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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

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.

Loyal ascent: Player retention and social responsibility in the online gambling industry

Although I have spent nearly 30 years researching problem gambling, I am not (and have never been) anti-gambling. My research colleagues who work in the field of alcoholism are never considered anti-drinking so I don’t think I am in any way hypocritical. I also help various gaming companies in terms of harm minimization, social responsibility, and player protection – particularly those in the online gambling sector. In today’s blog I briefly outline five important factors that I believe are critical to online player acquisition and retention based on a combination of my own psychological research and my many years of researching the psychology of gambling. These are (i) branding, (ii) trust, (iii) reputation management and enhancement, (iv) company identification with the player, and (v) social responsibility.

Branding – Every great brand has an outstanding feature at its heart. A product also needs time and to be promoted and communicated consistently to become a brand. Repetition appears to be one of the keys to establishing brand success. Online gambling sites often get bad press and are often viewed as unsafe and risky places. Negative press and enough negative feedback from customers can bring the brand into disrepute.

Trust – What really determines a brand – and this is especially important in the online gambling arena – is trust. Trust is of paramount importance in e-commerce generally, and in getting people to gamble online more specifically. Without trust, the spending of money online is unlikely. Players will be more likely to gamble online with those companies that are well established than a little known company operating out of the Caribbean. It has been claimed that successful brands have a ‘trustmark’ rather than a trademark. With the embedding of regulatory and problem gambling regimes, a ‘trustmark’ is an apt gauge for social acceptability and social responsibility. However, getting transferability and connections across brands in the ‘mainstream’ is probably the key issue.

For many Internet gambling operators, the mechanism to establish trust has been to pursue a ‘clicks and mortar’ approach of combining an offline presence (and brand recognition) with online presence. ‘Trustmarks’ are thought to be one of the major reasons why consumers prefer one particular product to other non-familiar ones. They communicate that customers have not been let down by the product and they can reduce anxiety by using it. At the heart of gambling there will always be the underlying fact that in the long run, most players lose. Whichever way the gaming industry plays out this truism, the general situation of players mostly losing represents an underlying negativity that competes with the wit and innovation of demonstrating that the minority of real long-term winners are the central focus and purpose of participating. This is one of the main reasons why trust becomes so important.

Reputation management and enhancement – It was once argued that the Internet would provide a level playing field for small and large retailer alike. However, given the need to establish trust, it would seem that organisations with a good existing offline reputation are at an advantage. Research into online purchasing of books and flight bookings show that the perceived size and reputation of the company determines consumers’ likelihood of purchasing from it. The reason for this is that increased size and reputation led to higher trust, which in turn influences the perception of risk and the willingness to buy.

Recent psychological thinking proposes a three stage model for understanding how people assess the trustworthiness of a website. The first stage assumes that people are faced with a large number of potential websites and thus engage in rapid, heuristic-based analysis based on the design of the site, rather than the content. During the second stage, people engage in a more systematic analysis of the content of the site, and it is during this stage that people are influenced by apparent integrity, benevolence and expertise. The third stage is a relationship development and integration stage, that is, people’s continued use of a site, personalization and the integration of experience.

Trust is an historical concept because customers need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that customers do not have to have experienced the product. Customers might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years. Although little studied in empirical gambling investigations, trust is thought to be an important variable in both the initial decision to gamble and the maintenance of the behaviour. In a study of nearly 11,000 carried out by our gaming research unit, four-fifths of Internet gamblers (79%) considered the Internet a trustworthy medium of gambling. However, most Internet gamblers (90%) preferred to gamble on websites of well-known and trusted ‘high street’ bookmakers.

Company identification with the player – One of the most important things about brands for the gaming industry is that they help consumers define their self-image and who they are – at least on some psychological level. For some people, this ‘personal branding’ may be more important than their social identities within a community. For example, the car they drive or the newspaper they read, are particularly strong cultural indicators of what sort of person they are. Where they gamble and on what games can be an extension of this. However, total trust acceptance may also lead to an uncritical assessment of acceptability by the punter. For instance, some trusted non-gambling websites now provide links and endorsements to either their own gambling sites, or those of affiliates. Our gaming research unit  highlighted a case of an online problem gambler who had been led to an online gambling site by watching a popular (and trusted) daytime television programme that promoted its own online gaming site.

Social responsibility – As mentioned above, ‘trustmarks’ are likely to be important in relation to social responsibility and the perception of it by players. In studies conducted by our gaming research unit with online gamblers around the world, we found that many of them felt that responsible gaming practises demonstrate that a gaming operator has integrity, and that they care about their players’ wellbeing. For instance, many online poker players did not want their winnings to come from players who could not afford to lose it. They reported that responsible gaming practises allowed them to feel comfortable that their winnings had not come from people with gambling problems. Given that one of the biggest obstacles that prevent people playing online is a lack of trust of operators, this is a significant and important finding that gaming operators should take not of. 

For me, all of these five factors are highly inter-linked. However, I believe that those who end up being the most successful online gaming companies will be the ones with the best social responsibility protocols and infrastructure, and that this will engender trust among its clientele.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

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.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Online trust and Internet gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 8(4), 14-16.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility and trust in online gambling: Six steps to success. i-Gaming Business, 61, 36-37.

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

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

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

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008). Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

Sell division: Responsible marketing and advertising by the gambling industry

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of speculation over the role of advertising as a possible stimulus to increased gambling, and as a contributor to problem gambling (including underage gambling). Various lobby groups (e.g., anti-gambling coalitions, religious groups, etc.) claim advertising has played a role in the widespread cultural acceptance of gambling. These groups also claim casino advertising tends to use glamorous images and beautiful people to sell gambling, while other advertisements for lottery tickets and slot machines depict ordinary people winning loads of money or millions from a single coin in the slot.

