 13th European Conference on Gambling Studies and Policy Issues, Oslo, Norway.

McGrath, D. S., & Slack, B. (2022, June). A comparison of online gamblers, offline gamblers, and hybrid gamblers on gambling and substance use. Poster presented at the 83rd Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Do Social Casino Games Encourage Gambling? An Experimental Approach (#80)

Project Approved 2016-17

Dr. David C. Hodgins (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
Google Scholar Profile | ORCiD: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2737-5200 | ResearcherID: F-4201-2011

Dr. Daniel S. McGrath (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
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Mr. Hyoun S. Kim (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary
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Matthew J. Rockloff (Co-principal Investigator)
School of Human, Health and Social Sciences, Central Queensland University
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Dr. Michael J. Wohl (Co-principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, Carleton University
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Social casino games have become immensely popular, boasting over 172 million users. Although in its infancy, recent studies using self-reports from social casino gamers suggest that involvement in these games increase gambling behaviours among non-gamblers and gamblers alike. The proposed program of research is designed to further elucidate the link between social casino games and gambling via experimental paradigms using the web-based Lucky Lolly Slots Social Casino Gaming Application and Lucky Roulette Gambling Application (both developed by Dr. M. Rockloff for academic research).

Study 1 Research Findings:

  • Participants in the winning condition (i.e., gained 15% of their starting credit) were no more likely that those in the losing (i.e., lost 15% of their starting credit) or break-even conditions to choose to gamble after playing the social casino game Lucky Lolly Slots.
  • There were no significant differences between groups with regard to the number of credits they wagered, or the amount of time they spent playing the gambling game Lucky Roulette.
  • Participants who did choose to gamble reported higher impulsivity scores in the domains of negative and positive urgency.

Study 2 Research Findings:

  • Participants who had the opportunity to trade in the credits they earned from playing Lucky Lolly Slots for a cash bonus (i.e., reward group) played more intensely than those who played without a cash bonus incentive (i.e., control group). Those in the reward group wagered more credits per day, and spent more time playing Lucky Lolly Slots each day.
  • Those in the reward group were no more likely to choose to gamble in Lucky Roulette following one week of playing Lucky Lolly Slots.
  • Regardless of the group they were assigned to, participants who elected to gamble reported significantly higher problem gambling severity scores, and significantly higher gambling craving scores immediately prior to playing Lucky Roulette, specifically in the domains of desire to gamble, and feelings of relief. Additionally, those who decided to gamble exhibited less resilience to distortive thinking about how gambling works.

Team Building and Collaborations:

  • This research represents the continued collaboration between the laboratories of Drs. Hodgins, Rockloff, Wohl, and McGrath. Each have conducted various research projects exploring cognitive factors associated with gambling behaviour. Of note, the games used to conduct this research were developed by Dr. Rockloff. These current studies represent a unique collaboration of their skills and expertise.

Advancement of Knowledge

  • Results from study 1 support past research that has identified dispositional factors such as impulsivity as risk factors for those who may be susceptible to the lures of gambling, and suggest that positive and negative urgency may represent notable vulnerabilities.
  • Results from study 2 suggest that offering tangible rewards can influence the intensity of social casino game play, but may not directly affect future gambling behaviour.

This research has contributed to advancing our understanding of cognitive factors (e.g., impulsivity, resilience to gambling fallacies) that may predispose concurrent gamblers and social casino game players to gamble, and potentially engage in risky gambling behaviour. The research also adds to the growing understanding of the influence of social casino games on future gambling behaviours.

Kim, H. S., Coelho, S., Wohl, M. J. A., Rockloff, M., McGrath, D. S., & Hodgins, D. C. (2022). Self-Generated Motives of Social Casino Gamers. Journal of Gambling Studies. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-022-10135-5

Kim, H. S., Rockloff, M., Leslie, D., McGrath, D. S., Wohl, M. J. A., & Hodgins, D. C. (2021). Offering small tangible rewards within social casino games increase in-play bets but does not impact real-money gambling. Addictive Behaviors. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2021.106984

Hollingshead, S., Kim, H. S., Rockloff, M., McGrath, D. S., Hodgins, D. C., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2021). Motives for playing social casino games and the transition from gaming to gambling (or vice versa): Social casino game play as harm reduction? Journal of Gambling Issues, 46, 1-19. https://dx.doi.org/10.4309/jgi.2021.46.4.

Kim, H. S., Rockloff, M., McGrath, D. S., Wohl, M. J., & Hodgins, D. C. (2019). Structural or dispositional? An experimental investigation of the experience of winning in social casino games (and impulsivity) on subsequent gambling behaviors. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 8(3), 479-488. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.8.2019.48

Wohl, M. (2018, June 18). Is it Just Fun and Games? Social Casino Games and the Possible link to Disordered Gambling. Presentation given at the 2018 Ontario Problem Gambling & Behavioural Addictions Provincial Forum, Ottawa, Ontario.

