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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.

Doctor, doctor: What can British GPs do about problem gambling?

A study published in the British Journal of General Practice in March 2017 reported that of 1,058 individuals surveyed in GP waiting rooms in Bristol (UK), 0.9% were problem gamblers and that a further 4.3% reported gambling problems that “were low to medium severity”. This is in line with other British studies carried out over the last decade which have reported problem gambling prevalence rates of between 0.5% and 0.9%.

I have long argued that problem gambling is a health issue and that GPs should routinely screen for gambling problems. Back in 2004, I published an article in the British Medical Journal about why problem gambling is a health issue. I argued that the social and health costs of problem gambling were (and still are) large at both individual and societal levels.

uk-gambling-trade-bodies-unite-to-improve-responsible-gaming

Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy. Adverse health consequences for problem gamblers and their partners include depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. In my BMJ article I also noted that analysis of calls to the GamCare national gambling helpline indicated that a small minority of callers reported health-related consequences as a result of their problematic gambling. These included depression, anxiety, stomach problems, and suicidal ideation. Obviously many of these medical problems arise through the stress of financial problems but that doesn’t make it any less of a health issue for those suffering from severe gambling problems.

Research published in the American Journal of Addictions has also shown that health-related problems can occur as a result of withdrawal effects. For instance, one study by Dr. Richard Rosenthal and Dr. Henry Lesieur found that at least 65% of pathological gamblers reported at least one physical side effect during withdrawal, including insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, muscle aches, breathing difficulty, and chills.

Based on these findings, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. GPs routinely ask patients about smoking cigarettes and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health, and it is therefore very easy for those in the medical profession not to have the issue on their wellbeing radar. If the main aim of GPs is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge and should be taught in the curriculum while prospective doctors are at medical school. One of the reasons that GPs don’t routinely screen for problem gambling is because they are not taught about it during their medical training and therefore do not even think about screening for it in the first place. As I recommended in a report commissioned by the British Medical Association, the need for education and training in the diagnosis, appropriate referral and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. More specifically, GPs should be aware of the types of gambling and problem gambling, demographic and cultural differences, and the problems and common co-morbidities associated with problem gambling. GPs should also understand the importance of screening patients perceived to be at increased risk of gambling addiction, and should be aware of the referral and support services available locally.

I also recommended that treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded by gambling-derived profit revenue.

Back in 2011, Dr. Jane Rigbye and myself published a study using Freedom of Information requests to ask NHS trusts if they had ever treated pathological gamblers. Only 3% of the trusts had ever treated a problem gambler and only one trust said they offered dedicated help and support. I’m sure if we repeated the study today, little will have changed.

It is evident that problem gambling is not, as yet, on the public health agenda in the UK. NHS services – including GP surgeries – need to be encouraged to see gambling problems as a primary reason for referral and a valid treatment option. Information about gambling addiction services, in particular services in the local area, should be readily available to gamblers and GP surgeries are a good outlet to advertise such services. Although some gambling services (such as GamCare, the gambling charity I co-founded) provide information to problem gamblers about local services, such information is provided to problem gamblers who have already been proactive in seeking gambling help and/or information. Given that very few GPs could probably treat a problem gambler, what they must have is the knowledge of who they can refer their patients to.

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

Further reading

Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.

Cowlishaw, S., Gale, L., Gregory, A., McCambridge, J., & Kessler, D. (2017). Gambling problems among patients in primary care: a cross-sectional study of general practices. British Journal of General Practice, doi: bjgp17X689905

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Gambling – An emerging area of concern for health psychologists. Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 477-479.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association (ISBN 1-905545-11-8).

Griffiths, M.D. & Smeaton, M. (2002). Withdrawal in pathological gamblers: A small qualitative study. Social Psychology Review, 4, 4-13.

Rigbye, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Problem gambling treatment within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 276-281.

Rosenthal, R., & Lesieur, H. (1992). Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and pathological gambling. American Journal of the Addictions, 1, 150–154.

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.

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

Dispensing wisdom: ATMs on the gaming floor

The gambling industry has long been trying to perfect techniques that keep players on their premises and gambling on their games longer. In short, their aim is to introduce facilities that maximize their bottom line profits. In super-casinos around the world, restaurants are often positioned in the centre so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Live entertainment areas for music or sporting events (e.g., boxing matches) are also positioned similarly.

This strategy is often combined with the deliberate use of circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. Large US casinos have got this down to a fine art. A number of years ago I remember going to a live music concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and on entering the casino it took me a 20- to 25-minute walk past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables before I even arrived at the auditorium! Although I didn’t gamble during the 45 minutes I was exposed to the slot machines to and from the casino entrance, I did wonder how many of the thousands in the audience had succumbed at some point.

Massachusetts-casinos-ATM-banking-law

UK gambling venues are now increasingly offering other non-gambling services (such as snack facilities and live entertainment) in a bid to either attract new customers or to keep those already in the venue as long as possible. The 2005 Gambling Act allowed even more of this diversification. It is also worth noting that some forms of gambling (such as slot machines) are far more profitable than other forms (such as table games). What’s more, slot machines don’t need a croupier to deal or spin the roulette ball. This means that most casinos worldwide are now dominated by slot machines in preference to other forms of gambling (although there are places like Macao where table games are preferred over slot machines).

Two of the biggest changes that have occurred in casinos worldwide over the last 20 years that appear to aid such a ‘maximisation’ strategy are the introduction of cash machines onto the gaming floors and the introduction of note acceptors to electronic gaming machines. At a very simplistic level, facilities like these create and enhance convenience gambling.