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

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

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

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

Gambling advertising also plays an important role in ‘normalizing’ gambling. Content analyses of gambling adverts have reported that gambling is portrayed as a normal, enjoyable form of entertainment involving fun and excitement. Furthermore, they are often centred on friends and social events. The likelihood of large financial gain is often central theme, with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures (one gaming company’s advertising even had the strapline “Bet to forget”). Research has found that there is a large public awareness of gambling advertising, and that problem gamblers often mention advertising as a trigger to gambling.

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

  • A marketing policy that (i) prohibits any advertising that is overly aggressive, (ii) rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and (iii) prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, and (iv) prohibits placement of advertisements within media programs viewed mainly by minors.
  • The odds of winning are highlighted. This is being done in response to the suggestions expressed so frequently by various groups interested in knowing their chances of winning.
  • Television commercials for new products devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • A policy that prohibits the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, one of their instant lotteries used a Chinese theme to stimulate interest. However, the Chinese community did not agree with making references to its customs in order to promote the game. Out of respect for this community, the game was immediately suspended.

As various national and international advertising regulation bodies have advocated, socially responsible advertising should form one of the elements of protection afforded to ordinary customers and be reflected in the codes of practice. Personally, I believe that gambling advertising should focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money. Gambling problems often occur when an individual’s primary reason to gamble is to win money.

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

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

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

Further reading

Adams, P. (2004). Minimising the impact of gambling in the subtle degradation of democratic systems, Journal of Gambling Issues, 11. Available at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue11/jgi_11_adams.html.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trends reunited: How has gambling changed? (Part 2)

Most of the changes outlined in my previous blog were things that I predicted would happen in various papers that I wrote in the 1990s. However, there are many things that I did not predict would be areas of growing interest and change. The most interesting (to me at least) include (i) the rise of online poker and betting exchanges, (ii) gender swapping online and the rise of female Internet gambling, (iii) emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling, (iv) increase in use of behavioural tracking data, and (v) technological help for problem gamblers.

Online poker and betting exchanges: Two of the fastest growing forms of online gambling are in the areas of online poker and online betting exchanges. I have speculated there are three main reasons for the growth in these two particular sectors. Firstly, they provide excellent financial value for the gambler. There is no casino house edge or bookmakers’ mark-up on odds. Secondly, gamblers have the potential to win because there is an element of skill in making their bets. Thirdly, gamblers are able to compete directly with and against other gamblers instead of gambling on a pre-programmed slot machine or making a bet on a roulette wheel with fixed odds. However, one of the potential downsides to increased competition is recent research highlighting that problem gamblers are significantly more likely to be competitive when compared to non-problem gamblers. My research unit has also speculated other factors that have aided the popularity of online poker. These include (i) social acceptability of this type of gambling, (ii) promotion through televised tournaments often with celebrity players, (iii) 24/7 availability, (iv) the relative inexpensiveness of playing, and (v) the belief that this is predominantly a game of skill that can be mastered.

Gender swapping and the rise in female Internet gambling: One study by my research unitreported the phenomenon of gender swapping in online poker players. More female players (20%) in our study reported swapping gender when playing compared to males (12%). Typical reasons that female participants gave as to why they did this were that they believed other males would not take them so seriously if they knew they were playing against a woman. It also gave them a greater sense of security as a lone woman in a predominantly male arena. Males and females clearly had different motivations for gender swapping. For males it was a tactical move to give them a strategic advantage. For females it was more about acceptance or privacy in what they perceived to be a male dominated environment. Similar findings have been reported in relation to online computer game playing. In more general terms, the apparent rise in female Internet gambling is most likely because the Internet is a gender-neutral environment. The Internet is seen as less alienating and stigmatising medium when compared to male-dominated environments such as casinos and betting shops. The most obvious example is online bingo where online gaming companies have targeted females to get online, socialise, and gamble.

Emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling: The emergence of new technologies has brought with it new media in which to gamble. As noted above, the rise of online poker has been one of the success stories for the online gaming industry. This rise has also led to more research in this area including some that suggests a different way of viewing problem gambling. For instance, research has suggested that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money). This research has identified a group of problem gamblers who (on the whole) win more money than they lose. However, they may be spending excessive amounts of time (e.g., 12 to 14 hours a day) to do this. This could have implications for problem gambling criteria in the future (i.e., there may be more criteria relating to the consequences of time conflicts as opposed to financial consequences).

Increase in use of behavioural tracking data: Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed including (e.g., mentor, PlayScan). These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour that in turn may lead to new avenues for future research in the area. The companies who have developed these tools claim that they can detect problematic gambling behaviour through analysis of behavioural tracking data. If problem gambling can be detected online via observational tracking data, it suggests that there are identifiable behaviours associated with online problem gambling. Given that almost all of the current validated problem gambling screens diagnose problem gambling based on many of the consequences of problem gambling (e.g., compromising job, education, hobbies and/or relationship because of gambling; committing criminal acts to fund gambling behaviour; lying to family and friends about the extent of gambling, etc.), behavioural tracking data appears to suggest that problem gambling can be identified without the need to assess the negative psychosocial consequences of problem gambling.

