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Selling hope: A brief look at the advertising of online sports betting

(Please note that this article was co-written with Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez).

Marketing strategies are essential in a market environment such as online sports betting wherein product differentiation is minimal and price inelasticity robust. Business insiders widely accept that product innovation is instantly replicated across competitors, which are permanently seeking to generate, so far unfruitfully, a disruptive competitive edge. In a context where the number of licensed bookmakers is constantly growing, advertising plays a big part in luring customers who cannot tell the difference between companies. Advertising and marketing spend on sports betting has increased exponentially over the last five years in Europe and that is mirrored on the exposure to betting commercial messages of sports fans.

For instance, a 2014 report published by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation estimated that viewers of the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League – the two most followed sport codes in Australia – are exposed to 10 to 15 minutes of gambling advertisements per game. Similarly, Dr. Sophie Lindsay and colleagues in a 2013 issue of BMC Public Health looked further into the environmental impact of gambling advertising in sport events. They calculated that in three rugby league matches the public had been exposed to ‘322 episodes’ of betting marketing – for example, considering an episode every time an electronic banner advertised a gambling site – which is somewhat paradoxical given in-play betting is illegal in Australia (as of mid-2016).

Online_Sports_Betting_Australia

One of the marketing tricks is the use of the psychological bias known as the ‘representativeness heuristic’ (coined by Dr. Amos Tversky and Dr. Daniel Kahneman). Imagine the following two betting propositions concerning a soccer game: (a) FC Barcelona will lose the next match against the bottom team in the league (an extremely unlikely event, say 0.01 probability); (b) FC Barcelona will lose the next match against the bottom team in the league but (i.e. AND) Leo Messi will score at least one goal (this one an extremely likely event, for the sake of the argument, 0.99 probability). Mathematically speaking, proposition B can never be a better choice than proposition A, since P(A)=0.01 as opposed to P(B)=0.01×0.99= 0.0099. However, bookmakers understand that Messi scoring a goal is a highly representative event that can be effortlessly be retrieved from memory, transferring the representativeness to the whole betting proposition. In addition, it is plausible that representative heuristics work in conjunction with wishful thinking, overestimating the likelihood of an event based on one’s own preferences, as anecdotal evidence from betting advertisements concerning national teams participating in international competitions appear to suggest.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, I and my colleagues (Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez and Dr. Ana Estevez) discussed two of most utilized master narratives in online betting promotions are discussed, namely skill-enhancing narratives – in which there is an overemphasis on the capacities and knowledge of the bettor – and, at the other end of the spectrum, risk-lowering narratives – which underemphasise the risks involved in betting and typically overestimate the probability of winning.

Skill-enhancing narratives: In a 2016 issue of iGaming Business magazine, Vahe Baloulian, CEO of the betting software company BetConstruct, declared that new features were there to give customers ‘a chance to feel more in control by engaging more often and making decisions’ with ‘feel’ and ‘control’ being the keywords here. The ‘feel’ component refers to a perceived non-factual sensation that lies at the heart of the advertising endeavour. The perception of control over the betting activity has been found to be a common attribute of gambling narratives in Swedish research by Dr. Per Binde, in which elements of skill have been exaggerated, as well as in televised commercials from Canada (in a 2008 paper by John McMullan and Delthia Miller in the Journal of Gambling Issues), wherein betting has been associated with the imagery of media sport communication, skills, and long-meditated strategies, while luck was downplayed.

Many betting features newly added to online platforms are said by commercials to enhance the control of the user over the outcome of the event bet upon, including more gamified experiences (where passive bettors supposedly become players), immersive betting experiences, and fantasy sports (where the player actively recruits a team). In these examples, the betting experience demands a higher involvement from the bettor, arguably resulting in a psychological transference between the active role of a bettor executing actions and the actual influence a bettor’s actions may have on the outcome of an external event. In essence, betting advertising contributes to the myth of gambling as a sport, an activity that is healthy, harmless, and that can be mastered with practice and talent.

Among the most used selling points that enhance the self-efficacy and control of the sports bettor are the narratives of masculinity. Attributes such as loyalty to the team, being a real man, and being brave enough to prove sporting knowledge have been implicit in some sports betting messages, including stereotyped gender depictions and sexualized imagery. According to recent research by Dr. Nerilee Hing and colleagues (in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction), the prototype sports bettor is male, young, tech-savvy, and professional, which aligns with the target audience of betting advertising. This reinforces the idea of male providers that sublimates in gambling their manly instincts for aggression, competition, and combat, as was observed in the behaviour of horserace bettors as identified in early studies.

Risk-lowering advertising: In parallel to the skill-enhancing strategies, advertising diminishes the harmful consequences of excessive betting by representing it as a risk-free activity. The combined narrative would be that of a safe environment where intelligent people possess the tools to succeed. In an attempt to lower the perceived risk inherently embedded in any betting activity, three major messages have been emphasized by advertisers: (i) betting is a perfectly normal activity; (ii) errors in betting predictions are not fatal; and (iii) betting is a social activity.

Advertising has been frequently proposed as a significant mechanism of gambling normalisation including new social media channels (see Dr. Sally Gainsbury and colleagues 2016 research in the Journal of Gambling Studies). The portrayal of gambling attitudes and behaviours in media representations as well as in real life environments promotes the idea of gambling as an intrinsic form of entertainment. This is true for all forms of gambling but sports betting presents some singular intensifiers. Unlike any other gambling form, sport instils in betting its health and sanitization attributes. Attributes such as fair competition, success through talent and perseverance, equal opportunities and big rewards, respect for nature, green and healthy habits are transmitted to betting behaviour. Celebrities deepen that connection as they have been proven to reduce the perceived risk by the public of the products they endorse. Sportspeople tell the story of young, talented risk-takers who challenged the odds but emerged successful in the end, arguably a perfect incarnation of the bettor’s own aspirational narrative.

Another marketing technique broadly employed by betting operators concerns the provision of risk-free bets. Advertisements typically offer welcome bonuses for new customers, free bonuses for loyal clientele, and money-back exceptions in multiple complex accumulated bets. All of these free offers pose a dual threat. On the one hand, the so-called free money requires bettors to engage in further betting in order to reclaim their benefits (leading to money losses in the process). On the other hand, even if it is a bona fide free bonus, problem gamblers might conceptualise betting as a riskless activity that entails no responsibilities even when done excessively.