Note acceptors are very popular in countries like US, Canada and Australia. The gaming industry argues that note acceptors are popular with customers and enhance the playing experience in that they make life a little bit easier for the punter when standing in front of a slot machine not to have to keep going to the cashier for change. However, there is a very fine line between customer enhancement and customer exploitation. Note acceptors have the capacity to increase spending in a number of direct and indirect ways. Firstly, note acceptors increase privacy for the punter. More specifically for the punter, it avoids the potential embarrassment of letting gaming staff, friends, family or even other customers know how much they are spending. Secondly, note acceptors can aid in suspending judgment whereby more cash is transferred to credit in one go. Thirdly, note acceptors minimise breaks as players do not need to leave the machine to get change. Not taking breaks minimises ‘time out’ periods where punters can think more rationally about the money they have spent. A study carried out in Canadian casinos showed that the amount initially put into a slot machine by punters was twice as high on machines that had note acceptors. Although this is only one study, it does seem to suggest that gamblers spend more when a note acceptor is present. 

Like note acceptors, the introduction of automated cash dispensers onto the casino floor also increases privacy for the punter. Although studies have found that only a relatively small proportion of casino patrons seldom use cash dispensers at gambling venues, a significantly high proportion of problem gamblers do so. One study in New Zealand carried out by Professor Max Abbott found that only 2% of all adults interviewed in a national survey considered that greater access to these facilities led to an increase in their gambling. Among problem gamblers, this figure was over eight times as high at 17%.

In Australia, a study led by Professor Jan McMillen also found much greater cash dispenser usage at gambling venues by problem gamblers when compared to non-problem gamblers. They also found that problem gamblers withdrew larger amounts.  Money accessed in this way was most often for the purchase of both alcohol and gambling. They concluded that convenient access to cash dispenders in gambling venues contributed to greater expenditure and was a contributory factor in the development and persistence of gambling problems.

A number of other studies have reported similar findings. Problem gamblers frequently mention that adjacent access to cash dispensers is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for gambler’s exceeding their planned spending limit. Research has also shown that both problem and non-problem gamblers would prefer cash dispensers to be located away from gambling venues. It would seem that the only people who want cash dispensers on gambling premises are the operators themselves, mainly because they know it increases revenue.

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

Further reading

Abbott, M.W.  (2007). Situational factors that affect gambling behavior. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.251-278. New York: Elsevier.

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

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.

Lam, L.W., Chan, K.W., Fong, D. & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30, 558-567.

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.

McMillen, J., Marshall, D., and Murphy, L. (2004). The Use of ATMs in ACT Gaming Venues: An Empirical Study. ANU Centre for Gambling Research, Canberra.

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.

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.

Nag, nag, nag: Another look at horse race betting and problem gambling

Literature reviews carried out by myself and others in the gambling studies field have concluded that electronic gaming machines (EGMs such as slot machines, pokie machines, video lottery terminals [VLTs], etc.) tend to have a higher association with problem gambling than other forms of gambling. Although any form of gambling can be potentially problematic, there is surprisingly little in the academically peer-reviewed gambling literature showing that horse race betting has a high association with problem gambling, particularly in comparison to activities such as EGM gambling.

Along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler, the most important determinants in the development and maintenance of problem gambling are structural characteristics, particularly those relating to the speed and frequency of the game (and more specifically event frequency, bet frequency, event duration and payout interval). More specifically, I have argued that researchers in the gambling studies field need to think about game parameters rather than specific game type when it comes to any association with problem and pathological gambling and that event frequency is the single most important determinant.

horse-racing

A study by Dr. Debi LaPlante and colleagues in the European Journal of Public Health examining types of gambling and level of gambling involvement (using data from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey of which I was one of the co-authors) indicated that when level of gambling is accounted, no specific type of gambling was associated anymore with disordered gambling, and that level of involvement in gambling better characterizes problem gambling than individual forms of gambling. In fact, this paper also concluded that:

“Two games, private betting and betting on horses, had a reversal of association. After controlling for involvement, individuals who engaged in private betting or betting on horses were significantly less likely to have gambling-related problems than people who did not…One interesting, and perhaps unanticipated, finding was that the nature of the relationships between private betting and betting on horses and gambling problems changed when we considered the influence of involvement: engaging in these types of gambling, but not other types, seemed to protect players against developing gambling problems. This finding suggests that the apparent risk between gambling activities and developing gambling-related problems resides, perhaps primarily or even entirely, among individuals who have high rates of involvement. For others who do not have high rates of involvement, playing these types of games might reflect social setting characteristics (e.g. norms) that encourage control and preclude excessive gambling”.

Similar results were also found in an Australian study by Dr. James Phillips and his colleagues in a 2013 issues of the Journal of Gambling Studies. A 2009 study by Dr. Thomas Holtgraves in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors analysed all data from population-based surveys conducted in Canada between 2001 and 2005 comprising 21,374 participants (including 12,229 who had gambled in the past year). Using the Problem Gambling Severity Index to assess problem gambling, the study found that horse race gamblers had the lowest prevalence rates of problem gambling along with those that played bingo and bought raffle tickets (3%). Some types of gambling activity such as sports betting (25%) and playing video lottery terminals (18%) were much higher.

The most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey [BGPS] published in 2011 reported that the most popular British gambling activity was playing the National Lottery (59%), a slight increase in participation from 2007 (57%). The prevalence of past-year betting on horse races was 16%. Among past year gamblers, problem gambling prevalence rates were highest among those who had played poker at a pub/club (12.8%), online slot machine games (9.1%) and fixed odds betting terminals (8.8%). The lowest problem gambling rates were among those that played the National Lottery (1.3%) and scratchcards (2.5%). Horse race gamblers also had one of the lower prevalence rates for problem gambling (2.7%). However, problem gamblers also gamble on many different activities and problem gambling prevalence was highest among those that gambled on nine or more different activities on a regular basis (28%).

More recently in 2014, Carla Seabury and Heather Wardle published an overview of gambling behaviour in England and Scotland by combining the data from the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey (n=11,774 participants). It was reported that two-thirds of the sample (65%) had gambled in the past year, with men (68%) gambling more than women (62%). The findings were similar to the previous BGPS reports and showed that in terms of past-year gambling, the most popular forms of gambling were playing the National Lottery (52%; 56% males and 49% females) and scratchcards (19%; 19% males and 20% females). One in ten people (10%) had a engaged in horse race betting (12% males and 8% females).