Technological help for problem gamblers: Much of this article has discussed the potential downside of technological innovation. However, one area that was not predicted a decade ago is the use of technology in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of problem gambling. For instance, technology is now being used for health promotion using the Web, video games, and/or CD-ROMs. Internet gambling sites are beginning to feature links to relevant gambling awareness sites. For those sites that analyze their online behavioural tracking data, it may be the case that such data could be used to identify problem gamblers and help them rather than exploit them. Finally, help in the form of online therapy (such as online counselling) may be an option for some problem gamblers. For instance, an evaluation that we carried out of an online advice service for problem gamblers showed that clients were very positive about the service and that Internet gamblers were more likely to access the service than non- Internet gamblers.

Obviously the changes I have listed here are the ones that have been most important to me personally and have formed the backbone of my research. In writing these blogs, part of me finds it hard to believe that I am still actively researching in the gambling studies field and that there is always something new to learn and discover.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013).Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Gambling technologies: Prospects for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 265-283.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Online betting exchanges: A brief overview. Youth Gambling International, 5(2), 1-2.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Impact of gambling technologies in a multi-media world. Casino and Gaming International, 2(2), 15-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Interactive television quizzes as gambling: A cause for concern? Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 269-276.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D. & Cooper, G. (2003). Online therapy: Implications for problem gamblers and clinicians. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 13, 113-135.

Griffiths, M.D. & Whitty, M.W. (2010). Online behavioural tracking in Internet gambling research: Ethical and methodological issues. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3, 104-117.

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

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

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

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Online guidance, advice, and support for problem gamblers and concerned relatives and friends: An evaluation of the Gam-Aid pilot service. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 35, 373-389.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Safety in numbers: Responsible gambling and the UK betting sector

Over the last few days I appeared in a lot of news reports (including one by the BBC) in relation to the Association of British Bookmakers’ (ABB) new responsible gambling Code of Conduct (that you can download for free here). I was approached by the ABB back in July 2013 to help develop the new code and I view the publication of it as a great step forward in social responsibility and responsible gambling.

Whilst governments and regulatory bodies around the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of responsible gaming policies, such bodies tend not to specify the details of how such policies should be developed and implemented by gambling operators. Hopefully, this is where British gaming operators can take a proactive stance. Any gaming company that puts socially responsible practices at the heart of its business should be required to engage in a number of practices as a bare minimum. More specifically, gaming companies should (i) minimize the likelihood of a ‘vulnerable player’ developing a gambling problem whilst playing games, (ii) encourage well informed and rational gambling behaviour among its clientele, (iii) provide support for clientele who develop problems and/or who show distress as a result of gambling, (iv) protect vulnerable groups from either gambling in the first place (e.g., minors, problem gamblers, the intoxicated), and (v) develop an amicable relationship with local communities and other stakeholders (e.g., treatment providers, educational programs, research community, faith groups, etc.).

The most socially responsible gaming companies around the world have already introduced many player protection initiatives for both online and offline players. These include (i) stringent age verification checks, (ii) the use of behavioural tracking tools and/or player cards (to monitor potentially problematic playing patterns), (iii) socially responsible marketing and advertising, (iv) mandatory limit setting options (where players can pre-commit to how much time and money they want to spend over a given time period), (v) in-play notifications (e.g., pop-up messages to help players decide whether they should carry on gambling or not), and (vi) complete transparency in the games offered (such as the probability of winning and prize structures). So how does the new ABB code match up? Here are some of the initiatives that are in the ABBs’ new code. The new ‘Harm Minimisation Strategy’ focuses on four levels:

  • Issuing clearer and more accessible information on how to gamble responsibly and highlighting the sources of help available
  • Providing customers with new tools such as mandatory time and money based reminders, the ability to set spend and time limits on gaming machines and to request machine session data.
  • Training staff to detect the signs of potential problem gambling more quickly and how to interact more effectively with those identified
  • Undertaking more consistent central analysis of data to identify abnormal activity both in specific shops and, where possible, that relating to individual customers.

The new code is just the beginning. The document points out that: “The Code of Conduct will be evolutionary. ABB is fully committed to both monitoring compliance to the code and to updating and strengthening the code as new technological solutions are developed, new empirical evidence is produced or new concerns emerge over the coming months/years”. Some of the specific new measures in the ABB code include:

  • Enhanced staff training: All shop staff will be trained, in consultation with providers of responsible gambling expertise, to recognise a wider range of problem gambling indicators and will aim to identify those customers at risk of developing a gambling problem.
  • Enhanced customer engagement: All shop staff will be actively encouraged to ‘walk the shop floor’ as part and parcel of an enhanced customer engagement role, including initiating customer interaction in response to specific customer behaviour which needs to be addressed.
  • Dedicated responsible gambling co-ordinator:  All ABB members will nominate a member of staff who will be responsible for responsible gambling on a local basis and will receive additional training to deal with more complex responsible gambling interactions.
  • Compliance objectives linked to managers’ performance: Compliance objectives will be added to the performance agreements of all relevant middle and senior managers working for ABB members and compliance will be a standing item agenda at Licensed Betting Office level performance reviews. The ABB will develop a minimum industry standard for staff training which is hoped will evolve into an accredited system.

