SBO.net: I read that Australia per capita has the highest amount of gambling losses, and the highest amount of bets is the United States of America and then China. Do you think that there’s a cultural reason that some nations maybe gamble more than others, or is it just that there’s more of an awareness and it’s more regulated or they have more money perhaps?
Peter Ferentzy: There are many different reasons why. Australia has had high gambling rates and high problem gambling rates, higher slightly than North America and Western Europe, I don’t know why. Chinese have a lot of gambling. They gamble a lot, and, again, I don’t know exactly why this is, but here’s a little bit of trivia, something that I noticed when I was just getting into gambling studies.
We can take three cultures in a western context, North America and in Europe, that traditionally have held alcoholism at bay: Italian, Jewish and Chinese. They have their alcoholics, but their alcoholism rates are low. These three, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, have lower alcohol rates than the Irish, than the Hungarians, than the Poles, than the English, but each of these countries seems to make up for their lack of alcoholism by producing more than its fair share of problem gamblers. I don’t know why, but it’s true.
SBO.net: Okay, so there’s definitely something to the fact then that there is a difference of cultures.
Peter Ferentzy: Culture affects everything. You know, I mean, I’m Hungarian, my parents are Hungarian, they’re Hungarian immigrants. You’re Irish.
I think that we have one thing in common: we both come from a culture where young men are often encouraged to express their masculinity by drinking a lot.
At least that’s among Hungarians and many of my Irish friends. Among Italians, a young man will not be encouraged to express his masculinity by drinking a lot, though he might be encouraged to express his masculinity by bothering women, so it’s just different, right? You grow up differently and you learn from people who are older than you.
WOMEN GAMBLING MAINLY IN THE WESTERN WORLD
SBO.net: Is it the same, to go back to the females gambling, and there’s a lot more women now gambling you’re saying, it’s approaching 50 percent. Is this a western problem or is it being seen sort of throughout the world?
Peter Ferentzy: Well, it’s definitely western. It’s going to happen from one, it’s going to vary from one region to another. I mean, you take a place like Kuwait where women aren’t allowed to do anything, they might keep their female gambling rates really low, I don’t know, but anywhere where you’re going to have more legal gambling venues, you’re likely to see a higher percentage of women partaking in that. Of course, in a country with strict Islamic law or some other kind of law which forbids women from frequenting these establishments, then you’d have a different story entirely.
You know, it’s, I hesitate to say worldwide, because culture, law, history, everything effects what people do.
SBO.net: So it’s more the facilitation and perception of being accepted by having legal venues that are advertising.
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah. Yeah, typically it’s always easier for women to participate in something that’s illegal. A place that’s illegal is more rough and tumble. Women will be less inclined to want to go there.
SBO.net: Not as safe for them.
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah.
SBO.net: Do you think then that the online gambling then could end up attracting more women than men or are there signs that women currently use online gambling?
Peter Ferentzy: Online is probably 50-50. Probably, I don’t really see much difference, I don’t see a big gender divide that way.
SBO.net: It’s probably in the early stages anyway in the terms of the online gambling.
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah.
COMMENTARY ON THE RECENT HARVARD STUDY
SBO.net: There was a Harvard study done with Bwin, and they looked at their figures, I do believe, from the last ten years. They came to the conclusion that online gambling wasn’t as much of a problem as they thought it was. It wasn’t creating pathological gambling.
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah, that’s probably likely, and I’ll tell you why: people often get spooked by novelty. People fear what they don’t know, so when online gambling was new, a lot of people thought, “Oh, no, the sky is going to fall,” and then the sky didn’t fall. Most of the threats for pathological gambling are still land-based. Online gambling has added to it but it hasn’t taken over and the doomsday stories did not come true.
SBO.net: Do you think we’re too early in the day for the doomsday stories to come true?
Peter Ferentzy: No, no, I just think that normalcy has a habit of kicking in, you know? People who want to gamble compulsively, yeah, I mean, it’s a little bit easier with the online stuff but there are other ways to gamble.
You know, people are often afraid of what they don’t know. For instance, so-called video game addiction among young people, and here’s a good example. Now, yeah, there was some video game addiction among young people when these video games started to come out, but many people of my generation were blowing it out of proportion, like ‘these kids are spending so many hours, whatever, in front of these video games’, like, well, ‘didn’t you spend just as many hours in front of a TV when you were that age?’ or ‘kids are playing video games instead of listening to the teacher.’ Oh, yeah? ‘Well, we found other ways of not listening to the teacher,’ but because the video games were new, it gave adults a scare. It was unfamiliar territory, and it was associated with their children, so in a similar fashion because online gambling is new, because it might be a threat to your children, et cetera, et cetera, people will get a little uptight, but eventually it’s normalized.
SBO.net: And do you think with normalization it will stabilize to the same level of other gambling?
Peter Ferentzy: Yeah, I mean, I don’t really see anything spectacular happening on the horizon. I think that gambling will happen online, but most gambling will happen face to face because people want the interaction, but some people who don’t want to leave their homes, you know, can lose their shirts at home if they want.
SBO.net: So, is gambling more of a communal addiction, in a way?
Peter Ferentzy: For some people, gambling offers an opportunity to socialize, so it can be, but for other people gambling is very solo, for instance, somebody who plays slots doesn’t want to talk to or even look at the person sitting beside him often, so it can be a means to escape from other people, it can be a means to socialize. Again, that question is very person-specific.
SBO.net: But is it different compared to substance abuse in that regard?
Peter Ferentzy: No, because the same thing with substance use. You can get drunk because you want to be with your friends or you can get drunk because you want to be alone with your body, and it might be the opposite for the same person on a different night, so it’s not even necessarily one person goes this way or that way. The same person can go in two directions on different days.
SBO.net: It seems like a multi-faceted problem for the pathological gambler.
Peter Ferentzy: Yes, yes. So gambling can be an opportunity to socialize, it can be a communal engagement. It can be very private and solipsistic.
LEGALIZATION OF GAMBLING
SBO.net: And the legalization that you mentioned earlier, with governments now putting money into treatments and obviously people doing PhDs etc, has that produced a lot of good quality information that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t made legal in terms of helping people?
Peter Ferentzy: Well, we have more information now, partially because of legalization, but also because we’re devoting more energy to studying it. Like I told you before, when more so-called respectable segments of society become involved in the activity, we are more likely to put money into solving the problem, studying the problem and so on, so we have done. We’ve been researching into problem gambling. We understand it a lot better than we did 20 years ago.