“I was that close”: Investigating players’ reactions to losses, wins, and near-misses on scratch cards

Abstract

While scratch cards are a popular, accessible, and inexpensive form of gambling, very little is known about how they affect and influence the player. This study sought to understand the physiological and subjective experience of scratch card play, with special emphasis on the effect of near-miss outcomes (i.e. uncovering two out of three “grand prize” symbols needed to win said prize), which are remarkably prevalent in scratch card games. Thirty-eight undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo each played two custom scratch card games and experienced three types of outcomes (losses, wins and near-misses) while their skin conductance levels (SCLs) and post-reinforcement pauses were recorded. Each participant also rated each outcome in terms of its subjective level of arousal, valence, and frustration. Our results indicate that players interpreted near-misses as negatively valenced, highly arousing, frustrating losses, and were faster to move onto the next game following this type of outcome than following winning outcomes. Additionally, near-miss outcomes were associated with the largest amount of change in SCLs as the outcome was revealed. This work has implications for the problem gambling literature as it provides evidence of the frustration hypothesis of near-misses in scratch cards, and is the first study to examine the physiological and psychological experiences of scratch card players.

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