The ABB also announced that in relation to customers playing on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in their shops that such slot machines will have (i) voluntary money limits, (ii) voluntary time limits, (iii) mandatory money-based pop-up reminders, and (iv) mandatory time-based reminders. The new code also banned the use of ATMs inside betting offices, and agreed to provide as much information as possible so that players can make an informed choice about gambling, along with help and guidance as to how to get help if a gambler thinks they are developing a problem. Finally, this new industry standard was fully implemented this month and will be reviewed annually. The standard will include:

  • Provision of appropriate information on the effects of problem gambling
  • Recognition and identification of the indicators of problem gambling
  • Conflict management
  • Customer interaction in response to specific customer behaviour referral, and follow‐up processes
  • Effective self-exclusion processes at a local level
  • The application of a Think 21 policy, especially with regard to machine players
  • The identification of vulnerable groups
  • Regular refresher training
  • Auditing and testing of staff at least every two years

If all the British gaming operators can collectively initiate and continue such practices, they will then be able to claim that they are becoming world leaders in responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization.

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

Further reading

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

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

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

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

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

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

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

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Smeaton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet gambling and social responsibility: An exploratory study, CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 49-57.

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.

Time out: Are voluntary self-exclusion services about responsible gambling or problem gambling?

Responsible gambling practices have now become the norm within the gaming industry. One of the first types of responsible gambling practice introduced by gaming companies was the introduction of self-exclusion schemes for problem gamblers, particularly in offline casinos. More recently, online gaming companies have begun to introduce self-exclusion schemes. This blog briefly examines the question of whether such schemes should be underpinned by concerns around problem gambling or whether they should be about responsible gambling more generally. This is a particularly important issue for accreditation agencies who typically recommend to online gaming companies very specific periods that online gamblers should be excluded for.

Self-exclusion initiatives are now very common and although these contracts have some value in containing the harms to established problem gamblers, they could certainly be a lot more effective. There is little research demonstrating whether they stop gambling in either the short-term or long-term as exclusion from one or more venues still leaves opportunities to gamble elsewhere. However, a small proportion of problem gamblers appreciate the opportunity to self-exclude and this is clearly a valuable service for them.

In a 2007 report by Dr. Robert Williams and his Canadian colleagues, they noted that the effectiveness of offline self-exclusion programs can be measured in three ways. These are the: (i) utilization rate, (ii) percentage of self-excluders who successfully refrain from entering the gaming venue during the self-exclusion period, and (iii) impact self-exclusion has on overall gambling behaviour. Utilization rates are typically very low across most jurisdictions (0.5% to 7%) although countries with a proactive self-exclusion program (e.g., Holland) are typically much higher.

There has been only a limited amount of research examining how many self-excluders refrain from gambling at a venue where they have excluded themselves. According to researchers like Dr. Robert Ladouceur, typical rates suggest around 20-25% of self-excluders attempt to re-gain access to the gambling venue they excluded themselves from, although higher compliance rates have been reported in Holland. There have been very few empirical reports of whether self-excluders curtail their gambling behaviour. Some studies report that when gamblers have self-excluded from one venue, they simply go and gamble elsewhere.

The most positive evaluation was a 2007 Canadian study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies led by Dr. Ladouceur and colleagues who examined 161 self-excluders. A year later, researchers from the same university (including Dr. Ladouceur) also reported in the Journal of Gambling Studies some success with an ‘improved’ self-exclusion program but the number of self-excluders in the data set (n=39) was very small. After two-year follow-up, most had significant reductions in urge to gamble, the intensity of negative consequences, and pathological gambling scores using the criteria of the American psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Research examining offline self-exclusion has almost exclusively viewed self-exclusion schemes as being about protecting problem gamblers. However, this is not the necessarily the case with online gambling.

Compared to offline self-exclusion, there has been even less research on online self-exclusion schemes. Here, most of the research has examined what online gamblers actually think about self-exclusion schemes and/or their use of them. The Global Online Gambler Survey (led by Dr. Jonathan Parke and published by my International Gaming Research Unit, 2007) collected data from 10,865 online gamblers. The survey specifically asked about the use of online social responsibility tools. Although no single feature stood out as critically important, 58% stated that they considered self-exclusion as ‘quite useful’ (with 23% saying it was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ useful).

In a 2009 survey of 2,348 online gamblers published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior that I and my colleagues carried out (all clientele of the Swedish gaming operator Svenska Spel) examining online social responsibility tools via the PlayScan behavioural tracking system, we reported that a quarter of our sample used PlayScan. Over one-third of respondents (42%) reported the self-exclusion features to be ‘quite useful’ or ‘very useful’. Just under one in five PlayScan users (17%) had actually used one of the self-exclusion features. In a 2010 study of online gamblers published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Dr. Tobias Hayer and Gerhard Meyer carried out a follow-up survey one year after the initiation of self-exclusion with a small sub-sample (n=20). They reported that the restriction of access to a single online gambling site had favourable psychosocial effects.

Despite the limited empirical evidence showing whether self-exclusion schemes are effective, gamblers (particularly those online) appear to appreciate short-term self-exclusion facilities even if they do not have a problem with gambling. For instance, in the 2009 study we carried out, online gamblers reported that the most useful self-exclusion feature was the 7-day self-exclusion rated as ‘quite/very useful’ by just under half of respondents (46%). This was followed by 1-month self-exclusion (24%), 24-hour self-exclusion (24%), and permanent self-exclusion (16%). These types of self-exclusion are likely to be associated with non-problem gamblers who may want to restrict their gambling behaviour to a very specific instance.

Given the (presumed) unproblematic nature of internet gambling among respondents, it was unsurprising that only 16% thought permanent self-exclusion would be useful to them personally. If anything, this might appear to be a slightly higher figure than might have been predicted as it could be argued that non-problem gamblers would be unlikely to make use of a permanent self-exclusion.

