Gambling and Your Gender: Why are Problem Gamblers Mostly Men?

Jun 10

Extensive research indicates that men are seven and a half times more apt to turn into problem gamblers than women. But what makes them more likely to develop an unhealthy gambling habit?

Some people say that it’s a “lad thing.” According to a 22-year old named Matt in a previous interview with BBC, “You can't go to the pub on a Saturday afternoon without having the football on the TV, and then obviously there are adverts that come on and you get the urge to bet. I couldn't watch a game of football without having a bet on it.”

Another man, this time from London, who goes by the name of Matt, relays that he began gambling the moment he turned 18. To date, he says he has already lost as much as £30,000. Naturally, the experience has made him feel miserable, compounded by the fact that it took him three long years to seek professional help to deal with his gambling problem.

“It was embarrassing to open up [to friends] and say, 'I'm really struggling with this gambling problem'. They were involved in gambling as well,” Matt said.

In research conducted by the Gambling Commission in 2017, it discovered that some 63% of adults have gambled in the past year. It found little difference between the sexes — 66% of all men and 59% of all women engaged in some way or form of gambling, which also includes the lottery.

However, men were found out to be seven-and-a-half times more likely than women to become a problem gambler, which the group defines as someone whose habit compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits.

Dr. Robert Lefever, who is a former gambling addict, believes men's personality traits make them much more likely to become problem gamblers. After going through the experience, and knowing what needs to be done to help treat people who are going through gambling addiction, the doctor set up the first rehabilitation clinic for compulsive gamblers in the UK.

One aspect of the problem, he says, is that those men tend to be more hedonistic than women, a trait which is part of being “macho.” “Men are generally greater risk takers than women, they tend to be rather proud of it,” Lefever says.

"I used to boast about how much I had lost. I lost three months' income on the turn of a card in a poker game. This is not something that I should be proud of," he adds.

The doctor admits that he went bankrupt and lost £16m as a result of his own gambling addiction, and he believes there are three primary factors which can eventually lead to gambling addiction.

“One is genetic, some of us just have an addictive nature. The second is sociological - the environment. There are some environments that are particularly risky. The third is exposure - the way it is marketed. Gambling and sport do go together uncomfortably closely," he says.

Other specialists propose that biological differences between men and women may also play a key role in the issue. Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist in addictions, says research implies that more impulsive people have always proven to be men.

“Men are the ones who [wait less time to bet] as odds drop," she says in a published interview. They press the button straight away, they chase their losses more.”

Mara Mather, who plays a role in a team of researchers from Southern California University in the United States, whose experiment with 48 people discovered the various ways men and women react differently to stress. The team made a group of men and women place their hands in ice cold water, which released the stress hormone cortisol, before taking part in a gambling task.

Mather says in the experiment, men took much more risk than women under stress In the control group — who did not do this — there was no difference between the level of risk that men and women took subsequently.

But in the group that did, men were substantially more risky in their comportment while women were more moderate. Mather says this proposes that there could be a correlation with men's problem gambling.

"Having a gambling problem — and getting into trouble, into debt — leads to stress," she remarks. “So [for men] it could actually be a vicious circle,” she adds.

In October, the Victoria Derbyshire program found that 95% of ad breaks during live football matches featured at least one gambling advert. It is projected that British men will witness on average, roughly 20,000 hours of the televised sport throughout their lifetime, with football being by far the most watched. In contrast, women will watch around just half that amount.

The Gambling Commission relays that guidelines were established to stop gambling ads appealing to stereotypically masculine traits. And it has introduced a consultation on whether or not fines could be slapped on violators to deter gaming firms from breaching them.

For his part, Matt says pursuing a win is one of the worst feelings you can ever have. “With all men, you want to live the high life,” he says. “You think gambling is a way of making money — but in reality, it just takes you down," he adds.

Now that we have already established that gambling is a recreational activity that is dominated by the male species — take a look at a casino, wherever it may be, and you will see that the majority of gamblers are male — let’s take a look at some more factors why this is so.

1) Women are busier and have less time to engage in gambling activities.

A study conducted involving gamblers in the United States uncovered that women actually have less free time than men. In addition, it was also found out that women’s free time came in smaller increments.

Furthermore, the study suggests that women are more likely to fulfill more necessary activities, like that of cooking, taking care of a child, and housekeeping, on top of their daily responsibilities especially when it comes to working.

Those said activities take up most of their leisure time, and as a result, they tend to play short digital games rather than gamble online or offline. The UK online gaming options, unlike their US equals, is still prospering because of more relaxed legislation.

