Women and Gambling: Issues of difference

Responsible Gambling Advocacy Centre, Women and Gambling: Issues of difference Melbourne, November 2011


This paper surveyed international and Australian research for information about women’s problem gambling behaviours. Much of gambling research is more or less gender blind and little is specifically directed at analysing the behaviour of women. Because men gamble more than women, and across a wider range of activities, they are more likely to be a focus of research even where gender is considered.

Yet the RGAC literature survey found evidence that there was both a decreasing gap between men and women in some forms of gambling; and that there were specific types of gambling, in particular on Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMS, colloquially know as poker machines or “pokies”), where women’s risk is concentrated. There are significantly higher prevalence figures for EGM gambling by female problem gamblers in Australia. This is echoed in research from around the world where comparisons can be made.

For women gamblers, some types of gambling trigger motivations that may effectively place them at greater risk than men playing the same games. This includes using EGMs but also betting on other games based on “pure chance”. 1

The research suggests women have different problem gambling careers in other ways as well. The pathways both in and out of problem gambling for women appear to be different to men. They are more likely to develop problems later in life, have the problems accelerate faster and have much slower and more difficult times recovering.

All of these observations are important for developing and improving effective harm prevention strategies and for the better treatment of female problem gambling.

The differences in problem gambling behaviour by women also have implications for understanding and analysing how the advent of online gambling is going to affect them. While Australia has seen an explosion in recent years of online sports betting, with its advertising primarily aimed at men, this paper notes that there is reason to expect that women will tend to catch‐up to male behaviours over time; moreover that other forms of online gambling, in gaming rather sports betting, may be of strong attraction to them. 2

The literature indicates that women problem gamblers are more likely to gamble to “escape”. This escape can be from social isolation and loneliness or from particular source of grief or trauma.

Importantly the types of gambling preferred are themselves relatively isolating, which, particularly as losses mount, can lead to increased stress and isolation, a vicious circle.

The paper noticed that, compared to the international research, that done in Australia has many gaps when it comes to gender, often not even recording basic statistics from which differences could be observed. These research gaps in turn create gaps in policy development and information for practice.

Key Findings:

1. Pure chance games would also include roulette, forms of lotto and keno and other games where “skill” is not component of game play.

2. Online gambling is taken to mean any form of gambling that is carried out interactively across the internet. Online gaming is particular types of gambling conducted this way, including casino table and card games, poker and digital EGMs

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