A third main risk-lowering technique used in commercials is the representation of betting as a social form of entertainment to be conducted alongside other people. Solitary gambling, like solitary drinking, has been thought to be a determinant and/or consequence of problem gambling. However, some studies have raised the alarm about the misconception that gambling, when done in group, cannot be problematic (see the recent work of Emily Deans and her colleagues in ‘Further reading’ below). In fact, peer facilitation has been identified as a fundamental contributing factor to impulse betting, with excessive betting being more plausible when sport matches are viewed in the company of others (as shown by Mattew Lamont and colleagues in a 2016 qualitative study in Sport Management Review). Sport is a cultural product, socially consumed (watched, practiced, discussed, and bet upon). The social stigma attached to gambling habits might be shifting towards its naturalisation, a long-term process that advertising cannot carry out on its own but can certainly facilitate.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Binde, P. (2009). ‘You could become a millionaire’: Truth, deception, and imagination in gambling advertising. In: Kingma S (ed.), Global Gambling: Cultural Perspectives on Gambling Organizations, (pp. 171-194). London: Routledge.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Derevensky, J. & Daube, M. (2017) The influence of marketing on the sports betting attitudes and consumption behaviours of young men: implications for harm reduction and prevention strategies. Harm Reduction Journal, 14(5). doi:10.1186/s12954-017-0131-8.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Daube, M., Derevensky, J., et al. (2016) Creating symbolic cultures of consumption: an analysis of the content of sports wagering advertisements in Australia. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 208.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Daube, M. & Derevensky J (2016) The role of peer influences on the normalisation of sports wagering: a qualitative study of Australian men. Addiction Research & Theory. doi: 10.1080/16066359.2016.1205042.

Gainsbury, S.M., Delfabbro, P., King, D.L., et al. (2016) An exploratory study of gambling operators’ use of social media and the latent messages conveyed. Journal of Gambling Studies, 32, 125–141.

Gordon, R. & Chapman, M. (2014). Brand community and sports betting in Australia. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Guerrero-Solé, F., Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Online gambling advertising and the Third-Person Effect: A pilot study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 7(2), 15-30.

Hing, N. (2014). Sports betting and advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre.

Hing, N., Lamont, M., Vitartas, P., et al. (2015). Sports-embedded gambling promotions: A study of exposure, sports betting intention and problem gambling amongst adults. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 13(1), 115–135.

Lamont, M., Hing, N. & Vitartas, P. (2016). Affective response to gambling promotions during televised sport: A qualitative analysis. Sport Management Review, 19(3), 319-331.

Lindsay, S., Thomas, S., Lewis, S., et al. (2013) Eat, drink and gamble: marketing messages about ‘risky’ products in an Australian major sporting series. BMC Public Health 13(1), 719.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estevez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41, 256-272.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. Estevez, A., Jimenez-Murcia, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Alcohol drinking and low nutritional value food eating behaviour of sports bettors in gambling adverts. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 20, 495-503.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). ‘Cashing out’ in sports betting: Implications for problem gambling and regulation. Gaming Law Review and Economics, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H.. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

McMullan, J.L. & Miller, D. (2008). All in! The commercial advertising of offshore gambling on television. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 230-251.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1983) Extensional versus intuitive reasoning: The conjunction fallacy in probability judgment. Psychological Review, 90(4), 293–315.

Market forces: Does gambling advertising increase problem gambling?

Anyone who watched the Euro 2016 football tournament on ITV a couple of months ago will have noticed the many offers to gamble on the matches. You were encouraged to download the bookies’ mobile apps, or asked to bet-in-play and gamble responsibly. But how do we respond to gambling ads? Do they actually draw us in? Arguably the most noticeable change in the British gambling landscape since the Gambling Act came into force in September 2007 has been the large increase in gambling advertising on television. Prior to this, the only gambling ads allowed on TV were those for National Lottery products, bingo, and the football pools.

In 2013, Ofcom published their research examining the volume, scheduling, frequency and exposure of gambling advertising on British television. The findings showed that there had been a 600% increase in UK gambling advertising between 2006 and 2012 – more specifically, there were 1.39m adverts on television in 2012 compared to 152,000 in 2006. The report also showed that gambling adverts accounted for 4.1% of all advertising seen by viewers in 2012, up from 0.5% in 2006 and 1.7% in 2008.

So is the large increase having any effect on gambling and problem gambling? In 2007, prior to there being widespread gambling ads on TV, the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) of over 9,000 people (aged 16 years and over) reported that 0.6% of them were problem gamblers. In the 2010 BGPS, the problem gambling prevalence rate had increased by half to 0.9%. Some of this increase may, arguably, have been due to increased gambling advertising. However, the latest British survey research shows that the prevalence of problem gambling is back down (to 0.5%), so perhaps increased gambling advertising hasn’t resulted in an increase of problem gambling.

Surprisingly, there is relatively little scientific evidence that advertising directly influences gambling participation and problem gambling. This is partly because demonstrating empirically that the negative effects of gambling are solely attributable to advertising is hard. For instance, a study of 1,500 people in New Zealand by Ben Amey, a governmental social science researcher at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reported an association between participation in gambling activities and recall of gambling advertising. The study fund that over 12 months, 83% of people who had gambled between zero and three times remembered seeing gambling ads during that time. For people that had gambled four or more times, the figure was at 93%.

Last year, research colleagues from the University of Bergen in Norway and I published one of the largest studies carried out on gambling advertising. It involved more than 6,000 people and examined three specific dimensions of gambling advertising impacts: gambling-related attitudes, interest, and behavior (“involvement”); knowledge about gambling options and providers (“knowledge”); and the degree to which people are aware of gambling advertising (“awareness”). Overall, we found that impacts were strongest for the “knowledge” dimension. We also found that for all three dimensions, the impact increased with the level of advertising exposure.

We then compared the responses from problem gamblers against those of recreational (non-problem) gamblers. We found that problem gamblers were more likely than recreational gamblers to agree that gambling advertising increased their gambling involvement and knowledge, and that they were more aware of gambling advertising. In simple terms, our study showed that gambling advertising has a greater impact on problem gamblers than recreational gamblers. This indirectly supports previous research showing that problem gamblers often mention that gambling advertising acts as a trigger to their gambling.

We also found that younger gamblers were more likely than older ones to agree that advertising increased their gambling involvement and knowledge. This supports previous research showing that problem gambling is associated with stronger perceived advertising impacts among adolescents. One of the more worrying statistics reported in the Ofcom study was that children under 16 years of age were each exposed to an average of 211 gambling adverts a year (adults saw an average of 630). I am a firm believer that gambling is an adult activity and that gambling adverts should be shown only after the 9pm watershed. Unfortunately, all televised sporting events such as Euro 2016 can feature gambling ads at any time of the day, and that means that tens of thousands of schoolchildren have been bombarded with gambling ads over the last month.

Most of us who work in the field of responsible gambling agree that advertising “normalises” gambling and that all relevant governmental gambling regulatory agencies should prohibit aggressive advertising strategies, especially those that target impoverished individuals or youths. Most of the research data on gambling advertising uses self-report data (surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.) and very little of these data provide an insight into the relationship between advertising and problem gambling. A review by the British lawyer Simon Planzer and Heather Wardle (the lead author of the last two BGPS surveys) concluded that gambling advertising is an environmental factor that has the power to shape attitudes and behaviours relating to gambling – but just how powerful it is remains unclear.