Again, problem gambling rates were also examined by type of gambling activity. Results showed that among past year gamblers, problem gambling was highest among spread betting (20.9%), playing poker in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bet on events other than horse racing with a bookmaker (12.9%), gambling at a betting exchange (10.6%) and playing machines in bookmakers (7.2%). The activities with the lowest rates of problem gambling were playing the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%). Problem gambling among horse race gamblers were also among the lowest (2.3%). Problem gambling rates were highest among individuals that had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those that had participated in a single activity (0.1%).

Along with Filipa Calado, I recently co-authored two reviews of problem gambling worldwide (one on adult gambling and one of adolescent gambling). None of the studies we reviewed highlighted horse racing to be of particular concern in relation to problem gambling and only two countries (France and Sweden) was horse race betting one of the most preferred and prevalent forms of gambling. Analysis of a 2011 French national prevalence survey by Dr. Jean-Michel Costes reported that horse race betting was fourth in a list of six gambling activities that were most associated with problem gambling (with Rapido [a high event frequency lottery game], sports betting, and poker being the most problematic gambling forms). There is also evidence from gambling treatment service providers that horse race betting is much less of an issue than other forms of gambling. In Finland, the national helpline for problem gamblers, [Peluuri] only 1% of the telephone calls received concern horse betting. In Germany, two studies surveying therapists that treat problem gambling found that the vast majority of treatment was for slot machine gamblers (approximately 75%-80% of clients) whereas treatment for horse race gamblers was 0.6%-1.7% of clients. Unfortunately, the UK problem gambling helpline run by GamCare does not separate horse race betting from any other sports betting in its’ annual helpline statistics. The most recent (2016) GamCare report noted that 11% of their callers concerned betting in a bookmaker’s but this figure included all betting not just horse race betting.

In 2008, I was invited to write a report for the Gambling Commission and reported that internationally, the vast majority of problem gamblers that contact helplines or seek treatment report machine gambling as their primary form of gambling. In Europe many countries report that it is problem EGM gamblers that are most likely to seek treatment and/or contact national gambling helplines (rather than other forms of gambling including horse race betting) including 60% of gamblers seeking help in Belgium, 72% in Denmark, 93% in Estonia, 66% in Finland, 49.5% in France, 83% in Germany, 75% in Spain, and 35% in Sweden.

All data collected in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world demonstrate that horse race betting has a relatively low past-year participation rate. All major literature reviews have concluded that electronic gaming machines tend to have a higher association with problem gambling than other forms of gambling including horse race betting. Although no form of gambling is immune from problem gambling, horse race betting has one of the lowest associations with problem gambling. Furthermore, some analysis of the most recent BGPS data has demonstrated that after controlling for gambling involvement, individuals who engage in horse race betting are significantly less likely to have gambling-related problems than people who did not.

For the vast majority of horse gamblers, the activity is a discontinuous form of gambling in that they make one or a few bets in a small time period but then not bet again for days or weeks. Therefore, the event frequencies for betting on horse racing are much lower than other gambling activities and helps explain why there is a low association with problem gambling compared to activities that have much higher event frequencies (e.g., slot machines, roulette, blackjack, etc.).

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

Further reading

Abbott, M.W.  (2007). Situational factors that affect gambling behavior. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.251-278. New York: Elsevier.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10899-016-9627-5

Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.

Costes, J. M., Pousset, M., Eroukmanoff, V., Le Nezet, O., Richard, J. B., Guignard, R., … & Arwidson, P. (2011). Les niveaux et pratiques des jeux de hasard et d’argent en 2010. Tendances, 77(1), 8

Costes, J. M, Eroukmanoff V., Richard, J.B, Tovar, M. L. (2015). Les jeux de hasard et d’argent en France en 2014. Les Notes de l’Observatoire des Jeux, 6, 1-9.

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Behavioural profiling of problem gamblers: A critical review. International Gambling Studies, 12, 349-366.

EMPA Pari Mutuel Europe (2012). Common Position On Responsible Gambling. Brussels: EMPA.

GamCare (2016). Annual Statistics 2015/2016. London: GamCare.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling and gambling addiction are not the same. Journal of Addiction and Dependence, 2(1), 1-3.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Holtgraves, T. (2009). Gambling, gambling activities, and problem gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(2), 295-302.

LaPlante, D.A., Nelson, S.E., LaBrie, R.A., & Shaffer, H.J. (2009). Disordered gambling, type of gambling and gambling involvement in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. The European Journal of Public Health, 21, 532–537

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (Eds.), 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.

Phillips, J.G., Ogeil, R., Chow, Y.W., & Blaszczynski, A. (2013). Gambling involvement and increased risk of gambling problems. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29(4), 601-611.

Seabury, C. & Wardle, H. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

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.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

It takes all sports: A brief look at sport-related betting

Over the past year I have been carrying out research with my Spanish colleague – Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez – into problematic sports betting and sports betting advertising which has already produced a number of papers (see ‘Further reading’ below) and with many more to come. One of the issues we have faced in contextualising our work is that there is no such concept as sport-related problem gambling in prevalence surveys because problem gambling is assessed on the totality of gambling experiences rather than a single activity. For instance, in the three British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (BGPSs) conducted since 1999, sport-related gambling is subsumed within a number of different gambling forms: ‘football pools and fixed odds coupons’, ‘private betting’, and ‘other events with a bookmaker’. The 2010 BGPS (which I co-authored) included ‘sports betting’ as a category, along with ‘football pools’ (no coupons), ‘private betting’, ‘spread betting’ (which can include both sports or financial trading). In addition, the 2010 BGPS added a new category under online gambling activities to include ‘any online betting’. More recently, the Health Survey for England also introduced a new category: ‘gambling on sports events (not online)’.