As noted above, the seven-day exclusion period was the most useful with almost a half of participants endorsing this as their most favoured. This may have been especially useful for those who do not want to gamble for a particular period such as the week before a monthly ‘pay day’. One-month and one-day self-exclusion periods were most popular for around half the participants (approximately 25% each). These types of self-exclusion are more likely to be associated with non-problem gamblers who may want to restrict their gambling behaviour to a very specific instance such as preceding a night of heavy drinking (e.g., 24-hour self-exclusion) or a particular time of the year like the run up to Christmas (e.g., one-month self-exclusion).

Overall, these results suggest that self-exclusion is not a tool for problem gamblers but more generally a tool for responsible gambling This is particularly important point to bear in mind for those agencies that currently accredit online gaming companies in relation to socially responsible practices and procedures. For instance, GamCare will not accredit online gaming companies unless there is a minimum 6-month online exclusion facility. The empirical evidence outlined above clearly shows that short-term self-exclusion options of less than six months are beneficial to online gamblers. Therefore, accreditation agencies need to base their recommendations about self-exclusion on empirical evidence and what is most useful to online gamblers.

Any online gaming company should allow gamblers the opportunity to self-exclude themselves from their gambling site for any period whether it is one day, one week, one month or one year. Compared to offline schemes, online self-exclusion is relatively easy to introduce, and should run for the period requested by the gambler and not an arbitrary limit set by an accreditation agency.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

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

Hayer, T. & Meyer, G. (2010). Internet self-exclusion: Characteristics of self-excluded gamblers and preliminary evidence for its effectiveness. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 296-307

International Gaming Research Unit (2007). The global online gambling report: An exploratory investigation into the attitudes and behaviours of internet casino and poker players. Report for eCOGRA (e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance).

Ladouceur, R., Jacques, C., Girous, I., Ferland, F., & LeBlond, J. (2000). Analysis of a casino’s self-exclusion program. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 453-460.

Ladouceur, R., Sylvain, C., Gosselin, P. (2007). Self-exclusion program: A longitudinal evaluation study. Journal of Gambling Studies, 23, 85-94.

O’Neil, M., Whetton, S., Doman, B., Herbert, M., Giannopolous, V., OíNeil, D., & Wordley, J. (2003). Part A – Evaluation of self-exclusion programs in Victoria and Part B – Summary of self-exclusion programs in Australian States and Territories. Melbourne: Gambling Research Panel.

Steinberg, M., & Velardo, W. (2002). Preliminary evaluation of a casino self-exclusion program. Paper presented at the Responsible Gambling Council of Ontarioís Discovery 2002 Conference, April 2002, Niagara Falls, Canada.

Tremblay, N., Boutin C. & Ladouceur, R. (2008). Improved self-exclusion program: Preliminary results. Journal of Gambling Studies, 24, 505–518

Williams, R.J., Simpson, R.I. and West, B.L. (2007). Prevention of problem gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.399-435. New York: Elsevier.

Care in the (gaming) community: Social responsibility and the videogame industry

In recent years, the problematic use of online videogames has received increased attention not only from the media, but also from psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health organizations and gamers themselves. A number of studies from different cultures are providing evidence that somewhere around 7 to 11% of gamers seem to be having real problems to the point that they are considered pathological gamers. In extreme cases, some gamers are reported to have been playing for 40, 60, and even 90 hours in a single gaming session.

While it may be difficult to distinguish between a healthy and unhealthy usage of online videogames, there is sufficient evidence to describe some excessive gaming as problematic and/or addictive when it pervades and disrupts other aspects of life making it an issue worthy of extensive investigation. In some cases this leads to symptoms commonly experienced by substance addicts, namely salience, mood modification, craving and tolerance. Research suggests that some gamers are struggling to keep their playing habits under control and consequently compromise their academic achievement, real-life relationships, family relationships, physical health, and psychological wellbeing.

Despite a decade of research, there is significant disagreement on whether pathological gaming can be conceptualized as an impulse control disorder and/or a behavioural addiction such as pathological gambling. While acknowledging the potential for some gamers to engage in pathological use, most researchers argue in favour of creating an official diagnosis for pathological gaming. However, others disagree and advise caution about the potential for exaggeration of a real but uncommon problem. As well as the divergence of opinions in the scholarly community, there is insufficient evidence to reach any definitive conclusions or an operational definition of pathological gaming, its diagnosis criteria and prevalence. While the academic debate is likely to continue for a while, it is clear that for a small minority of gamers, pathological gaming leads to negative life consequences.

Against this backdrop, comparable with the cautionary health messages on tobacco and alcohol packaging, warning messages about risk of overuse have recently started to appear on the loading screens of popular online games. For example:

  • World of Warcraft – ‘Take everything in moderation (even World of Warcraft)’ and ‘Bring your friends to Azeroth, but don’t forget to go outside of Azeroth with them as well’;
  • Final Fantasy XI – ‘Exploring Vana’diel is a thrilling experience. During your time here, you will be able to talk, join, and adventure with many other individuals in an experience that is unique to online games. That being said, we have no desire to see your real life suffer as a consequence. Don’t forget your family, your friends, your school, or your work.’

These and similar warning messages raise the question of why the online videogame industry warns its players not to overuse their product. Does the videogame industry really believe that their products have addictive features that can lead to negative consequences and the functional impairment of gamers’ lives? This leads to the important issue of whether the giving of such messages by online videogame companies means they have done enough to fulfil their social responsibility or do they have they a wider role to play? Furthermore, these warning messages suggest that the online videogame industry knows how high the percentage of over-users is, how much time gamers’ spend playing, and what specific features makes a particular game more engrossing and addictive than others. While they do not directly admit this, by showing these warning messages, they do take some responsibility into their own hands.

