Blinking lights and exciting jingles at casinos may promote gambling problems, experts claim.
Canadian researchers fitted eye-trackers onto around 100 participants, who were monitored while gambling.
They discovered people are far more reckless in the presence of lights and jingles – even when the odds are stacked against them.
Alluring: University of British Columbia data suggests sensory features fuel risk-taking, which could explain why addicts struggle to resist the lure of casinos and online betting sites
The findings, by the University of British Columbia, may explain why addicts struggle to resist the lure of casinos and online betting sites.
Professor Catharine Winstanley, senior author, said participants paid less attention to information about odds when jingles accompanied the wins.
She revealed that they also noticed greater pupil dilation among the participants exposed to the sensory cues.
Professor Winstanley said the results suggested ‘individuals were more aroused or engaged when winning outcomes were paired with sensory cues’.
Conversely, in the absence of sensory cues, the participants demonstrated more restraint in their decision-making.
Maria Cherkasova, lead author, said: ‘Together, these results provide new insight into the role played by audiovisual cues in promoting risky choice.
Addict? The latest research was prompted by earlier UBC research that found rats were more willing to take risks when their food rewards were accompanied by flashing lights and jingles
‘And [the results] could in part explain why some people persist in gambling despite unfavourable odds of winning.
The research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience. It was prompted by trials on rats by the same scientists.
They found the rodents were more willing to take risks when their food rewards were accompanied by flashing lights and jingles.
‘These results form an important piece of the puzzle in terms of our understanding of how gambling addiction forms and persists,’ added Professor Winstanley.
‘While sound and light stimuli may seem harmless, we’re now understanding that these cues may bias attention and encourage risky decision-making’
The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board said in June nine out of ten young people had been exposed to gambling adverts and marketing on TV and social media.
As a result, gambling risks becoming ‘normalised’ in the minds of many children – with the risk that more are sucked into betting at a young age.
Worryingly, gambling is now more popular than ten-pin bowling and skateboarding among children, with more than one in ten under-16s gambling.
Calls to gambling addiction hotline have soared by 30% over five years
Calls to a gambling addiction helpline have increased by more than 30 per cent in five years.
The National Gambling Helpline receives nearly 30,000 calls a year, with half of those contacting it concerned about their mental health.
Two-thirds of people using the service said gambling was also causing them financial problems.
Tim Miller, executive director of the Gambling Commission, said: ‘It is important that those struggling with gambling are able to access support when they need it.
‘That’s why we will continue to take actions to require gambling companies to spot those being harmed by gambling and step in to protect them.’
The popularity of gambling online and on smartphones has helped bookmaking grow into a £14 billion-a-year industry.
It is estimated there are 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK and 2 million are at risk of developing an addiction.
Researchers say between 250 and 650 young gamblers commit suicide every year.