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Despite these limitations, some evidence can be inferred from gambling activity by gambling type. In 2014, Heather Wardle and her colleagues combined the gambling data from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey. They reported that among adult males aged 16 years and over during a 12-month period, 5% participated in offline football pools, 8% engaged in online betting (although no indication was made about whether this only involved sport), and 8% engaged in sports events (not online). The categories were not mutually exclusive so an overlapping of respondents across categories was very likely. A similar rate was found in South Australia in a 2013 report the Social Research Centre with those betting on sports over the past year accounting for 6.1% of the adult population, an increase from the 4.2% reported in 2005.

In Spain, the Spanish Gambling Commission (Direccion General de Ordenacion del Juego [DGOJ] reported that 1.5% of the adult (male and female) population had gambled online on sports in 2015. This is a significantly lower proportion compared with the British data, although the methodological variations cannot be underestimated. Spanish data also shows that, among those who have gambled online on a single gambling type only, betting on sports is the more prevalent form with up to 66% of those adults.

In France, the data on the topic only focuses on those who gamble rather than examining the general population of gamblers and non-gamblers. Among online gamblers, Dr. Jean-Michel Costes and colleagues reported in a 2011 issue of the journal Tendances that 35.1% had bet on sports during the last 12 months. In another French study by Costes and colleagues published in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, sports betting represented 16.4% of the gambling cohort, although again, the representativeness of sports betting behaviour among the general gambling and non-gambling population could not be determined.

Due to the aforementioned shortcomings in the definition of sport-related gambling, there is only fragmented empirical evidence concerning the impact of sports-related problem gambling behaviour. For instance, in 2014, Dr. Nerilee Hing noted that clinical reports indicate that treatment seeking for sports-related problem gambling had grown in Australia. In British Columbia (Canada), a 2014 survey by Malatests & Associates for the Ministry of Finance reported that 23.6% of at-risk or problem gamblers had gambled on sports either offline or online. A smaller proportion (16.2%) was found in the Spanish population screened in the national gambling DGOJ survey, except this subgroup was entirely composed of online bettors.

In a 2011 study published in International Gambling Studies with patients from a pathological gambling unit within a community hospital in Barcelona, Dr. Susana Jiménez-Murcia and her colleagues found that among those who had developed the disorder gambling online only (as opposed to those who gamble both online/offline or offline only), just over half (50.8%) were sport bettors. Those who gambled online only (on any activity) and those that only gambled online on sports events represented a small minority of the total number of problem gamblers. Overall, there is relatively little research on this sub-group of gamblers therefore I and others will be monitoring the evolution of this trend as the online gambling population grows.

(Note: This blog was co-written with input from Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez).

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

Further reading

Costes, J-M, Kairouz, S., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2016) Gambling patterns and problems of gamblers on licensed and unlicensed sites in France. Journal of Gambling Studies 32(1), 79–91.

Costes, J., Pousset, M., Eroukmanoff, V., et al. (2010). Gambling prevalence and practices in France in 2010. Tendances, 77, 1–8.

DGOJ (2016a) Análisis del perfil del jugador online. Madrid: Ministerio de Hacienda y Administraciones Públicas.

DGOJ (2016b) Estudio sobre prevalencia, comportamiento y características de los usuarios de juegos de azar en España 2015. Madrid: Ministerio de Hacienda y Administraciones Públicas.

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

Jiménez-Murcia S, Stinchfield R, Fernández-Aranda F, et al. (2011) Are online pathological gamblers different from non-online pathological gamblers on demographics, gambling problem severity, psychopathology and personality characteristics? International Gambling Studies 11(3), 325–337.

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, 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.

Malatests & Associates Ltd (2014). 2014 British Columbia Problem Gambling Prevalence Study. Victoria, Canada: Gaming policy and enforcement branch, Ministry of Finance.

The Social Research Centre (2013) Gambling prevalence in South Australia. Adelaide, Australia: Office for problem gambling. Available from: http://phys.org/news/2012-03-lung-doctors-respiratory-diseases-worsen.html.

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.

Wardle H, Seabury C, Ahmed H, et al. (2014) Gambling behaviour in England & Scotland. Findings from the health survey for England 2012 and Scottish health survey 2012. London: NatCen Social Research.

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

General selection: Is voluntary self-exclusion a good proxy measure for problem gambling?

A couple of months ago, Dr. Michael Auer and I published a short paper in the Journal of Addiction Medicine and Therapy (JAMT) critically addressing a recent approach by researchers that use voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) by gamblers as a proxy measure for problem gambling in their empirical studies. We argued that this approach is flawed and is unlikely to help in developing harm-minimization measures.

For those who don’t know, self-exclusion practices typically refer to the possibility for gamblers to voluntarily ban themselves from playing all (or a selection of) games over a predetermined period. The period of exclusion can typically be chosen by the gambler although some operators have non-negotiable self-exclusion periods. Self-exclusion in both online sites and offline venues has become an important responsible gambling practice that is widely used by socially responsible operators.

There are many reasons why players self-exclude. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies by Dr. Tobias Hayer and Dr. Gerhard Meyer, players frequently reported excluding as a preventive measure and annoyance with the gambling operator as reasons for VSE. Furthermore, only one-fifth of self-excluders reported to be problem gamblers (21.2%). A recent 2016 (conference) paper by Dr. Suzanne Lischer (2016) reported that in a study of three Swiss casinos, 29% of self-excluders were pathological gamblers, 33% were problem gamblers, and 38% were recreational gamblers. Given that many voluntary self-excluders do not exclude themselves for gambling-related problems, Dr. Lischer concluded that self-exclusion is not a good indicator of gambling-related problems. In line with these results, a 2015 study published in International Gambling Studies led by Simo Dragicevic compared self-excluders with other online players and reported no differences in the (i) mean number of gambling hours per month or (ii) minutes per gambling session. The study also reported that 25% of players self-excluded within one day of their registration with the online operator. This could also be due to the fact that online players can self-exclude with just a few mouse-clicks.