Companies in the online video games sector have started to face criticism around the addictive and problematic nature of the use involved with certain online games and their violent content, suggesting that it is a controversial industry. Gaining broader societal acceptance has become a critical factor for companies in controversial industries where failure to meet stakeholders’ societal expectations result in their legitimacy being challenged. Unlike the gambling industry, which has a long history of forced governmental regulation and in which CSR has become a crucial issue, the online videogame industry has, by and large to date, escaped governmental action. However, there are some isolated examples of governmental interventions. For example, China introduced controls to deter people from playing online videogames for longer than three hours, while Thailand’s government banned Grand Theft Auto 4 when a student murdered a taxi driver while trying to recreate a scene from the game ‘to see if it was as easy as in the game’. In addition, the Australian classification board refused the original version of Fallout 3 due to the high level of realistic drug use thus forcing its developer Bethesda Softworks to release a censored version.

In the USA, the sales of ‘Mature’ (M) or ‘Adults Only’ (AO) rated games to minors has been an issue of much concern to public officials, and the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act introduced to the US House of Representatives requires an ID check for M- and AO-rated game purchases (US Congress, 2006). The majority of game publishers have decided to get controversial games rated by voluntary rating systems. For example, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates games in the USA and Canada, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in the UK, and the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) in Europe. While the ESRB and PEGI ratings are not legally binding, the BBFC ratings are backed up by the British law, thus making it illegal to sell the game to anyone under the indicated age. Few publishers in the online videogame industry have attempted to develop and sell a game with the strictest ESRB rating of AO. While rating systems are helpful, a study commissioned by the UK games industry found that parents let their children play games with adult or 18+ ratings, because they perceived age ratings as a guide but not as a definite prohibition.

Online videogame developers and publishers need to look into the structural features of the game design, for example, character development, rapid absorption rate, and multi-player features, that make them addictive and/or problematic for some gamers. This undertaking falls mainly on the game developers as they hold the codes for making the games less addictive. For example, long quests can be shortened to minimize the time spent in the game to obtain a certain prized item. Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, introduced some down-tuning of hardcore game-play mechanisms that encouraged excessive gaming. Initially, a symbolic and unique in-game title was rewarded to players who progress their character to the maximum level of 80 fastest. However, after several pages of forum debate in which players expressed their concern, an official Blizzard representative announced the removal of the title from the game.

Many games make use of variable ratio reinforcement schedules, which provides a very intense experience, thus increasing the addictiveness of the virtual world. Although, the potentially addictive design features of MMORPGs might not be intentional there is an obligation on the developers to consider ways of limiting harm. One way of doing this can be for developers to make design changes on time limits as many gamers schedule and plan according to the in-game periods of time. For example, long quests could be shortened, the amount of experience points needed to reach the next level could be lowered, spawns could be timed to appear more frequently to give gamers increased chances of receiving specifically wanted items and by speeding the processes of difficult task, gamers will be able to leave the game much earlier after completing their tasks. Implementing these changes to MMORPGs would show that game developers are taking CSR seriously and that they are concerned with more than revenue.

In terms of effective care policies for the gamers, the most observable act until now by the online videogame publishers is the initiation of warning messages. Through these messages, the industry is seemingly addressing CSR in the area of excessive use of videogames, albeit to a rather limited extent. Furthermore, some games (such as WoW) have a parental mode that allows parents to restrict playing time for their children.

Online videogame publishers should make provision for suitable referral services. Presently, they provide neither referral services nor customer care with regard to videogame addiction. Although the time constraints policies applied in China might not be a viable option in Europe, companies can potentially identify from their databases extreme or problematic gamers who are spending an excessive amount of time in the game and offer them contact information for a referral service in their country. Empirical evidence from the gambling industry suggests that similar initiatives and other social-responsibility tools are appreciated by players. There is also recent empirical evidence from the gambling studies field that the setting of time limits helps the most gaming intense players the most. In the context of online gambling, I have suggested that it is not the gaming industry’s responsibility to treat gamblers but it is their responsibility to provide referrals for problem gamblers to specialist helping agencies. I have argued that it is better for the industry to refer their problem customers to online help that offers a high degree of anonymity (as this is preferred by online gamblers). This is an important finding for the online videogame industry to take on board, as it seems that it is not currently taken into consideration in their CSR practices. Online videogame companies need to take social responsibility for the extreme and problematic usage of their products. The proportion of gamers who develop problems and/or become addicts may stay roughly constant but as online videogames get better and better, and increasing numbers of people discover them, the number of addicts is most probably going to rise.

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

Additional input: Dr. Shumaila Yousafzai and Dr. Zaheer Hussain

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, DOI 10.1007/s10899-012-9332-y.

Cai, Y., Jo, H., & Pan, C. (2012). Doing well while doing bad? CSR in controversial industry sectors. Journal of Business Ethics, 108, 467–480.

Ferguson, C. J., Coulson, M., & Barnett, J. (2011). A meta-analysis of pathological gaming prevalence and comorbidity with mental health, academic and social problems. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45, 1573–1578.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Age ratings on video games: Are the effective? Education and Health, 28, 65-67.