Gambling Responsibly: Measuring and Validating Responsible Gambling Behaviours Amongst Regular Gamblers in Alberta (#79)

Project Approved 2016-17

Dr. Garry Smith (Principal Investigator)
Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta

Dr. Alex Russell (Co-principal investigator)
School of Human, Health and Social Sciences, CQUniversity
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Professor Nerilee Hing (Co-principal investigator)
School of Human, Health and Social Sciences, CQUniversity

Dr. Fiona Nicoll (Co-principal investigator)
Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
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Professor Matthew Rockloff (Co-principal investigator)
School of Human, Health and Social Sciences, CQUniversity
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Dr. Matthew Browne (Co-principal investigator)
School of Human, Health and Social Sciences, CQUniversity
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This proposed study, to be conducted in Alberta, will address the following objectives: 1) determine a set of specific self-regulatory behaviours that predict the safe consumption of gambling on higher risk gambling activities; 2) measure their current usage amongst regular gamblers on these activities; and 3) identify how the findings can improve public health interventions for responsible gambling consumption. Using survey (N = 1,600) and experimental (N = 400) research amongst regular gamblers on higher risk activities, the study will assess relationships between use of self-regulatory gambling behaviours and absence of gambling risks and problems, gambling harm and gambling urges – to validate a Behavioural Indicators of Responsible Gambling Scale (BIRGS). The study will also assess usage of different self-regulatory behaviours amongst different sub-populations of gamblers and for different gambling activities, and inform the development of evidence-based consumer guidelines for safe gambling consumption.

This collaborative investigation featured Alberta Gambling Research Institute scholars from the University of Alberta (Fiona Nicoll Political Science Dept. and Garry Smith U of A Professor Emeritus) along with an internationally recognized research team of gambling researchers based at Australia's Central Queensland university (Nerilee Hing, Matthew Rockloff, Matthew Browne, and Alex Russell). This was an excellent cooperative effort as interaction between the research teams was positive and educational, also the work was done on time and under budget.
This study, conducted in Alberta, addressed the following research topics: a) the determination of certain self-regulatory behaviors that predict the safe consumption of play on high risk gambling activities. b) the assessment of regular gamblers current usage of safe gambling practices. c) a determination of how the findings could improve public health interventions for responsible gambling achievement.

Employing both survey (n=1,174) and experimental (n=577) methods on regular gamblers who play high risk gambling formats, the study examined the relationships between the use of self-regulatory gambling behaviors and the absence of gambling risks and problems, gambling-related harm and gambling urges—in order to validate a safe gambling consumption scale. Also assessed was the usage of self-regulatory behaviors among different sub-populations of gamblers on different gambling formats to inform the creation of evidence-based consumer guidelines for safe gambling consumption.

Key findings include:

The behavior most associated with increased harm was using credit to gamble, while the most useful thought pattern to reduce gambling harm was "If I'm not having fun gambling, I stop."

Safe gambling guidelines based on this research that can be promoted to consumers; form the basis of self-assessment tests; used to measure safe gambling at a population level; and inform improvements to gambling policy and practice include:

  • stop if you are not having fun
  • keep a household budget
  • keep a dedicated gambling budget
  • have a fixed amount to spend on gambling
  • engage in other leisure activities
  • avoid gambling when upset or depressed
  • not use credit to gamble
  • avoid the motivation of gambling to make money
  • do not adhere to systems that you think will help you win

Other important findings indicate that the factors most closely related to unsafe gambling behavior are:

  • trait impulsivity
  • excessive gambling consumption
  • having more gambling fallacies

The implications of these results include a) making consumers aware of safe and unsafe gambling behavior; b) incorporating these findings into responsible gambling programs; and c) informing gambling policies; for example, not allowing credit or loan sharking, providing information on common gambling fallacies and being vigilant concerning excessive gambling consumption, both in terms of time and money spent.

Hing, N., Browne, M., Rockloff, M., Rawat, M., Nicoll, F. & Smith, G. (2019). Avoiding gambling harm: An evidence-based set of safe gambling practices for consumers. PLoSOne, 14(10): eo224083.

Browne, M., Hing, N., Rockloff, M., Russell, A.M.T., Nicoll, F. and Smith, G. (2019). A multivariate evaluation of 25 proximal and distal risk factors for gambling-related harm. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(4), 509.  https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8040509

Two manuscripts also in preparation for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

Hing et al., presentation to AGLC Game Sense advisors at Edmonton’s River Cree casino. “Raising the Stakes: The Effects of Advertising on Gambling Behavior. Sept. 26, 2018.

Hing et al. public lecture to U of A Arts faculty. “Gambling Responsibly: Behavioral Indicators of Responsible Gambling Amongst Regular Gamblers.” Sept. 25, 2018.

Hing et al. Presentation to the International Gambling Regulators conference, Montego Bay, Jamaica. “Gambling Harm: Safe Gambling Practices for Consumer.” Oct. 2019.

Hing et al. Presentation to the Behavioral Addictions conference in Yokohama, Japan. “Avoiding Harmful Gambling: Safe Gambling Practices for Consumers.” June 2019.

Nicoll et al. presentation to the National Association of Gambling Studies Conference at Hobart AU. “From Responsible Gambling to Safer Consumption Practices.” Dec. 4-6. 2019.