Proliferation of information about sports statistics may cause overconfidence in those who bet on teams

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The eyes of the sports world will be focused this weekend on Miami, where the Chicago Bears play the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. But it's bound to be a challenging time for people who have a gambling problem. A professor of substance abuse and addictions at the University of North Texas says the proliferation of information about game statistics may be fueling that problem.

Dr. James Quinn, who directs UNT's additions program, says the danger making decisions based on statistics "is that people can get overconfident because their gambling decisions are made based on what the gambler perceives as their knowledge and experience, rather than by chance like a slot machine.

"This knowledge gives them a sense of control and a belief that they know what they are doing, and mitigates their awareness," Quinn says.

The Super Bowl is the largest sports gambling event of the year. The Nevada Gaming Commission says $94.5 million was legally bet in that city on last year's game, and that doesn't include things such as office pools or illegal betting. Some estimates put the true total in the neighborhood of $7 billion wagered.

Quinn says the true scope of problem gambling is not as well studied as other addictions.

"A fairly large percentage of the population gambles, and it's a relatively small number that has a problem with it," he says. "It's an easier thing to get into because of the Internet; it's no longer just a New Jersey or Las Vegas issue."

Quinn adds that in terms of brain and behavioral effects, problem gambling is similar to drug abuse. One of the ways to determine if a gambler has a problem is determining if the gambler overestimates the reward of gambling and underestimates the risk of his or her actions, he says.

"Another key to addiction is the use of the behavior to change a mood," Quinn says. "Compulsive gamblers need to place a bet to change their mood. These are the people who lose more than they can afford on a consistent basis. Friends and family are usually the first to spot the symptoms - and the symptoms need to be taken seriously."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108