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Most studies to date report that the majority of voluntary self-excluders tend to be non-problem gamblers. Additionally, in 2010, the Australian Productivity Commission reported 15,000 active voluntary self-exclusions from 2002 to 2009 and that this represented only 10-20% of the population of problem gamblers. This means that in addition to most self-excluders being non-problem gamblers, that most problem gamblers are not self-excluders. This leads to the conclusion that there is little overlap between problem gambling and self-excluding.

Over the decade, analytical approaches to harm minimization have become popular. This has led to the development of various tracking tools such as PlayScan (developed by Svenska Spel), Observer (developed by 888.com), and mentor (developed by neccton and myself). Furthermore, regulators are increasingly recognizing the importance of early risk detection via behavioural tracking systems. VSE also plays an important role in this context. However, some systems use VSE as a proxy of at-risk or problem gambling.

Based on the findings from empirical research, self-exclusion is a poor proxy measure for categorizing at-risk or problem gamblers and VSE should not be used in early problem gambling detection systems. The reasons for this are evident:

  • There is no evidence of a direct relationship between self-exclusion and problem gambling. As argued above, self-excluders are not necessarily problem gamblers and thus cannot be used for early risk detection.
  • There are various reasons for self-exclusion that have nothing to do with problem gambling. Players exclude for different reasons and one of the most salient appears to be annoyance and frustration with the operator (i.e., VSE is used as a way of venting their unhappiness with the operator). In this case, an early detection model based on self-exclusion would basically identify unhappy players and be more useful to the marketing department than to those interested in harm minimization
  • Problem gamblers who self-exclude are already actively changing their behaviour. The trans-theoretical ‘stages of change’ model (developed by Dr. Carlo DiClemente and Dr. James Prochaska) argues that behavioural change follows stages from pre-contemplation to action and maintenance. One could argue that the segment of players who self-exclude because they believe their gambling to be problematic are the ones who already past the stages where assistance is usually helpful in triggering action to cease gambling. These players are making use of a harm-minimization tool. The ones actually in need of detection and intervention are the ones who have not yet reached this stage of change yet and are not thinking about changing their behaviour at all. This is one more argument for the inappropriateness of self-exclusion as a proxy for problem gambling.

But what could be done to prevent the development of gambling-related problems in the first place? For the reasons outlined above, we would argue that the attempt to identify problem gambling via playing patterns that are derived from self-excluders does not assist harm minimization. Firstly, this approach does not target problem gamblers, and secondly it does not provide any insights into the prevention of such problems.

It is evident that any gambling environment should strive to minimize gambling-related harm and reduce the amount of gambling among vulnerable groups. It is also known that information that is given to individuals to enable behavioural change should encourage reflection because research has shown that self-monitoring can enable behavioural change in the desired direction. Dr. Jim Orford has also stated that attempts to explain such disparate gambling types from a single theoretical perspective are essentially a fool’s errand. This also complements the notion that problem gambling is not a homogenous phenomenon and there is not a single type of problem gambler (as I argued in my first book on gambling back in 1995). This also goes in line with the belief of Dr. Auer and myself that gambling sites have to personalize communication and offer the right player the right assistance based on their individual playing history. Recent research that Dr. Auer and I have carried out supports this line of thinking.

Studies have also shown that dynamic feedback in the form of pop-up messages has a positive effect on gambling behaviour and gambling-related thoughts. For instance, research from Dr. Michael Wohl’s team in Canada have found that animation-based information enhanced the effectiveness of a pop-up message related to gambling time limits. Our own research has found that an enhanced pop-up message (that included self-appraisal and normative feedback) led to significantly greater number of players ending their session than a simple pop-up message. In a real-world study of online gamblers, we also found that personalized feedback had a significant effect in reducing the time and money spent gambling.

Personalized feedback is a player-centric approach and in addition to gambling-specific research, there is evidence from many other areas that shows the beneficial effects on behavioural change. For instance, personalized messages have shown to enable behavioural change in areas such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, and fitness activity. Contrary to the self-exclusion oriented detection approach, we concluded in our recent JAMT paper that personalized feedback aims to prevent and minimize harm in the first place and is a much better approach to the prevention of problem gambling than using data from those that self-exclude from gambling.

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

 Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: an empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406.  doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406

Auer, M., Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology. 6, 339 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339

Auer, M., Littler, A., Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Legal Aspects of Responsible Gaming Pre-commitment and Personal Feedback Initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics. 19, 444-456.

DiClemente, C. C., Prochaska, J. O., Fairhurst, S. K., Velicer, W. F., Velasquez, M. M., & Rossi, J. S. (1991). The process of smoking cessation: an analysis of precontemplation, contemplation, and preparation stages of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 295-304.

Dragicevic, S., Percy, C., Kudic, A., Parke, J. (2015). A descriptive analysis of demographic and behavioral data from Internet gamblers and those who self-exclude from online gambling platforms. Journal of Gambling Studies. 31, 105-132.

Gainsbury, S. (2013). Review of self-exclusion from gambling venues as an intervention for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 229-251.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2016). Should voluntary self-exclusion by gamblers be used as a proxy measure for problem gambling? Journal of Addiction Medicine and Therapy, 2(2), 00019.

Hayer, T., & Meyer, G. (2011). Self-exclusion as a harm-minimization strategy: Evidence for the casino sector from selected European countries. Journal of Gambling Studies, 27, 685-700

Kim, H. S., Wohl, M. J., Stewart, M. K., Sztainert, T., Gainsbury, S. M. (2014). Limit your time, gamble responsibly: setting a time limit (via pop-up message) on an electronic gaming machine reduces time on device. International Gambling Studies, 14, 266-278.

Lischer, S. (2016, June). Gambling-related problems of self-excluders in Swiss casinos. Paper presented at the 16th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking, Las Vegas, USA.

Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D. C., Cunningham, J. A. (2010). Motivators for resolving or seeking help for gambling problems: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 1-33

Aid and a bet: Can personalised feedback help online gamblers play more responsibly?

In recent years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. Research around the world suggests around 8-16% of adults have gambled online during the past year. Research has also demonstrated that there are a number of situational and structural characteristics that make online gambling potentially risky for susceptible and vulnerable individuals. Such factors include increased accessibility, affordability, anonymity and specific structural features of online games such as high event frequency. In addition, some forms of online gambling may be more problematic than others (e.g., online poker, online casino games).

A number of scientific studies have also shown that there are typically more problematic gamblers among those that gamble on the internet compared to those that only gamble in land-based venues. However, problem gambling severity is associated with overall engagement and that when the volume of gambling is controlled for, Internet gambling is not predictive of problems. Furthermore, most online gamblers are also offline gamblers and gamble on many different activities and across different gambling platforms.

Given the increasing number of people gambling online and issues surrounding problem gambling, many of the more socially responsible gambling companies around the world have started to use responsible gambling tools to help their clientele gamble more safely (such as the option to set time and money spending limits or to temporarily self-exclude from gambling for a day, week, month, or longer). In fact, one of our own studies recently demonstrated that the use of both time and money spending limits are most effective among gamblers that play most frequently, and that the effects are differential. For instance, time spending limits were most useful for online poker players and monetary spending limits were most useful for online casino players.

In addition, gamblers can now access and/or are given general advice on healthy and responsible gambling, as well as information about common misbeliefs and erroneous perceptions concerning gambling. However, findings on the effectiveness of providing gamblers with information in correcting or changing erroneous beliefs have been mixed. Some outcomes support the display of information, while other studies have reported non-significant results.

Studies have also shown that the way information is presented can significantly influence behaviour and thinking. Several studies have investigated the effects of interactive versus static pop-up messages during gambling sessions. Static messages do not appear to be effective, whereas interactive pop-up messages and animated information have been shown to change both irrational belief patterns and behaviour of gamblers. It has also been suggested that informational warning signs should promote the application of self-appraisal and self-regulation skills rather than the simple provision of information.

In one of our more recent studies, we investigated the effect of a pop-up message that appeared after 1,000 consecutive online slot machine games had been played during a single gambling session using behavioural tracking data. Our study analysed 400,000 gambling sessions (200,000 sessions before the pop-up had been introduced and 200,000 after the pop-up had been introduced). We found that the pop-up message had a limited effect on a small percentage of players. Although the study reported nine times as many gamblers stopped after 1000 consecutive plays compared to those gamblers before the introduction of the pop-up message, the number of gamblers that actually stopped after viewing the pop-up message was less than 1%.

In a follow-up study, we investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study compared two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). Like our previous study, the findings suggested that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions but that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing within-session. Our two studies evaluating pop-up messages are the only published studies that examine the impact of messaging on actual gamblers in a real world online gambling environment.

In order to make individuals gamble more responsibly using behavioural tracking data, we believe that player feedback should also be presented in a motivational way. In practical terms, this means presenting messages in a non-judgmental way alongside normative data so that gamblers can evaluate their actions compared to other like-minded individuals. One of our most recent studies examined personalised feedback and information given to players during real world gambling sessions. We hypothesized that gamblers receiving tailored feedback about their online gambling behaviour would be more likely to change their behaviour (as measured by the amount of time and money spent) compared to those who did not receive tailored feedback.

We were given access to the behavioural tracking data of 1,358 gamblers at a European online gambling website that had voluntarily signed up to a behavioural feedback system that we developed (called mentor) that is offered to all customers on the website. The system is an opt-in system (i.e., gamblers can voluntarily choose to use it and the system is not mandatory). Once gamblers have enrolled to use the system, they can retrieve detailed visual and numerical feedback about their gambling behaviour via a button on the website. Player feedback is displayed in a number of ways (numerical, graphical, and textual) and provides information about wins and losses, playing duration, number of playing days, and games played. The system can also display personal gambling behaviour over time. For instance, Figure 1 shows the playing time information for a hypothetical player in the form of a graph over time.

At the top of the screen, players receive information about playing time over the previous 4-week and 24-week period. The white line in Figure 1 indicates that the player shows an upward trend and is steadily increasing the amount of time spent gambling. During the previous 4-week period, the player spent 25.75 hours gambling online. The upper line in Figure 1 is the average playing time for all other comparable online players (depending upon what types of game are typically played) and provides the gambler both normative and comparative feedback. Such feedback has been emphasized as an important aspect in facilitating behavioural change. Players are either assigned to ‘lottery’ type players or ‘casino’ type players based on their playing patterns.

Of the daily active players, 10% (n=1,358) opted into the system. Players could opt-in via a clearly visible button on the post-login website page which appeared immediately after they logged into their account. The personalised information appeared in a new pop-up window. This typically led to a break in play, as gamblers who viewed the information are unlikely to play and view information simultaneously. The system tracks those players who sign up and therefore the opt-in date is known and can also be used for analytical purposes.

All the visual, numerical, and textual information can be accessed by the gambler via a user-friendly on-screen dashboard. Responsiveness means that interactive content automatically adapts to technical environments. The player front end thus looks similar on different devices such as desktops, laptops, mobile phones, or tablets and also across different browsers and operating systems such as Windows, Android or iOS.

We investigated whether players’ behaviour changed after they have registered for the mentor system and saw the personalised feedback for the first time. We then compared their gambling behaviour with over 15,000 online gamblers displaying the same types of gambling behaviour (i.e., matched controls). Our results indicated that the personalised feedback system achieved the hypothesised effect and that the time and money spent gambling was significantly reduced compared to the online gambler control group that did not utilize the mentor system. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools such as mentor may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively.

