Date of Award

8-1-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Rehabilitation

First Advisor

Dixon, Mark

Abstract

The proliferation of gambling has exposed millions of Americans to contrived games in which casinos or other vendors hold a statistical and financial edge over a player. For most, these games represent a recreational pastime where finances are expended in exchange for entertainment experience. In games of skill, choices made by the gambler influence game probabilities, where poor choices reduce the odds of winning, thereby inflating the cost of this entertainment. Due to the overwhelming popularity of these games, interventions designed to promote optimal choice and improve strategy are socially valid. The current set of experiments were designed to analyze choice behavior in the context of blackjack and the outcomes related to various choices and strategy. Experiment I examined recreational blackjack player’s choices and the associated odds produced by these choices. The results found that recreational players made significant deviations from optimal strategies and that these choices produced financial losses that were far greater than those commonly advertised by the gaming industry. Experiment II investigated the relationship between self-reported strategy and authentic casino outcomes. The results found that authentic casino outcomes varied widely; those using poor strategy may contact small wins or substantial losses over short periods of play. Experiment III examined the efficacy of a behavior skills training procedure designed to promote optimal choices in blackjack and notably, to teach a specific skill in blackjack (sometimes referred to as card counting). The results indicate these skills could be taught using behavioral procedures and generalized to a naturalistic setting. Following training, three participants won money in a casino setting, likely improving the entertainment value and reducing the financial costs of the game. Overall the results suggest recreational players make significant errors and would likely benefit from training procedures designed to educate and promote optimal choice.

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