Overall, the small body of research on the relationship between gambling advertising and problem gambling has few definitive conclusions. If gambling advertising does have an effect, it appears to impact specific groups (such as problem gamblers and adolescents) but most of this research uses self-reported data that has been shown to be unreliable among gamblers.

At best, the scientific research only hints at the potential dangers of gambling ads. But in order to challenge the increasing normalisation of gambling among these most-at-risk groups, we need more robust evidence. Only then will we be able to understand the psychosocial impact of the kind of blanket advertising seen by children and adults during major sporting events such as Euro 2016.

(N.B. A version of this article was first published in The Conversation)

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Children and gambling: The effect of television coverage and advertising. Media Education Journal, 22, 25-27.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Media and advertising influences on adolescent risk behaviour. Education and Health, 28(1), 2-5.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility in marketing for online gaming affiliates. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, p.32.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, in press.

Reid, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Lotteries, television advertising, and televised lottery draws, Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 15, 8-9.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Against all odds: The rise and rise of gambling

In many areas of the world, gambling has become a popular activity. Almost all national surveys into gambling have concluded that most people have gambled at some point in their lives, there are more gamblers than non-gamblers, but that most participants gamble infrequently. Commissions and official government reviews in a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have all concluded that increased gambling availability has led to an increase in problem gambling. Estimates of the number of problem gamblers vary from country to country but most countries that have carried out national prevalence surveys suggest around 0.5%-2% of individuals have a gambling problem.

In May 2013, the new criteria for problem gambling (now called ‘Gambling Disorder’) were published in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and for the very first time, problem gambling was included in the section ‘Substance-related and Addiction Disorders’ (rather than in the section on impulse control disorders). Also included in the Appendix of the DSM-5 as a potential addiction was Internet Gaming Disorder (i.e., online video game addiction). Although most of us in the field had been conceptualizing problematic gambling and video gaming as addictions for many years, this was arguably the first time that an established medical body had described them as such. For me, gambling and gaming addictions should not be considered any differently from other more traditional chemical addictions (e.g., alcohol addiction, nicotine addiction). Consequently, there is no theoretical reason why other problematic and excessive activities that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance cannot be deemed as legitimate behavioural addictions in the years to come (e.g., shopping addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, exercise addiction, etc.).

Gambling is a multifaceted rather than unitary phenomenon. Consequently, many factors are involved in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. Such factors include an individual’s biological and genetic predisposition, their social environment, psychological variables (personality characteristics, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), macro-situational characteristics (how much gambling is marketed and advertised, the number of gambling venues within a jurisdiction, where the gambling venue is located), micro-situational characteristics of the gambling environment (on-site cash machine, provision of free alcohol, floor layout etc.), and the structural characteristics of the gambling activity itself (jackpot size, stake size, the number of times a individual can gamble in a given time frame, etc.). Most research has tended to concentrate on individual characteristics (personality, genetics, family and peer influence) rather than situational and structural characteristics.

The introduction of national lotteries, the proliferation of slot machines, the expansion of casinos, and the introduction of new media in which to gamble (e.g., Internet gambling, mobile phone gambling, interactive television gambling, gambling via social networking sites), has greatly increased the accessibility and popularity of gambling worldwide, and as a result, the number of people seeking assistance for gambling-related problems. In addition, the rise of remote gambling via the internet and mobile phones has arguably changed the psychosocial nature of gambling. I have also published a number of studies showing that to vulnerable and susceptible individuals (e.g., problem gamblers, minors, the intoxicated, etc.), the medium of the internet may facilitate and fuel problematic and addictive behaviours.

There are many known factors that make online activity potentially problematic to a minority of individuals. This includes factors such as easy accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, and disinhibition. Some of these factors can change the psychological experience of gambling. For instance, gambling with virtual representations of money online lower the psychological value of the money and people tend to spend more with virtual representations of money than if they were gambling with physical money. Also, when people lose money online it is a different psychological experience because no-one can see anyone losing face-to-face. As a result, there is less guilt and embarrassment about losing and vulnerable individuals may be tempted to spend more time and money than they had originally intended.

One very salient trend that has implications for gambling (and arguably problem gambling) is that technology hardware is becoming increasingly convergent (e.g., internet access via smartphones and interactive television) and there is increasing multi-media integration such as gambling and video gaming via social networking sites. As a consequence, people of all ages are spending more time interacting with technology in the form of internet use, playing videogames, watching interactive television, mobile phone use, social networking, etc. In addition to convergent hardware, there is also convergent content. This includes some forms of gambling including video game elements, video games including gambling elements, online penny auctions that have gambling elements, and television programming with gambling-like elements.

One of the key drivers behind the increased numbers of people gambling online and using social networking sites is the rise of mobile gambling and gaming. Compared to internet gambling, mobile gambling is still a relatively untapped area but the functional capabilities of mobile phones and other mobile devices are improving all the time. There are now hundreds of gambling companies that provide casino-style games to be downloaded onto the gambler’s smartphone or mobile device (e.g., tablet or laptop). This will have implications for the psychosocial impact of gambling and will need monitoring. Like online gambling, mobile gaming has the capacity to completely change the way people think about gambling and betting. Mobile phones provide the convenience of making bets or gambling from wherever the person is, even if they are on the move.

One of the most noticeable changes in gambling over the last few years – and inextricably linked to the rise of mobile gaming – has been the large increase of in-play sports betting. Gamblers can now typically bet on over 60 ‘in-play’ markets while watching a sports event (such as a soccer match). For instance, during a soccer game, gamblers can bet on who is going to score the first goal, what the score will be after 30 minutes of play, how many yellow cards will be given during them game and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded. Live betting is going to become a critical activity in the success of the future online and mobile gambling markets.

The most salient implication of ‘in-play’ sports betting is that it has taken what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where an individual makes one bet every Saturday on the result of the game – to one where an individual can gamble again and again and again. Gaming operators have quickly capitalized on the increasing amount of televised sport. In contemporary society, where there is a live sporting event, there will always be a betting consumer. ‘In-play’ betting companies have both catered for the natural betting demand but introduced new gamblers in the process. If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is completely impossible to develop problems and/or become addicted. ‘In-play’ has changed that because there are soccer matches on almost every day of the week making a daily two-hour plus period of betting seven days a week.

New technologies in the form of behavioural tracking have helped online gambling companies keep track of players by noting (among many other things) what games they are playing, the time spent playing, the denomination of the gambles made, and their wins and losses. Although such technologies can potentially be used to exploit gamblers (e.g., targeting the heaviest spenders with direct marketing promotions to gamble even more), such technologies can also be used to help gamblers that may have difficulties stopping and/or limiting their gambling behaviour. Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed. These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour. A number of European jurisdictions (such as Germany and The Netherlands) are now considering whether such tools should be mandatory for gaming operators to use especially as such tools are already being used in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Austria.

