Dr. Carrie A Leonard has studied gambling problems since 2012, blending her expertise in both Psychology and Health Science. In 2018, she began working with the Alberta Gambling Research Institute (AGRI) as the project manager for the AGRI National Project (ANP), whose goal is to provide a comprehensive study into gambling and issues arising with problem gambling. As the COVID-19 pandemic spurred physical distancing measures, Leonard and the ANP team were presented with a unique opportunity to study how gamblers respond when they’re required to stay away from gambling establishments.
The pandemic, and the cautionary measures enacted by the Canadian government, introduced the conditions for a natural experiment on gambling during a forced abstinence. As the pandemic developed, Leonard and the ANP team noticed media outlets reporting dramatic increases in online gambling. These reports claimed that with the shutdown of non-essential businesses, including casinos and other commercial gambling establishments, gamblers were turning to online gambling in droves. As Leonard looked deeper, it was clear these reports were working with little to no concrete data. Leonard realised she and the ANP team had an opportunity to further their current research, and she proposed a supplemental study be added to their current research project. AGRI agreed, and Leonard, along with her Co - Principle Investigator (co-PI) Dr. David Hodgins (University of Calgary, Dept. of Psychology), were awarded $77, 025 for the ANP COVID-19 Project funding for a supplemental study on the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on gamblers and their habits.
Examining the prevalence of problems, the extent of gambling specific harms, and the profiles of problem susceptible individuals, can contribute to informed public health policy and problem treatment and prevention initiatives
In order to create as comprehensive of data as possible, Leonard and Hodgins’ need a strong baseline to which they can compare their own findings. Thankfully, the ANP boasts the largest participant pool of problem gamblers on record. From 2018 to 2020, the ANP collected data from over 8,500 gamblers and 1,400 problem and pathological gamblers. Using this data, the ANP seeks to establish gambling prevalence rates, and to provide a detailed picture of who gambles, what they gamble on, and the profile of gamblers susceptible to harms, as well as the types of gambling that are associated with greater gambling-related harms. This data set is invaluable to the COVID 19 supplemental study. They will be able to compare the data of their 3,445 supplemental study participants with an objective pre-COVID baseline, which will provide their results veracity.
Leonard states that her team’s findings will be invaluable for health and government officials: “A significant majority of Canadians gamble on occasion, but a significant minority of these individuals develop problems. Examining the prevalence of problems, the extent of gambling specific harms, and the profiles of problem susceptible individuals, can contribute to informed public health policy and problem treatment and prevention initiatives.”
Leonard is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Lethbridge’s Psychology department, under the supervision of Dr. Robert Williams.