2) Men are more inclined to engage in risky behavior than women.

A study was done by the University of California San Diego and Glaser Consulting Firm in San Diego revealed that women in general, are more mistrustful when it comes to engaging in risky behavior. They often perceive the superior likelihood of negative results and have reduced expectations of enjoyment should the outcome be positive. Basically, women, on average, believe that the eventual outcome is just not worth it so she just either gambles as little as possible or even just skips the activity.

3) Men and women gamble for various reasons.

Since men are often times described as risk takers, they gamble for the sheer thrill of it. They like to contend with others and feel the rush of getting that huge payout.

Meanwhile, women usually see gambling as a means of escaping their stressful or mundane lives. So to sum it up, men associate gambling with positive feelings like excitement, success, and competitiveness, just to name a few while women associate gambling with adverse emotions such as depression, anxiety, stress, abuse, and abandonment, to name a few. That could explain why many women are not so keen on pursuing gambling.

4) Women get started with gambling at a much later time than that of men.

When it comes to gambling, the average age of a rookie male player is 20.4, and the average age of a rookie female player is pegged at 34.2. That is a massive 14-year difference! Additionally, it has also been discovered that women are more likely than men are to become addicted to gambling. Combine that with the fact that the average age of a rookie female player is 34.2, it is not at all surprising that 67% of women who look for help for their gambling addictions are oftentimes between the ages of 40 and 60.

5) A lot is expected out of women than that of men.

Harsh as this may sound but this is an actual but unfortunate truth. Women are less accepted by society as gamblers because society holds some very high expectations for them. Women are looked to to become doting mothers, loving daughters, and dependable homemakers, so to them, gambling would be wholly irresponsible. So naturally, many women tend to stay away from gambling to avoid judgment, shame, and guilt. To visit the casino and to spend money there would be disregarding their children and families and compromising their characters.

Now let’s take a closer look at the gambling patterns of males and females

Gambling Patterns in Males vs. Gambling Patterns in Females

Just because the majority of gamblers are male does not mean that there are not enough female players. This is false since there are still millions of female gamblers all across the globe, enough female gamblers to detect an interesting pattern:

Numerous research studies indicate that males are more engaged in online gambling, table games, horse racing, and sports betting while females tend to gravitate towards raffles, slot machines, bingo, and lotteries. Why is this so?

You might see a pattern in the kind of games males like and the type of games females prefer. Women like to play games that are purely based on luck, while men are more willing to vigorously participate in the game and try to seize control of its outcome.

A lot of studies actually took stock of this. A Swedish population study uncovers that men are more comfortable with going up against others than women are, and that is why they usually engage in games that rely on skill and strategy while women prefer playing against the house and relying on lady luck’s smile.

The same study also shows an interpretation of activities linked with high potential payoffs and fixed minor costs and it was uncovered that women are more liable to engage in those activities. Because women have a pessimistic outlook on the consequences of gambling and believe that the likelihood of them losing is larger than it actually is, they are more comfortable with losing a small fixed bet than they are with losing a large bet that is not prearranged.

This explains why opponent-based games such as poker and chess have an overwhelming amount of male players. It is also reasonable that while a few female poker players like the game, they are more comfortable with playing in tournaments with fixed buy-ins rather than cash games.

The Gendered History of Gambling

Customarily, gambling was a male pastime, most likely because of men’s penchant for risk-taking activities. One of the earliest examples of gambling in human culture is cockfighting in ancient Egypt. This was actually why the chicken was first domesticated – to play the role of entertained to paying crowds in fights to the death, as opposed to being a source of food and sustenance.

Later in history, gambling took on another form in poker games and other games of chance in pubs. England’s pubs — the home of a wide range of games from cribbage to rat baiting to darts — were strictly dominated by males. Similarly, few women would visit early racetracks and wager money on the horses, further cementing gambling as a men’s activity.

The Arrival of the Female Gambler

It wasn’t until lotteries and casinos came that women started to want a piece of the action for a few numbers of reasons.

One is the rise of feminism and greater economic freedom for women in the twentieth century.

Another was the kind of games offered. As gambling moved out of the pubs and pool halls and shifted to community venues and homes, women started to become more active and participate in greater and greater numbers. With the advent of online gambling, women have become even more likely to participate in games of chance.

In today’s world, women have more disposable income than they have at any previous point in history and control more than 80% of household spending in the United States. Female gamblers are here and as their influence rises, gaming companies are also adapting to their needs and predilections.