Although gamblers are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour, gambling can be minimised via both governmental policy initiatives (age restrictions, marketing and advertising restrictions, no gaming licenses unless operators display the highest standards of social responsibility to their clientele, etc.) and gaming operator initiatives (self-exclusion programs, information about games so gamblers can make informed choices, limit-setting tools that allow gamblers to set time and money loss limits, staff training on responsible gambling, referral to gambling treatment providers, etc.). Problem gambling can never be totally eliminated but harm minimisation practices can be put in place to keep the problem to a minimum. Treatment for gambling addiction should be free and paid for by gambling industry profits (either in the form of voluntary donations to a charitable trust or – if that doesn’t work – a statutory levy). In short, any jurisdiction that has legalised and liberalised gambling has a duty of care to put a national social responsibility infrastructure in place to prevent, minimise, and treat problem gambling as they would with any other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviour (e.g., drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, etc.)

Please note: A version of this article first appeared in Science and Technology (Pan European Networks) magazine (Volume 15, pages 153-155).

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Mind games (A brief psychosocial overview of in-play betting). i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, 44.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2014). The technological convergence of gambling and gaming practices. In Richard, D.C.S., Blaszczynski, A. & Nower, L. (Eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Disordered Gambling (pp. 327-346). Chichester: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The assessment of internet gaming disorder in clinical research. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 31(2-4), 35-48.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Sell division: Responsible marketing and advertising by the gambling industry

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). Various lobby groups (e.g., anti-gambling coalitions, religious groups, etc.) claim advertising has played a role in the widespread cultural acceptance of gambling. These groups also claim casino advertising tends 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.

Around the world, various lobby groups claim that advertisements used by the gambling industry often border on misrepresentations and distortion. There are further claims that adverts are seductive, appealing to people’s greed and desperation for money. Real examples include: ‘Winning is easy’, ‘Win a truckload of cash’, ‘Win a million, the fewer numbers you choose, the easier it is to win’, ‘It’s easy to win’ and ‘$600,000 giveaway simply by inserting card into the poker machine’. Lobby groups further claim that in amongst the thousands of words and images of encouragement, there is rarely anything about the odds of winning – let alone the odds of losing. It has also been claimed that many gambling adverts feature get-rich-quick slogans that sometimes denigrate the values of hard work, initiative, responsibility, perseverance, optimism, investing for the future, and even education.

Those promoting gambling products typically respond in a number of ways. The most popular arguments used to defend such marketing and advertising is that: (i) the gaming industry is in the business of selling fantasies and dreams, (ii) consumers knows the claims are excessive, (iii) big claims are made to catch people’s attention, (iv) people don’t really believe these advertisements, and (v) business advertising is not there to emphasise ‘negative’ aspects of products.   While some of these industry responses have some merit, a much fairer balance is needed.

Statements such as ‘winning is easy’ are most likely (in a legal sense) be considered to be ‘puffery’. Puffery involves making exaggerated statements of opinion (not fact) to attract attention. Various jurisdictions deem it is not misleading or deceptive to engage in puffery. Whether a statement is puffery will depend on the circumstances. A claim is less likely to be puffery if its accuracy can be assessed. The use of a claim such as ‘winning is easy’ is likely to be considered puffery because it is subjective and cannot be assessed for accuracy. However, a statement like ‘five chances to win a million’ may not be puffery as it likely to be measurable.

Most of us who work in the field of responsible gambling agree that all relevant governmental gambling regulatory agencies should ban aggressive advertising strategies, especially those that target people in impoverished individuals or youth. It is also worth pointing out that there are many examples of good practice. Responsible marketing and advertising needs to think about the content and tone of gambling advertising, including the use of minors in ads, and the inclusion of game information. There has to be a strong commitment to socially responsible behaviour that applies across all product sectors, including sensitive areas like gambling. 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. Many codes that regulate gambling marketing and advertising across the world now typically include special provisions on the protection of such groups.

Gambling advertising also plays an important role in ‘normalizing’ gambling. 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, with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures (one gaming company’s advertising even had the strapline “Bet to forget”). 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.

An example of good practice is that of Canadian gaming operator Loto-Quebec. They did a thorough review of its advertising code and some of the key aspects in terms of responsible marketing and advertising of gambling included:

  • A marketing policy that (i) prohibits any advertising that is overly aggressive, (ii) rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and (iii) prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, and (iv) prohibits 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 devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • A policy that prohibits the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, one of their instant lotteries used a Chinese theme 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.

As various national and international advertising regulation bodies 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. Personally, I believe that gambling advertising should focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money. Gambling problems often occur when an individual’s primary reason to gamble is to win money.

Many countries have strict codes for gambling advertisements, and good codes (like those in the UK) recommend that gambling advertisements must not: (i) exploit cultural beliefs or traditions about gambling or luck, (ii) condone or encourage criminal or anti-social behaviour, (iii) condone or feature gambling in a working environment (with the exception for licensed gambling premises), (iv) exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of under-18s or other vulnerable persons, (v) be likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture, and (vi) feature anyone who is, or seems to be, under 25 years old gambling or playing a significant role.

Quite clearly it is appropriate and necessary for the gaming industry to advertise, market, and promote its facilities and products. However, I believe that all advertising and marketing should be carried out in a socially responsible manner as it is good for long-term repeat business.

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: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue11/jgi_11_adams.html.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, in press.

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.

The highs of the prize: Are instant-win products a form of gambling?

A nine-year old boy walks into a shop and buys a packet of potato chips. An eight-year old girl walks into the same shop and buys a chocolate bar. Nothing particularly unusual except this particular packet of potato chips poses the question “Is there a spicy £100,000 inside?” in big letters on the front of the packet with the added rider “1000’s of real £5 notes to be won!” The bar of chocolate offers “£1 million in cash prizes – win instantly. Look inside to see if your a winner!!”. The boy opens up the bag of crisps but it contains nothing but crisps. He is very disappointed. The little girl opens up the chocolate bar and sees the all to familiar phrase “Sorry. You haven’t won this time but keep trying. Remember there’s £1 million in cash prizes to be won”. She too is very disappointed. Both of them decide to buy the product again to see if their luck will change. It doesn’t. This time a different chocolate bar says “Sorry this is not a winning bar. Better luck next time!” The most they are likely to win is another packet of crisps or some more chocolates.

This scenario describes a typical instant win product (whereby a consumer buys a particular product with the chance of instantly winning something else of financial value). This type of instant-win marketing has been around for some time and is not particularly new but it is the younger generation that is being targeted. In a different environment, it could be argued that these two children are “chasing” their losses in the same way a gambler chases theirs. All over the world, this type of marketing is becoming more prevalent with big multi-national companies also employing its use to increase sales (e.g., MacDonalds).

