It could be you – but it probably won’t be! What is acceptable in gambling advertising?

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of speculation over the role of advertising as a possible stimulus to increased gambling, and as a contributor to problem gambling (including underage gambling). It is not uncommon for casino advertising to use glamorous images and beautiful people to sell gambling, while other advertisements for lottery tickets and slot machines depict ordinary people winning loads of money or millions from a single coin in the slot. Content analyses of gambling adverts have reported that gambling is portrayed as a normal, enjoyable form of entertainment involving fun and excitement. Furthermore, they are often centred on friends and social events.

The likelihood of large financial gain is often central theme (“It could be you”) with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures. A number of authors claim that gambling advertising plays an important role in “normalizing” gambling, increasing participation and contributing to problem development. Some researchers (such as Peter Adams in New Zealand) also claim that gambling advertising targets high-risk populations (e.g., ethnic minorities).

So does advertising create unrealistic hopes of winning that may later trigger a gambling addiction? Very few people are naive enough to think that removing advertising will stop people gambling. Anyone who wants to find an avenue for gambling will do so – just as smokers continue to buy cigarettes. However, the argument has been put forward that by removing seductive gaming advertising, the vulnerable may be protected. Research has found that there is a large public awareness of gambling advertising, and that problem gamblers often mention advertising as a trigger to gambling.

I published a literature review a few years ago and noted that almost all of the published studies on gambling advertising concerned attitudes in some way. Furthermore, very little of these data provided any insight into the relationship between advertising and problem gambling. Although there is a lack of research in this area, there are precedents that advertisements for the promotion of gambling should perhaps be placed in the same category as alcohol and tobacco promotions because of the potentially addictive nature of gambling and the potential for being a major health problem. Many lobby groups claim it is time to ban gambling advertising with the same vigour as tobacco advertising although there is no evidence that this would work (particularly if the research on alcohol advertising is examined).

An example of good practice is that of Loto-Quebec. They did a thorough review of its advertising code. A brief overview of their measures undertaken are listed below:

  • Their current policy disallows any advertising that is overly aggressive, rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, as well as the placement of advertisements within media programs viewed mainly by minors.
  • The odds of winning are highlighted. This is being done in response to the suggestions expressed so frequently by various groups interested in knowing their chances of winning.
  • Television commercials for new products will devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • There will no longer be the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, an instant lottery used a specific Chinese custom to stimulate interest. However, the Chinese community did not agree with making references to its customs in order to promote the game. Out of respect for this community, the game was immediately suspended.

It perhaps goes without saying but there has to be a strong commitment to socially responsible behavior that applies across all product sectors, including sensitive areas like gambling. As various Advertising Associations have advocated, socially responsible advertising should form one of the elements of protection afforded to ordinary customers and be reflected in the codes of practice. Children and problem gamblers deserve additional shielding from exposure to gambling products and premises, and their advertising. The codes that regulate it should include special provisions on the protection of such groups. I would also advocate the following guidelines:

  • Avoid promoting gambling in non-gambling areas – Players should not be encouraged to gamble whilst they are enjoying other non-gambling services such as restaurants or bars. Non-gambling areas should provide the opportunity for an emotional cool down whereby customers have the opportunity to reflect upon their gambling behavior, and consider whether or not to continue playing.
  • Focus on entertainment rather than gaming – A focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money is recommended. When individuals primarily gamble to win money, and that is their only objective, that is when problems can start. That is when a proportion of vulnerable people can get into difficulty.
  • Advertising and promotion – Quite clearly it is appropriate that gaming industry needs to advertise and promote its facilities. In addition to conforming to each country’s own advertising codes of practice, the most important recommendation would be that advertisements and promotions should not appeal to vulnerable individuals (such as minors, those with severe learning difficulties, problem gamblers, etc.) or be ‘aggressive’ and/or use popular celebrities. Furthermore, broadcast media advertising should be aimed at a adult audience and appear after the 9pm ‘watershed’. Adverts should feature the odds of winning. Ideally, there should also be some ‘counterbalanced’ adverts talking about problem gambling and its prevention.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Adams, P. (2004). Minimising the impact of gambling in the subtle degradation of democratic systems, Journal of Gambling Issues, 11. Available at:

Binde, P. (2007). Selling dreams – causing nightmares? On gambling advertising and problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 167-191.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005).  Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Korn, D, Hurson, T. & Reynolds, J. (2004). Commercial Gambling Advertising: Possible Impact on Youth Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behavioural Intentions. Report submitted to the Ontario Gambling Research Centre.




About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 13, 2011, in Advertising, Gambling, Marketing, Problem gamblng, Social responsibility and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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