To our knowledge, this study was the first real world study investigating the effects of behavioural feedback on actual gambling behaviour within a real online gambling website. However, there were a number of limitations. For instance, all of the players in the target population had voluntarily registered to use the mentor system and were therefore not selected randomly from the population of players (but we tried to overcome this by using a control group of matched pairs). In addition, the reliability of our findings is limited because our data were only collected from one online gambling environment. It may also the case that players who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages about their gambling were different in other ways from controls (i.e., gamblers who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages may have already been interested in reducing their gambling and would be likely to gamble less).

Another limitation is that we did not know whether any of the gamblers who voluntarily opted to use the mentor system were problem gamblers. Therefore we do not know whether the system captures gamblers most in need of such interventions. Based on the findings, one explanation may be that the tool may simply be curtailing gambling in those who already play responsibly. Although our study was performed in a real world setting utilising objective behavioural data, it is limited because the motivations and thoughts of the players were unknown and can only be inferred.

Online gambling operators have the technical capabilities to introduce behavioural feedback systems such as the one we described in our paper, and our findings suggest that a system like mentor can help players limit the amount of time and money spent gambling can be achieved. However, the findings are preliminary and future research should focus on investigating at which point in time players should receive personalised messages to optimize behavioural change.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: A real world empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1875. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01875. 

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Teaming with gain: Are daily fantasy sports a form of gambling?

Fantasy sports games have been popular for many years and involves individuals assuming the role of a professional sports team manager (typically football) and assembling a virtual team of sportsmen to compete against other players within a private or public league. For decades, the game was played out across the whole season with the winners being those that had accumulated the most points (with the points gained being based on the real-life statistics of individual sportsmen using a predetermined scoring system).

However, fantasy sports have changed dramatically over the last few years. Although the game can still be played over a whole season, the playing of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has become increasing popular (particularly in countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia) and can operate over much shorter time periods. In DFS, players can pay to play and this has led to the blurring of lines of whether the activity is a game or whether it is gambling. As Dr. Dylan Pickering and his colleagues noted in a 2016 issue of Current Addiction Reports:

“Daily fantasy sports (DFS) is the most recent and controversial of FS games…It is an accelerated version of FS conducted over much shorter time periods: generally a single game (per day) or weekly round of competition. Users pay entry fees ranging from US 25 cents to US $5000 per league, which is deposited into a prize pool typically paid out to the highest ranked users in the contest. A portion of the entry fees also goes to the operator as commission. Accordingly, DFS, as such, is most associated with wagering. Currently, the US DFS market is dominated by ‘FanDuel’ and ‘DraftKings’ (combined with about 95 % of the market)”.

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According to figures in the same paper, in the USA, the fantasy sports (FS) market is currently estimated to be between $3 billion and $4 billion. In 2015, approximately 57 million Americans played FS. Research suggests that the prevalence rates are higher in North America than elsewhere with 19% of Canadian adults and 16% of American adults engaging in FS compared to 10% of British adults and 6% of Australian adults (Pickering et al., 2016). However, these figures relate to FS rather than DFS and many FS players do not pay money to participate in the game and simply play for fun. Some research by Dr. Joris Drayer and colleagues in a 2013 issue of the European Sport Management Quarterly also suggests that those who engage in playing DFS do not typically engage in other forms of gambling. Furthermore, in a 2011 issue of Journal of Sport Management, Dr. Brendan Dwyer and Dr. Yongjae Kim reported that compared to more traditional forms of gambling, the elements of fun, excitement, competition play a bigger role than winning money in the playing of DFS games.

A study carried out by Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Sarah Nelson published in a 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors found that college students who were FS users (free and fee-based) were five times more likely to incur gambling problems than non-FS users, and students who played FS for money had significantly higher rates of gambling problems than those who played in free leagues. A more recent 2016 study by Loredana Marchica and Dr. Jeff Derevensky in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examined data from national surveys of collegiate athletes and reported a steady rise in FS participation among college students between 2004 and 2012. They reported that approximately half of the male and a quarter of the female college athletes who qualified as at-risk or problem gamblers also reported wagering on FS.

There has been much debate (particularly by US legislators) as to whether playing DFS for money is classed as a legitimate form of gambling. If gambling is defined as “an agreement between two or more parties to deliberately stake something of value (typically money) with intent to profit on the outcome of an event that is determined wholly, or partially by chance” (by Pickering and colleagues), then DFS could well be a form of gambling as they argue:

“DFS can be construed as representing a form of gambling: (a) DFS includes an agreement between an individual and others, (b) money is staked on the relative performances of athletes across a certain number of sporting events with the outcome determined by both chance and skill, and (c) chance is involved given that multiple unknown factors can influence outcomes. In this regard, similarities are found in horse and sports wagering where some skill in selecting horse/sports outcomes is present, but unpredictable variables influence results (i.e., chance)…Literature from the legal field asserts that gambling must contain three elements: (a) consideration (staking something of value in order to participate), (b) chance (luck is a substantial factor in determining results), and (c) prizes (cash, merchandise, services, or points) are redeemable…While the first and third elements are clearly present in DFS, the second element, chance, is the source of current disagreement”.

The US legislation on gambling rests on whether an activity is more skill than chance determined. If DFS is predominantly a game of skill it is not deemed to be a form of gambling. The DFS operators claim that DFS games are not gambling because of the “substantial” amount of skill involved in the selection and management of FS teams. But is this any different for the professional gambler who bets on horse racing given the many factors that the person gambling has to take into account (the form of the horse, the skill of the jockey, the weather conditions, the state of the track, the number of other horses involved in the race, etc.). Similarly, poker and blackjack are both games that players can win big if they are skilful. Personally, I believe that playing DFS games for money is definitely a form of gambling, and even if it isn’t legally classed as a form of gambling, the games contain structural elements (including high event frequencies, low entry fee per game, lots of games, etc.) that can facilitate excessive use and expose vulnerable players to harm. DFS operators also allow team line-ups from a previous sporting event to populate other events which increases the speed of play, another factor that can facilitate habitual use. Furthermore, as Dr. Samantha Thomas and her colleagues argued in a recent 2015 report, the enhanced participatory role that fantasy games introduce could facilitate the illusion of control as they perform actions, making bettors overestimate the importance of skills and knowledge for the outcome of the competitions.