In gambling situations after losing money, gamblers often gamble again straight away or return another day in order to get even. This is commonly referred to as “chasing” losses. Chasing is symptomatic of problem gambling and is often characterized by unrealistic optimism on the gambler’s part. All bets are made in an effort to recoup their losses. The result is that instead of “cutting their losses” gamblers get deeper into debt pre-occupying themselves with gambling, determined that a big win will repay their loans and solve all their problems. Although not on this scale, the scenario outlined above appears to be a chasing-like experience akin to that found in gambling. To children, this type of behaviour appears to be a gambling-type experience and is similar to other gambling pre-cursors that I have highlighted in some of my papers such as the playing of marbles, card flipping, and sports card playing. For instance, in sports card playing, it is not uncommon for adolescents to keep buying packs of cards to get their favorite baseball or football star. Products like crisps and chocolate are popular and appeal not only to the young but to adults too. However, the fact that such promotions are often coupled with the appearance of teenage idols (e.g., famous pop groups or top soccer sporting heroes) suggests that it is younger people that are being aimed for.

Manufacturers of instant-win products claim that people buy their products because customers want them. They further claim that the appeal of a promotion is secondary to the appeal of the product. This may well be true with most people but instant-win promotions obviously increase sales otherwise so many companies would not resort to it in the first place. It would appear that most people have no problem on moral (or other) grounds with companies who use this type of promotion. However, there are those (such as those who work in the area of youth gambling) who wonder whether this type of promotion exploits the vulnerable in some way (i.e., children and adolescents). The question to ask is whether young children and adolescents are actually engaging in a form of gambling by buying these types of products.

Gambling is normally defined as the staking of money (or something of financial value) on the uncertain outcome of a future event. Technically, instant-win promotions are not a form of gambling. This is because (by law) manufacturers are required to state that “no purchase is necessary”. This whole practice it is little more than a lottery except that in very small letters at the bottom of the packet there is the added phrase “No purchase necessary – see back for details”. However, very few people would know this unless they bought the product in the first place, and secondly, the likelihood is that a vast majority will not do this anyway – particularly children and adolescents.

The small print usually reads “No purchase necessary. Should you wish to enter this promotion without purchasing a promotional pack, please send your name and address clearly printed on a plain piece of paper. If you are under 18, please ask a parent or guardian to sign your entry. An independently supervised draw will be made on your behalf, and should you be a winner, a prize will be sent to you within 28 days”. I have tried writing to companies to ascertain how many people utilize this route but (to date) I have been unsuccessful in gaining any further information. It is highly likely that very few people write to the companies concerned. There is a high likelihood that the companies in question have the empirical evidence but unfortunately it is not in the public domain. If it is assumed that the number of people who actually write to the companies for their names to be put into an independently supervised draw is very low, it can be argued that to all intents and purposes that people who buy such products are engaged in a form of gambling.

Since the introduction of the UK National Lottery and instant scratchcards in the mid-1990s, a “something-for-nothing” culture appears to have developed where people want to win big prizes on lots of different things. Children themselves are growing up in an environment where gambling is endemic. Having examined a variety of instant-win promotions, I am in little doubt that they should be viewed as gambling pre-cursors in that they are gambling-like experiences without being a form of gambling with which anyone can identify. It is unlikely that great numbers of children will develop a problem with this activity, but there is the potential concern that a small minority will. Research has consistently shown that the earlier that a child starts to gamble the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem.

Evidence that instant-win products are problematic to young children is mostly anecdotal. For instance, a number of years ago, I appeared on a UK daytime television programme with a mother and her two children (aged nine and ten years of age) who literally spent all their disposable income on instant-win promotions. These two children had spent hundreds of pounds of their pocket money in the hope of winning the elusive prizes offered but never won more than another bag of potato chips. The mother claimed they had “the gambling bug” and was “terrified they will have problems when they grow up”. She claimed she had done her utmost to stop them using their pocket money in this way but as soon as her back was turned they were off to the local corner shop to buy instant-win products. This wasn’t just restricted to products they enjoyed anyway. For instance, when they went to the supermarket to shop the children just fill up the shopping trolley with anything that has an instant-win promotion including tins of cat food – even though they didn’t have a cat!

Harsh critics of instant-win promotions might advocate a complete banning of these types of marketing endeavors. However, this is impractical if not somewhat over the top. What is more, there is no empirical evidence (to date) that there is a problem. However, this does not mean that such practices should not be monitored. Instant-win marketing appears to be on the increase and it may be that young children are particularly vulnerable to this type of promotion if anecdotal case study accounts are anything to go by.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London : Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Instant-win promotions: Part of the gambling environment? Education and Health, 15, 62-63.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Instant-win products and prize draws: Are these forms of gambling? Journal of Gambling Issues, 9. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2003.9.5

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2009). Adolescent gambling-like experiences: Are they a cause for concern? Education and Health, 27, 27-30.

Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The prevention and treatment of problem gambling in adolescence. In T.P. Gullotta & G. Adams (Eds). Handbook of Adolescent Behavioral Problems: Evidence-based Approaches to Prevention and Treatment (Second Edition) (pp. 539-558). New York: Kluwer.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Too free (or not too free)? A brief look at casino ‘comping’

I’m a great believer in the cliché that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Except of course of you are in Las Vegas and take advantage of the vast array of bonuses and complimentary offers (more commonly known as ‘comps’) that are on offer. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that the psychology behind ‘comping’ is to get the gambler to spend more money. Comping is a legitimate psychological marketing strategy used as an incentive to either get punters to gamble in the first place, or an incentive used to prolong gambling. Here in the UK, we are obviously not on the same level as Atlantic City or Las Vegas, but most gambling establishments offer an array of temptations to get you to gamble. These include cash prize draws, gift raffles, tokens or credit boosts (for instance, winning additional credit on selected slot machines instead of cash), and scratchcards (which can be redeemed inside the arcade or casino). These types of marketing ploy have two main effects. Firstly, they get people exposed to the gambling environment. Secondly, they get people exposed to gambling itself.

As I noted in a previous blog, the frequency of bonuses varies depending the gambling establishment but can occur hourly, daily, weekly, or seasonally. These are often used to entice the consumer in several retail environments, but what makes them especially psychologically appealing in a gambling environment are the obvious similarities to the characteristics of gambling events in general (such as risk, uncertainty, intermittent reinforcement, and non-monetary psychological rewards). Furthermore, the appeal is strengthened since gamblers feel they are getting something for nothing.

“Comps” can come in many guises. These include travel amenities such as free room, food, drink, shows, golf, limos, with which the casinos reward their “good players” – those that spend (i.e., lose!) a lot of money – and entice other potential gamblers onto their premises. The easiest comps to get are free parking and fun books (which often contain coupons for free drinks, snacks, and souvenirs). For these comps, you don’t even have to gamble. Punters simply have to walk into the casino to get them. The lowest level comp for gamblers is the ubiquitous free drink. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting a quarter in a slot machine or laying down a couple of grand at the poker table, casinos will serve complimentary drinks. However, just remember that drinking alcohol over prolonged periods will impair judgement and rationality. The outcome is usually more money spent by the gambler, which is what the casino wanted in the first place!

