Odds Are Men and Women Gamble Differently

Strategy, personal involvement seem to vary by sex

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 9, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Whether you like to roll the dice or plug coins into a slot machine may depend largely on your sex.

Men and women seem to be drawn to different forms of gambling, report Yale University researchers.

Based on calls to a gambling help line in Connecticut,which has two large casinos, men opt more for "strategic, face-to-face games, like card games or sports betting," says lead study author Dr. Marc Potenza, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. Women seem to prefer games that aren't strategic and involve less personal interaction, like slot machines or bingo, he says.

Potenza and his colleagues analyzed a year's worth of data from 562 calls to the help line, 62 percent from men and 38 percent from women.

Historically, men with gambling problems have outnumbered women by 2 to 1, Potenza says. However, because women are more likely to engage in legalized gambling, those numbers may change as more casinos and lotteries pop up around the country, he says.

Differences between the sexes apparently stretch beyond the types of gambling. For instance, women start to gamble later in life than men, but compulsive female gamblers get into trouble and look for help faster than men, the study says. Also, both men and women admit to having anxiety and being depressed because of a gambling addiction, but women are more likely to report anxiety and suicide attempts caused by gambling, the study says.

Gambling addicts of both sexes admit to gambling-related debts, but men are more likely to owe money to a bookie or a loan shark, while women turn to credit cards, say the researchers. Men who gamble also are more likely than women to have a substance abuse problem, with male compulsive gamblers having a 1 in 5 chance of abusing alcohol, compared with a 1 in 6 chance for women. Details appear in a recent issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Potenza says the differences should be considered when treating compulsive gamblers.

"There do appear to be significant differences in males and females with gambling problems, both in the patterns of gambling as well as the progression. How to take those differences into account in treatment is important and is something that needs to be investigated further," he says.

Cheryl Molina, who studies gambling addiction as a research assistant in the psychiatry department at the University of Connecticut, says she also has noticed differences in the games gamblers choose to play as well as their reasons for starting to gamble in the first place.

But when it comes to their addiction, she says men and women who gamble share a lot of common beliefs as well.

"I think both men and women share the same kinds of cognitive distortions," Molina says. For example, most problem gamblers think their next bet will be the big one, that the next one will be a winner, and that means treatment programs may not need to be significantly different, she says.

What To Do

For more information on gambling addiction, check the National Counseling Intervention Services or the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

If you're interested in participating in a study of treatment options for compulsive gamblers, conducted by the University of Connecticut, call (860) 679-2177 for more information.

SOURCES: Interviews with Marc Potenza, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and director, Problem Gambling Clinic, School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Cheryl Molina, research assistant, Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut, Farmington, Conn.; September 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry

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