Gambling & youth study breaks new ground
By Colleen MacPherson
A new research project at the U of S aims to fill in some of the gaps that exist in understanding gambling by taking a look at what this pastime does to the lives of kids.
Using surveys and focus groups, Corina Farbacher, a PhD candidate in sociology, “will be looking for kids to tell me how gambling affects them, how it fits into their lives. I want to find out how they see it, and I want to contribute to gambling research in a different way.”
Under the supervision of Sociology professor Bernard Schissel, Farbacher will explore not only what youth think about gambling, but also the social, cultural and developmental issues that influence gambling behaviour in young people.
“I am primarily concerned with those kids that are at-risk and how gambling may have contributed to them being at-risk,” she said. “Because there is currently very little research being done in this area dealing specifically with kids with low socio-economic status, Aboriginal, those considered at-risk or kids in trouble with the law, I’m particularly interested in finding out what gambling-related behaviour does to the physical and emotional health of these kids as opposed to mainstream youth.”
Despite the growing prevalence of gambling, there has been little research of any kind done on the issue in this province, Farbacher explained.
Gambling has become socially acceptable in all its many forms, from casinos to VLTs to online betting to poker nights in someone’s basement, “but we still tend to stigmatize people who gamble”, kids included. Most youth-related research tries to determine how many young people gamble in an attempt to predict how many gamblers, particularly potential problem gamblers, there will be in the future. This focus on prevalence tends to suggest young gamblers represent trouble down the road, “and I think that needs to be challenged. Not all these kids are bad kids. I want to look at how gambling affects youth, not necessarily how much youth are gambling.”
Gambling is harder to identify than other addictions, said Farbacher, as are the consequences for kids. “There are tangible consequences for adults, like losing all your money, but kids might be having problems because of someone else’s problems. They might be affected in a more indirect way. It could be as simple as the fact their parents are gambling so they’re neglected, or their parents are gambling and there’s not enough money. This research takes a different approach to the issue.”
Farbacher’s unique approach to her research has earned her a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) worth $60,000 over three years. Her project builds on a gambling-related study she participated in for Saskatchewan Health through the Social Research Unit. Other funding has come from Canadian Population Health Research through the Saskatchewan Population Health Research Unit. When first asked to work on the Sask Health project in September 2003, Farbacher was a master’s student, but it was felt the scope of the project warranted a PhD thesis, she said. In January 2004, she became the first U of S sociology student accelerated to a PhD program, making both the researcher and her research ground-breaking.
Youth and the law is of particular interest to Farbacher, who studied sociology for three years before transferring to the College of Law where she earned a degree in 1994. While practising, she returned to university to complete her sociology degree. With four children aged three to eight years, Farbacher decided to give up her law practice (she still dabbles occasionally) to pursue a master’s degree in sociology with a focus on criminology.
One hurdle Farbacher expects to face in her research is young people “so consumed with other issues like drugs, alcohol or peer pressure that they might not recognize it (the effect of gambling) as an issue, and maybe it isn’t. For some, it’s probably never come up, but for others it has. I also want to question whether kids in different social structures experience the effects of gambling differently.”
There is also the possibility that young people have a very different view of gambling than adults. “I don’t think they define playing poker for pennies as gambling,” she said. Adults would, “but is it? My eight-year-old plays for pennies with his grandmother. Does that mean he’s going to gamble as an adult? Kids think it’s a cool thing to have a poker night, but maybe it’s a craze. We don’t know.”
Farbacher said her research may spark interest in this province to do further work like a large-scale longitudinal study that follows kids to see if the ones who are gambling at 16 are still gambling at 21. It might also identify the socio-economic group or groups most affected by gambling which, in turn, might suggest a re-examination of social policy. And maybe, she said, her work will point to the need to change the laws governing activities like online gambling.
“That’s the great thing about doing research. There are always issues that come out of research that need researching.”