It should be no surprise that the value of comps increases with the value of bets. The standard equation used by casinos to determine comps is: size of average bet times number of hours played times the house advantage times the comp equivalency. In other words, say you play blackjack, making £10 bets for two hours. The casino multiplies 120 hands (60 an hour) by £10 and comes up with £1,200 worth of action. It then multiplies £1,200 by the 2% house advantage and comes up with £24. This is what the casino believes it will win from you on average in two hours of $10 blackjack. It then multiplies £24 by 40% (i.e., what it is willing to return in comps). This means the gambler is entitled to £9.60 in freebie amenities.

Comps returned to the big gamblers include high-roller suites, lavish gourmet dinners, unlimited room service, en-suite Jacuzzi, private lap pool, ringside seats at live shows or sporting events, private parties, limos, and Lear jets. Does this sound good to you? It’s yours. All you need to do is bet $25,000 a hand in Las Vegas eight hours a day over a long weekend, or have a $5 million credit line. More within your reach are the comps for $25-a-bet gamblers. This might include half-price hotel room, limited food and beverage, and line passes to the show. The $100-a-bet gamblers will usually get full room, food, and beverage, meaning their whole stay is free. Simple psychological economics – but it works.

To enter the comp game, you must “get rated” by the casino. The casino then records your time in, time out, average bet size, and other details. The data are entered into the computer and casino marketing determines what comps you’re entitled to. If you are a slots player, the casino will use smart cards to monitor and assess your gambling. By playing table games the gambler can exploit the system. In short, it’s possible to trick the casino into thinking that you’re a bigger gambler than you really are by utilizing what is known as “comp wizardry.” Casinos are especially vulnerable to comp system exploitation, because a player’s gambling must be observed by pit bosses. Simple tricks by the gambler include looking like a loser, slowing down the speed of play (such as playing one hand every minute and a half instead of every minute), and betting more when the pit bosses are watching and less when they aren’t. It’s the simplest psychology that can minimize your risk and maximize your reward in the comp game.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The psychology of gambling: Complimentary nuts. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, November (Issue 20), p. 66.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

Bonus bawl: Are online gambling promotions socially responsible?

Many online gaming sites use a wide variety of promotions as a way of attracting new clientele and/or as a way of generating repeat patronage. Such promotions include welcome bonuses, initial deposit bonuses, retention bonuses, re-activation of account bonuses, and VIP bonuses. Here are a few I have come across online:

  • Players receive a 10% cash bonus on an initial deposit of $20 or more (however, the bonus and deposit combined must have a 15 times rollover. A ‘rollover’ refers to the amount of times an online gambler must wager a certain amount during a promotion)
  • Players receive a 100% match-up bonus on deposits (up to $225) (however, the bonus and deposit combined must have a 12 times rollover)
  • Players receive $100 free on initial deposit (however, the bonus and deposit combined must have a 20 times rollover)
  • Players receive 100% deposit bonus of up to $200 (however, the bonus and deposit combined must have a 40 times rollover)
  • Players receive 100% first deposit bonus up to £50 in free chips and players must deposit a minimum of £10 (however, bonus must have a 15 times rollover)

The issue here is to what extent the use of promotional ‘hooks’ to generate new custom or maintain repeat patronage can be regarded as a socially responsible strategy. Previous writings about advertising and marketing from a social responsibility perspective have noted that it is entirely appropriate for the gaming industry to advertise and market their products as long as it conforms to the relevant codes of compliance, is fact-based, does not oversell winning, and is not aimed at (or feature) minors.

Dr. Jonathan Parke and I have noted that in gambling there is a fine line between customer enhancement and customer exploitation particularly when it comes to facilitating new clientele and repeat patronage. Given the political sensitivities around the liberalization of gambling, the perception of what others think about a particular practice are sometimes given more weight than what it actually means in practice. However, irrespective of whether something is introduced in a socially responsible way and/or introduced into an environment with an embedded socially responsible infrastructure, there is always the possibility of a ‘PR own goal’ that may do more financial damage in the long run to the online gaming operator.

Given there is little empirical research on the effect of bonuses on vulnerable and susceptible gamblers, the implications relating to social responsibility are, at best, speculative. There are some academic writings on the use of bonus promotions in offline gambling environments but these are based on observational anecdotes rather than empirical research. For instance, Dr. Parke and I noted that the frequency of bonuses in offline gambling environments varies (depending the establishment) but can occur hourly, daily, weekly, or seasonally. We reported that such bonuses are often used to entice the consumer in several retail environments. What make them especially appealing in a gambling environment are the obvious similarities of the structural characteristics of such bonuses and gambling events in general (e.g., risk, uncertainty, interval-ratio reinforcement etc.). Furthermore, the appeal is strengthened since gamblers feel they are “getting something for nothing”.

We also distinguished between two fundamentally different forms of bonus – the ‘general bonus’ and the ‘proportional bonus’. These different types of bonus may have different implications in terms of social responsibility. General bonuses are those offers that are provided irrespective of the type of player (e.g., an occasional gambler is as equally entitled to the bonus as a ‘heavy’ gambler). Proportional bonuses are those offers that depend on how long and/or frequently the player gambles with a particular gaming establishment. This means that ‘heavy’ gamblers would receive disproportionately more bonuses than an irregular player. Given that a significant proportion of the ‘heaviest’ gamblers (sometimes referred to as ‘VIP gamblers’) may be problem gamblers, it raises questions whether rewarding people the more they spend is the most socially responsible strategy.

In relation to the use of promotional bonuses, there are two basic issues that arise. The first one is whether bonuses should be offered by online gaming companies if they are perceived by some to be ideologically incompatible with being socially responsible. The second is whether some types of bonus are less socially responsible than others. In the absence of empirical evidence, it could be argued that general bonuses that target potential adult online gamblers irrespective of play frequency and/or type, are acceptable within online gaming environments that have a good social responsibility infrastructure. However, bonuses that reward the biggest spenders could be argued to be much less socially responsible. Although this model is well accepted in most commercial environments (i.e., loyalty reward schemes), gambling is a commercial activity that can result in problems for the heaviest gamblers.

Applying these views to promotional bonuses in online gaming environments would mean that some bonuses appear generally acceptable from a social responsibility perspective (e.g., a $10 tokens, 100% welcome bonuses, and possibly re-activation offers) whereas others may be considered less socially responsible and potentially exploitative (e.g., retention offers, VIP offers). It may be the case that other socially responsible measures implemented by an online gaming company (such as the use of a behavioural tracking tool like mentor and PlayScan) may help mitigate the potential exploitation of problem gamblers, however, empirical research is needed to confirm such speculation.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Good practice in the gaming industry: Some thoughts and recommendations. Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 7, 10-11.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). ‘Foot in the door’: Player enhancement or player exploitation? World Online Gambling Law Report, 7 (7), 15-16.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2002). The social impact of internet gambling. Social Science Computer Review, 20, 312-320.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Common markets: Has gambling advertising increased problem gambling in the UK?

