Researchers can study problem gambling in lab



frank gunn/cP


Slot machines are put to the test in the problem gambling lab in Guelph, Ont. The lab is supported by the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre.

The “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” edict may have kept University of Guelph researchers from observing gamblers in their natural casino habitat, so they went for the next best thing — they constructed a virtual Vegas.

A panoramic virtual-reality viewer offers the sounds and sights of an amalgam of some 17 Sin City casinos. Researchers hope the life-size, 360-degree image projected inside a giant sphere — one that leaves enough standing room in the centre for a study subject or two — will help them better understand what sends certain gamblers into a trance-like state.

Encouraging policy-makers to design casinos that encourage responsible gam­b­­ling is the ultimate goal, said Karen Finlay, a professor of marketing and consumer studies. “We started out by looking at the environment of the casino and identifying elements of the design that induce certain emotions which could impact the way someone gambles,” she said.

Until the university unveiled the viewer, that research was limited to slot machines and images on a two-dimensional screen. “Obtaining the panascope allows us to immerse people in that setting and get a little bit closer to the reality of actually being in a casino,” Finlay said. “(It’s) a positive thing for us because we can then say, with a greater certainty, that we’re actually tapping into the way people would act and feel in a casino setting.”

The experience of standing inside the casino simulator, seeing nothing but slots and gaming tables in every direction, is interrupted occasionally with an image of an idyllic lake and mountain setting to demonstrate how fully immersed one becomes in a casino setting.

Constructing a casino simulator was necessary because “casino operators don’t typically allow researchers inside their facilities to conduct research,” she added.

To obtain the necessary video footage to feed the 360-degree viewer, Rob Currie, co-owner of C To C Productions, placed himself in a wheelchair fitted with a disguised camera as he toured through Las Vegas’ multitude of casinos.