The Challenge

Gambling (which may be defined as wagering on an uncertain outcome, usually for money) is as old as time itself. While most people can enjoy an occasional bet on the football or a trip to the casino without developing a problem, a significant minority find it difficult to limit their gambling. This can soon escalate and lead to considerable suffering and impaired quality of life. People experiencing gambling problems are not isolated; that is, someone’s problems may impact the lives of up to ten others, such as family, friends, and colleagues. It is thus increasingly important to minimise the impact of potential gambling related harms and to better understand how to protect those vulnerable from developing problems. 

Gambling, harmless fun?

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The Method

Our research aims to identify those who may be at risk of gambling related harm, to investigate the neuro-behavioural mechanisms underlying the onset and maintenance of gambling problems, and to find ways of developing innovative forms of clinical treatment. We adopt a translational perspective in which gambling problems or specific features of gambling games are modelled experimentally in the lab to get an empirical handle on the underlying behavioural mechanisms before extension and real world applications. We use computer-simulated gambling, choice and decision making paradigms with a range of neuroimaging measures (e.g., fMRI, MRS) in people with and without gambling problems. We also survey and interview people dealing with gambling problem and their affected others to chart the prevalence or extent of the problem with certain populations (e.g., military veterans and currently serving personnel). Finally, we explore how best to support and maintain recovery from a gambling problem by, for instance, incentivising abstinence and the support of others.

The Impact

Our work has been cited in evidence given to committees in the House of Commons, House of Lords, and Senedd Cymru. The UK Veterans Health and Gambling Study has been featured in annual reports of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales and the Welsh Government’s Armed Forces Covenant and in statements from the Health Minister for Wales.

Recommendations from our study of UK gambling-related suicide (with Professor Ann John, Dr Heather Wardle, and Dr Sally McManus) have led to changes in the provision of 24-hr telephone helpline support. We are part of an expanding network of academic researchers calling for independent funding for gambling research, education and treatment and we have recently published a call on the need for NHS gambling clinics in Wales. We place great emphasis on translating research findings directly into practice and informing policy and legislative change.

 Our work has been funded by GambleAware, the International Center for Responsible Gaming, Forces in Mind Trust, The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, Health and Care Research Wales, and others.

Related courses

Undergraduate courses

BSc(Hons) Psychology


Find out more about the research being undertaken in the college

College of Human and Health Sciences


We align our research to the United Nationa Sustainable Development Goals

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Swansea University Research Theme

Health Innovation

HEALTH INNOVATION ICON representing Swansea University's research theme