Arguably the most noticeable change in the British gambling landscape since the 2005 Gambling Act came into force on September 1, 2007 is the large increase of gambling advertising on television. Prior to September 2007, the only gambling adverts allowed on television were those for National Lottery products, bingo, and the football pools. Back in January 2012, Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt told Parliament that there were almost 36 hours a week of gambling adverts on television. She called for a review of the situation by Ofcom (the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries). She asked Prime Minister David Cameron to “please protect consumers, children and the vulnerable from this kind of activity [especially] at a time when we are encouraging people to be moderate in their expectations and behaviour”. The PM acknowledged Munt’s plea and described the issue as “a question of responsibility by the companies concerned. Anyone who enjoys watching a football match will see quite aggressive advertisements on the television, and I think companies have to ask themselves whether they are behaving responsibly when they do that”.

The day-to-day responsibility for enforcing rules about advertising content (and its scheduling) rests with the Advertising Standards Authority. However, for radio and television, the 2005 Gambling Act requires Ofcom to set, review, and revise standards for gambling advertisements in these media. In short, Ofcom is the regulating watchdog for all communications and retains overall responsibility for the advertising rules that gaming operators have to adhere to. Earlier this year, Ofcom commissioned some research to examine the volume, scheduling, frequency and exposure of gambling advertising on British television.

In November 2013, Ofcom finally published their findings research and showed that there had been a 600% increase in gambling advertising in the UK in 2012 compared to 2006 (more specifically there were 1.39 million adverts on television in 2012 compared to 152,000 adverts in 2006). In 2005, the number of televised gambling adverts was 90,000 and rose to 234,000 by 2007, and 537,000 in 2008. The research findings were based on analysis of the Broadcasting Audience Research Board (BARB) viewing data by Zinc Research & Analytics that categorized gambling adverts into one of four types (i.e., online casino and poker services; sports betting; bingo; and lotteries and scratch cards).

The bingo sector had the largest proportion of adverts with bingo adverts accounting for 38.3% of all British gambling adverts (approximately 532,000). Online casino and poker adverts comprised 29.6% of all television gambling advertising (approximately 411,000) with lotteries and scratchcards in third place with 25.6% (approximately 355,000), and sports betting in fourth place with 6.6% (approximately 91,000). The report also reported that gambling adverts accounted for 4.1% of all advertising seen by viewers in 2012 (up from 0.5% in 2006; 1.7% in 2008).

As someone who has written two books on adolescent gambling (see ‘Further reading’ below), one of the more worrying statistics reported was that children under 16 years of age were exposed to an average of 211 gambling adverts a year each (compared to adults who saw an average of 630). I am a firm believer that gambling is an adult activity and that gambling adverts should be shown after the 9pm watershed.

In addition to the relaxation of the laws relating to television advertising, another reason for the large increase in the number of adverts is the increase in the number of digital television channels. Over the time period, he total amount of television advertising airtime doubled from 17.4m to 34.2m spots. The report also highlighted that the 1.39m television adverts for gambling produced 30.9bn ‘impacts’ in 2012 (i.e., the number of times a commercial was seen by viewers) – up from 8 billion in 2006.

So is the large increase in gambling advertising having any effect on gambling and problem gambling? Well, the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011 showed that 73% of the British adult population (aged 16 years and over) participated in some form of gambling in the past year (equating to around 35.5 million adults). The most popular British gambling activity was playing the National Lottery (59%), a slight increase from the previous BGPS in 2007 (57%). There was an increase in betting on events other than horse races or dog races with a bookmaker (6% in 2007, 9% in 2010), buying scratchcards (20% in 2007, 24% in 2010), gambling online on poker, bingo, casino and slot machine style games (3% in 2007, 5% in 2010) and gambling on fixed odds betting terminals (3% in 2007, 4% in 2010), football pools (3% in 2007, 4% in 2010, 9% in 1999). There were some small but significant decreases in the popularity of slot machines (13% in 2010, 14% in 2007) and online betting (4% in 2007, 3% in 2010). For all other gambling activities, there was either no significant change between survey years or estimates varied with no clear pattern.

Men were more likely to gamble than women overall (75% men; 71% women). Among women, past year gambling increased from 65% in 2007 to 71% in 2010. Among men, past year gambling estimates were higher in 2010 than 2007 (75% and 71% respectively). Perhaps the most noteworthy statistic (particularly in relation to the substantial increase in televised gambling advertising) was that the prevalence of problem gambling was higher in 2010 (0.9%) than in 2007 (0.6%) equating to a 50% increase in problem gambling. One of the possible reasons for this statistically significant increase in problem gambling could well have been the increased exposure to gambling adverts on television.

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

Further reading

Banham, M. (2013). Gambling TV ads up nine-fold since laws relaxed. Brand Republic, November 19. Located at: http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/1221494/Gambling-TV-ads-nine-fold-laws-relaxed/

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Press Association (2012). Gambling adverts soar. November 19. Located at: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/gambling-ads-tv-soar-152721196.html#IPrymtu

Stradbrooke, S. (2011). UK puts TV gambling ads on notice; Ireland blames gambling for suicides. CalvinAyre.com, January 19. Located at: http://calvinayre.com/2012/01/19/business/uk-puts-gambling-tv-ads-on-notice/

Sweney, M. (2013). TV gambling ads have risen 600% since law change. The Guardian, November 19. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/19/tv-gambling-ads

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. and Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. and Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office.

The loyal family: A brief look at brand image and gambling

Over the past decade, the psychology of gambling marketing has become big business. Despite the strict regulations concerning how gambling can be advertised, the psychology of ‘gambling advertising‘ is important in attracting potential clientele. Gambling imagery is designed to make a person spend money, and in almost all advertisements there is a lack of reference to the word ‘gambling’. Instead, guilt-reducing statements referring to leisure are used. Typical examples include “try your luck”, “test your skill” and “get into the holiday spirit”.

Image has become all important in the commercial arena and the gambling industry is no different. Having said that, the gaming industry has known that perception and image are important for well over a century. For instance, the first slot machine designed in 1895 was called ‘The Liberty Bell’ and typified patriotism as it was the symbol of American Independence!

The real shift that I have noticed in recent years has been the increased strategic use of ‘branding’ products. Brands are highly defined products that go beyond the packaging and the material they are made of. They can be anything from goods such as soap powder through to major corporations, service companies, political parties and even people. They appear everywhere and gambling products are no different. Research by psychologists has shown that children as young as three years old can recognize a brand. In fact, one study I read showed that more schoolchildren recognized the ‘crossed fingers’ Camelot logo than products such as Coca Cola and McDonalds!