Griffiths, M.D., & Meredith, A. (2009). Videogame addiction and treatment. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 39, 47-53.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Hussain, Z., Griffiths, M.D. & Baguley, T. (2012).Online gaming addiction: classification, prediction and associated risk factors. Addiction Research & Theory 20(5), 359-371.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S.& Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

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

Porter, G., Starcevic, V., Berle, D., & Fenech , P. (2010). Recognizing problem video game use. Australia Newzealad Journal of Psychiatry, 44(2),120 –128.

Van Rooij, A., Meerkerk, G., Schoenmakers, T., Griffiths, M., & van de Mheen, D. (2010). Video game addiction and social responsibility. Addiction Research & Theory, 18(5): 489-493.

Yousafzai, S.Y., Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social responsibility in online videogaming: What should the videogame industry do? Addiction Research and Theory, DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2013.812203

Air raising experiences: Gambling as in-flight entertainment

Today’s blog is based on an article I was commissioned to write for The Independent and which was published on November 30, 2012. I originally entitled my piece as ‘Is it right for high flyers to become high rollers?” but The Independent changed it to ‘Casinos on a plane? Fine as long as it’s responsible”.

At the end of November 2012, Simon Calder wrote a report for The Independent about plans for in-flight casinos to be made available on long-haul flights for first and business class passengers. Gambling while airborne is nothing new – in fact I have flown back from Europe a number of times on budget airlines where I was offered scratchcards to play. Given that gambling already takes place on aeroplanes means that there is no moral or regulatory reason for other forms of gambling not to be introduced.

Gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for many different types of commercial enterprise. Whether it’s playing slot machine in the pub or buying lottery tickets from the supermarket, most commercial businesses are happy to earn extra money by offering gambling products. We can now gamble online, gamble via the red button on our television sets via services like Skybet, and over the summer, the most popular social networking site Facebook launched its first gambling for money game in the shape of Bingo Friendzy. In short, gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for among many different and diverse commercial operators, and the airline industry is no different.

What’s more, passengers on long-haul flights provide a captive audience. They will want entertainment to stave off the potential boredom. But is this something we should be concerned about? Although I have spent over 25 years studying problem gamblers, I am not anti-gambling in the slightest. I believe that adults should be free to make their own choices about how they spend their disposable income. However, I am also pro-responsible gambling. This means that gaming operators must put in place measures and protocols that protect players from spending too much and protect vulnerable and susceptible individuals (such as children and adolescents). Any service provider that offers gambling should have staff members that are trained in social responsibility.

Gambling is an activity that has the potential to change people’s mood states instantaneously. Just like drinking alcohol or having sex, gambling is a wonderful ‘mood modifier’. It can make us feel high, buzzed up and excited – or it can make us feel low, downbeat and downright depressed. A win (or even a near win) can get the body’s pleasure centre aroused in the form of increased adrenaline and increased endorphins (the body’s own morphine-like substances). Conversely, big losses can lead to irritability and intense frustration. In extreme cases, gambling losses can lead to anger, verbal abuse, and even physical aggression. In this sense, they are no different from someone who may be drunk from drinking too much alcohol. And what about those who drink while they are gambling in the confines of an air flight? Intoxication and large gambling losses are a heady mix that is best avoided as this could cause problems for both passengers and the airline crew.

The current plan appears to be to offer such gambling services to first and business class passengers only. I presume this is because the airline thinks this group of people will have the most disposable income. On the plus side, it may be the case that this group of individuals can afford to lose and are the least likely to be negatively affected (at least financially). On the negative side it could be viewed as targeted exploitation. And not everyone in business class is rich. I often travel business class but my air fares are paid for by the companies that I work for and not me personally. I certainly can’t afford to drop a hundred pounds here and there.

Overall, I am not anti-gambling on aeroplanes particularly if it is another service that passengers want. However, like drinking alcohol, gambling is a consumptive activity that is problematic to a small minority of individuals and that it should be done in moderation. If airlines want to get into the business of being gambling operators as a sideline, they need to have a socially responsible infrastructure in place that maximizes fun for those that want to gamble, and minimizes harm for those who may be vulnerable and susceptible.

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

Further reading

Calder, S. (2012). Wheels up, chips down: French design consortium develops plans for in-flight casino. The Independent, November 30. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/wheels-up-chips-down-french-design-consortium-develops-plans-for-inflight-casino-8372246.html

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. (2006). An overview of pathological gambling. In T. Plante (Ed.), Mental Disorders of the New Millennium. Vol. I: Behavioral Issues. pp. 73-98. New York: Greenwood.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Addiction and exposure. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopaedia of Communication (Volume 1). pp. 34-36. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

What is the gaming industry’s role in the prevention and treatment of problem gambling?

Over the last decade, social responsibility in gambling has become one of the major issues for professional gaming operators. Although the gaming industry understandably keeps an eye on their bottom line profits, there is an increasing adherence to social responsibility standards. Evidence for this is demonstrated by the fact that the gaming industry now has formal relationships with numerous organizations that address training, compliance, accreditation, and governance. There is also increasing integration between the gaming industry and a diverse set of stakeholders including government, practitioners, and researchers.

There have been some recent soundings about land-based casinos (e.g., Harrahs) directly helping problem gamblers through the use of on site treatment specialists (i.e., problem gamblers having access to treatment in the gambling environment itself). Although this sounds like a very socially responsible move on the part of the operators, it is my view is that it is not the gaming industry’s responsibility to treat gamblers but it is their responsibility to provide referral for problem gamblers to specialist third party helping agencies (e.g., problem gambling helplines, counselling services, etc.). It is thought that the number of problem gamblers who actively seek treatment is only a small percentage of the overall number of problem gamblers. This is because problem gamblers may feel embarrassed and/or stigmatized via face-to-face treatment interventions. This suggests that one of the ways forward may be for the industry to refer their problem clients towards online (rather than offline) help.