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

Further reading

Drayer, J., Dwyer, B., & Shapiro, S. L. (2013). Examining the impact of league entry fees on online fantasy sport participation and league consumption. European Sport Management Quarterly, 13(3), 339-335.

Dwyer, B., & Kim, Y. (2011). For love or money: Developing and validating a motivational scale for fantasy football participation. Journal of Sport Management, 25(1), 70-83.

Marchica, L., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Fantasy sports: A growing concern among college student-athletes. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. Epub ahead of print.

Martin, R. J., & Nelson, S. (2014). Fantasy sports, real money: Exploration of the relationship between fantasy sports participation and gambling-related problems. Addictive Behaviors, 39(10), 1377-138.

Pickering, D., Blaszczynski, A., Hartmann, M., & Keen, B. (2016). Fantasy sports: Skill, gambling, or are these irrelevant issues? Current Addiction Reports, 3(3), 307-313.

Thomas, S., Bestman, A., Pitt, H., Deans, E., Randle, M., Stoneham, M., & Daube, M. (2015). The marketing of wagering on social media: An analysis of promotional content on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Net bets: What makes betting online attractive to gamblers?

Over the past two decades I have carried out a lot of research on what factors are important in attracting people to engaging in online activities such as online video gaming, online gambling, online shopping, and online sex. Research has shown that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement and/or distraction – all of which can be highly reinforcing to internet users. My research has consistently shown that there are many generic factors that facilitate online use including accessibility, anonymity, affordability, convenience, escape, immersion, interactivity, disinhibition, and simulation. Today’s blog briefly examines these factors.

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Accessibility Access to the Internet is now commonplace and widespread, and can be done easily from the home, the workplace and (via mobile gambling) on the move. Given that the uptake of consumptive behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the incidence of activities like online gambling and online gaming is slowly increasing across different populations across the world. Fundamentally, increased accessibility of these activities enables the individual to rationalize involvement by removing previously restrictive barriers such as time constraints emanating from occupational and social commitments.

Anonymity – The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in such activities as sex and gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity can also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity also has the capacity to increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit – particularly when losing – as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity, like increased accessibility, may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly skill-based gambling activities such as poker that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the individual’s identity remains concealed.

Affordability – Given the wide accessibility of the Internet, it is now relatively inexpensive to use online services on offer. Furthermore, the overall cost of has been reduced significantly through technological developments, again, rendering affordability less of a restrictive force when it comes to rationalizing involvement in the behaviour. For example, the saturation of online gambling industry has lead to increased competition, and the consumer is benefiting from the ensuing promotional offers and discounts available on gambling outlay. Regarding interactive wagering, the emergence of peer-to-peer gambling through the introduction of betting exchanges has provided punters with commission free sporting gambling odds, which in effect means the player needs to risk less money to obtain potential revenue. Finally, ancillary costs of face-to-face gambling, such as parking, tipping and purchasing refreshments, is removed when gambling within the home and therefore the overall cost of gambling is reduced making it more affordable.

Convenience – Online behaviours usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours. For the internet user, not having to move from their home or their workplace is of great positive benefit and increases the attractiveness of online activities compared to offline activities.

Escape – For some internet users, the primary reinforcement to engage in an online behaviour is the gratification they experience online. However, the experience of activities like online gambling, online gaming and/or online sex may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’ or positive change in mood state. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. In short, online activities can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life.

Immersion – The medium of the Internet can provide feelings of dissociation and immersion and may facilitate feelings of escape (see above). Immersion can produce lots of different types of feelings that may be reinforcing for the internet user such as losing track of time, feeling like you’re someone else, and being in a trance like state.

Interactivity – The interactivity component of the Internet can also be psychologically rewarding and different from other more passive forms of entertainment (e.g., television). The interactive nature of the Internet can therefore provide a convenient way of increasing such personal involvement that can – in online situations – lead to increased online use. Furthermore, the alternative methods of peer interaction are available within interactive online activities that retain the socially reinforcing aspects of the behaviour. Individuals can communicate via computer-mediated communication in most online activities (including gambling and gaming).

Disinhibition – The feeling of disinhibition is one of the Internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited when they are online. Online users appear to open up more quickly online compared to offline situations and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. This has been referred to by Dr. John Suler as ‘hyperpersonal communication’. According to Dr. Suler, this occurs because of four features of online communication: 

  • The communicators usually share social categories so will perceive each other as similar (e.g., all online poker players)
  • The message sender can present themselves in a positive light, and so may be more confident
  • The format of online interaction (e.g., there are no other distractions, users can spend time composing messages, mix social and task messages, users don’t waste cognitive resources by answering immediately)
  • The communication medium provides a feedback loop whereby initial impressions are built upon and strengthened.

Simulation – Finally, simulations provide an ideal way in which to learn about something and which tends not to have any of the possible negative consequences. For instance, most online gambling sites have a practice mode format, where potential gamblers can place a non-monetary bet in order to see and practice the procedure of gambling on that site. Furthermore, gambling in practice modes can build self-efficacy and potentially increase perceptions of control in determining gambling outcomes motivating participation in their ‘real cash’ counterparts within the site.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications. pp. 61-75. New York: Academic Press.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment (pp. 91-111). New York: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

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

Griffiths M.D. & Szabo, A. (2014). Is excessive online usage a function of medium or activity? An empirical pilot study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3, 74–77.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

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

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Unravelling the Web: Adolescents and Internet Addiction. In R. Zheng, J. Burrow-Sanchez & C. Drew (Eds.), Adolescent Online Social Communication and Behavior: Relationship Formation on the Internet. pp. 29-49. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

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.