So how are brands defined? The principal difference between an ordinary product and a brand is the intangibles beyond the product itself. A brand goes beyond functionality. In short it is how it is packaged, what it looks like, what its colour is, its personality. At the most basic level, product plus personality equals brand. My guess is that when you hear the words ‘Ladbrokes’, ‘William Hill’, or ‘Gala’ they invoke particular thoughts, moods, colours, and feelings.

Every great brand has an outstanding feature at its heart. A product also needs time and to be promoted and communicated consistently to become a brand. Repetition has appears to be one of the keys to establishing brand success. However, what really determines a brand – and this is especially important in the gambling arena – is trust. This is of paramount importance in getting individuals to gamble online. Players are more likely to gamble online with those companies that are well established than a little known company operating out of the Caribbean. Successful brands have a ‘trustmark’ rather than a trademark. It is the reason we prefer the product to other non-familiar ones. It says you have not been let down by the product or service and you can reduce anxiety by using the product or service again. Again, this is especially important in a business whose primary aim is to relieve you of your money!

Trust is an historical concept because we need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that we don’t even need to have experienced the product ourselves. We might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years.

One of the most important things about brands for the gaming industry is that they help us define our self-image and who we are – at least on some psychological level. For some people, this ‘personal branding’ may be more important than their social identities within a community. For example, the car we drive or the newspaper we read, are particularly strong cultural indicators of what sort of person we are. Where you gamble and on what games can be an extension of this.

Brands appear to mean much more than they ever did probably because successful brands are worth millions of pounds. Nowadays, gambling brands are linked to ideas, hopes and dreams and match the player’s thinking and self-image. It is not enough that going to a casino will be a lot of fun. It has to say something as well. Gaming companies try to match their products and games to consumers through extensive market research by surveying potential clientele about their attitudes, habits and pleasures. The gaming industry spends a lot of resources (time and money) turning their products into brands. If the product is successful it will soon be open to competition from others who want to cash in on the market for the particular product. The gaming industry therefore has to find a way of showing that their brand of products gives something better than the competitors.

Over time, even the best brands can lose customer loyalty, which is why the gambling industry needs to stay fresh and innovative. Brands rely on image and are vulnerable to scandal. That is where the gaming industry walks a fine line. High profile stories about gambling addiction or gambling-related suicides will not bring in new players and is why there is now such a major investment in corporate social responsibility.

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: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue11/jgi_11_adams.html.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

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.

House calls: A look at the rise of online bingo

Yesterday, BBC Online News published a report about online bingo (and which I provided some comments about). Given the popularity of bingo in numerous countries throughout the world, it is surprising how little scientific research has been carried out on the activity. To date, most of the research (including some of my own) has examined offline bingo (which is unsurprising given that playing bingo online is a relatively new phenomenon), and most of the published research is from a sociological perspective typically involving small-scale interview studies and/or observation of players in bingo halls. Research carried out between 1980 and 2005 has tended to report that the majority of bingo players are working class women who play the game primarily to socialize with their friends in what they perceive to be a very ‘safe’ (and somewhat non-masculine) environment.

Research carried out by the American sociologists Constance Chapple and Stacey Nofziger and published in the journal Deviant Behavior confirm these general findings but add that winning money eventually becomes an important motivation as constantly losing leads to the bingo playing ceasing (even if the main reason for playing bingo is sociability). Their research also reported that loneliness and boredom can also be critical factors in why women play bingo. Through the alleviation of boredom, bingo playing leads to the meeting of other like-minded people, and also helps to alleviate the loneliness. Online bingo sites have attempted to facilitate the sociability element by incorporating online chat options, the social rules are different online compared to offline. Whereas in offline bingo chatting is typically forbidden during game play, it is actively encouraged when playing bingo online. Online chat functions appear to be an effective retention tool by online bingo operators, and are specifically aimed at female players.

Online and offline bingo appear to have many similarities in terms of demographics. Online bingo sites (and the marketing and advertising they produce) tend to target women – particularly because bingo is the only form of gambling where women significantly outnumber men. For instance, we found in the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011, that 9% of the British adult population had played online and/or offline bingo in last year. Although men were more likely than women to participate in most forms of gambling activity, twice as many women (12%) had played bingo in the last year compared to men (6%).

One of the most noticeable trends that I have written about in the last few years is the feminization of gambling. I have argued that one of the reasons that greater numbers of women are gambling is because remote gambling environments (such as internet gambling and mobile phone gambling) are gender-neutral. In the same way that female bingo players view the offline environments in which they play ‘safe’, this is even more so online. While playing online bingo, females do not feel alienated and stigmatized as they sometimes feel in more male-dominated gambling environments such as betting shops and casinos. Furthermore, the perceived anonymity of playing online is another key factor that facilitates the playing of bingo online.

There also appears to be a new type of bingo player – one that only plays bingo online. In our most recent BGPS study, we found that 19% of all bingo players gambled online only (with 4% playing both online and offline, and the majority – 77% – playing offline bingo only). As we predicted, playing bingo was highest among oldest people with 11% of those over 75 years having played bingo in the last year. However, more interesting was the fact that the bingo playing was almost as popular among the young with 10% of those aged 16 to 24 years having played bingo in the 12 months prior to the survey. Interestingly (and perhaps unsurprisingly), this group (being arguably more tech-savvy) was more likely to be playing bingo online, and women were significantly more likely than men to play bingo online at least once a week.

In the same way that online poker sites are now trying to attract more women, some online bingo sites appear to be trying to attract more men. This is being done on many levels including the use of more neutral (unisex) colours in website design, non-cash prizes that appeal across gender lines, and less female-centric marketing and advertising. There are also an increasing number of online casinos that have introduced online bingo to its game portfolio. Such tactics are what we psychologists call ‘foot-in-the-door’ techniques (the most obvious of which are marketing tactics like sign-up cash bonuses or ‘play-for-free and win real money’ offers) where acquisition incentives are given in an attempt to either cross-sell games and/or create longer-term repeat business.

Journalistic stories about the rise in popularity of online bingo sites claim that the most recent statistics suggest that many men also enjoy online bingo and that the numbers of men playing online are on the increase. However, I have not been able to verify such claims, and even if I could, statistics never tell the whole story. As Ebbe Skovdah (a Danish football manager) once stated – “statistics are like mini-skirts, they give you good ideas but they hide the most important things!”.

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

Further reading

Chapple, C. & Nofgizer, S. (2000). Bingo!: Hints of deviance in the accounts of sociability and profit of bingo players. Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 489–517.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online gambling, social responsibility and ‘foot-in-the-door techniques. i-Gaming Business, 62, 100-101.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Gambling, stigma, and the rise of online bingo. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, December/January, 34-35.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The psychology of online and offline bingo. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, October/November, 38.

Griffiths, M.D. & Bingham, C. (2002). Bingo playing in the UK: The influence of demographic factors on play.  International Gambling Studies, 2, 51-60.

Griffiths, M.D. & Bingham, C. (2005). A study of superstitious beliefs among bingo players. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue13/jgi_13_griffiths.html.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office