Dr Richard Wood (GamRes Ltd.) and I reported one of the first ever studies that evaluated the effectiveness of an online help and guidance service for problem gamblers (i.e., GamAid). The evaluation utilized a mixed methods design in order to examine both primary and secondary data relating to the client experience. GamAid is an online advisory and guidance service whereby the problem gambler can either browse the available links and information provided, or talks to an online advisor (during the available hours of service), or request information to be sent via email, mobile phone (SMS/texting), or post. If the problem gambler connects to an online advisor then a real-time image of the advisor appears on the client’s screen in a small web-cam box. Next to the image box, is a dialogue box where the client can type messages to the advisor and in which the advisor can type a reply. Although the client can see the advisor, the advisor cannot see the client. The advisor also has the option to provide links to other relevant online services, and these appear on the left hand side of the client’s screen and remain there after the client logs off from the advisor. The links that are given are in response to statements or requests made by the client for specific (and where possible) local services (e.g., a local debt advice service, or a local Gamblers Anonymous meeting).

A total of 80 problem gamblers completed an in-depth online evaluation questionnaire, and secondary data were gathered from a further 413 clients who contacted a GamAid advisor. It was reported that the majority of the problem gamblers who completed the feedback survey were satisfied with the guidance and “counselling” service that GamAid offered. Most problem gamblers (i) agreed that GamAid provided information for local services where they could get help, (ii) agreed that they had or would follow the links given, (iii) felt the advisor was supportive and understood their needs, (iv) would consider using the service again, and (v) would recommend the service to others. Being able to see the advisor enabled the client to feel reassured, whilst at the same time, this one-way feature maintained anonymity, as the advisor cannot see the client.

An interesting observation was the extent to which GamAid was meeting a need not met by other UK gambling help services. This was examined by looking at the profiles of those clients using GamAid in comparison with the most similar service currently on offer, that being the UK GamCare telephone help line. The data recorded by GamAid advisors during the evaluation period found that 413 distinct clients contacted an advisor. Unsurprisingly (given the medium of the study), online gambling was the single most popular location for clients to gamble with 31% of males and 19% of females reporting that they gambled this way. By comparison, the GamCare helpline found that only 12% of their male and 7% of their female callers gambled online. Therefore, it could be argued that the GamAid service is the preferred modality for seeking support for online gamblers. This is perhaps not surprising given that online gamblers are likely to have a greater degree of overall competence in using, familiarity with, and access to Internet facilities. Problem gamblers may therefore be more likely to seek help using the media that they are most comfortable in.

GamAid advisors identified gender for 304 clients of which 71% were male and 29% were female. By comparison, the GamCare helpline identified that 89% of their callers were male and 11% were female. Therefore, it would appear that the online service might be appealing more to women than other comparable services. There are several speculative reasons why this may be the case. For instance, online gambling is gender-neutral and may therefore be more appealing to women than more traditional forms of gambling, which (on the whole) are traditionally male-oriented (with the exception of bingo) (Wardle et al, 2007). Women may feel more stigmatised as problem gamblers than males and/or less likely to approach other help services where males dominate (e.g., GA). If this is the case, then the high degree of anonymity offered by GamAid may be one of the reasons it is preferred. Most of those who had used another service reported that they preferred GamAid because they specifically wanted online help. Those who had used another service reported that the particular benefits of GamAid were that they were more comfortable talking online than on the phone or face-to–face. They also reported that (in their view) GamAid was easier to access, and the advisors were more caring.

In their review of preventing problem gambling, Professor Robert Williams and colleagues at the University of Lethbridge (Canada) make several important points that need to be taken on board by the gaming industry (and other interested parties) in relation to problem gambling prevention. These observations are also important for gaming operators when considering best practice in terms of social responsibility.

  • There exists a very large array of prevention initiatives.
  • Much is still unknown about the effectiveness of many individual initiatives.
  • The most commonly implemented measures tend to be among the less effective measures (e.g., casino self-exclusion, awareness/information campaigns).
  • There is almost nothing that is not helpful to some extent and that there is almost nothing that, by itself, has high potential to prevent harm.
  • Primary prevention initiatives are almost always more effective than tertiary prevention measures.
  • External controls (i.e., policy) tend to be just as useful as internal knowledge (e.g., education).
  • Effective prevention in most fields actually requires co-ordinated, extensive, and enduring efforts between effective educational initiatives and effective policy initiatives.
  • Prevention efforts have to be sustained and enduring, because behavioural change takes a long time.

It would therefore appear that there are many factors that could be incorporated within a gaming company’s framework of social responsibility and that while the industry should be proactive in the prevention of problem gambling, the treatment of problem gambling should be done by those outside of the gaming industry and that one of the ways forward may be online rather than offline help.

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

Further reading

Gainsbury, S.M. & Blaszczynski, A. (2011). ‘A systematic review of Internet-based therapy for the treatment of addictions’, Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 490-498.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Online therapy for addictive behaviors. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 8, 555-561.

Griffiths, M.D. & Cooper, G. (2003). Online therapy: Implications for problem gamblers and clinicians, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 13, 113-135.

Williams, R.J., Simpson, R.I. & West, B.L. (2007). Prevention of problem gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.399-435. New York: Elsevier.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Online guidance, advice, and support for problem gamblers and concerned relatives and friends: An evaluation of the GamAid pilot service. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 35, 373-389.