Blog Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accentuating the positives: A brief overview of our recent papers on responsible gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling, and sex addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on responsible gambling.

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

Social responsibility in gambling has become a major issue for the gaming industry. The possibility for online gamblers to set voluntary time and money limits are a social responsibility practice that is now widespread among online gaming operators. The main issue concerns whether the voluntary setting of such limits has any positive impact on subsequent gambling behaviour and whether such measures are of help to problem gamblers. In this paper, this issue is examined through data collected from a representative random sample of 100,000 players who gambled on the win2day gambling website. When opening an account at the win2day site, there is a mandatory requirement for all players to set time and cash-in limits (that cannot exceed 800 <euro> per week). During a 3-month period, all voluntary time and/or money limit setting behaviour by a subsample of online gamblers (n = 5,000) within this mandatory framework was tracked and recorded for subsequent data analysis. From the 5,000 gamblers, the 10 % most intense players (as measured by theoretical loss) were further investigated. Voluntary spending limits had the highest significant effect on subsequent monetary spending among casino and lottery gamblers. Monetary spending among poker players significantly decreased after setting a voluntary time limit. The highest significant decrease in playing duration was among poker players after setting a voluntary playing duration limit. The results of the study demonstrated that voluntary limit setting had a specific and significant effect on the studied gamblers. Therefore, voluntary limits appear to show an appropriate effect in the desired target group (i.e., the most gaming intense players).

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.

To date, empirical research relating to responsible gambling features has been sparse. A Delphi-based study rated the perceived effectiveness of 45 responsible gambling (RG) features in relation to 20 distinct gambling type games. Participants were 61 raters from seven countries and included responsible gambling experts (n = 22), treatment providers (n = 19) and recovered problem gamblers (n = 20). The most highly recommended RG features could be divided into three groups: 1) Player initiated tools focused on aiding player behavior; 2) RG features related to informed-player choice; 3) RG features focused on gaming company actions. Overall, player control over personal limits were favoured more than gaming company controlled limits, although mandatory use of such features was often recommended. The study found that recommended RG features varied considerably between game types, according to their structural characteristics. Also, online games had the possibility to provide many more RG features than traditional (offline games). The findings draw together knowledge about the effectiveness of RG features for specific game types. This should aid objective, cost-effective, evidence based decisions on which RG features to include in an RG strategy, according to a specific portfolio of games. The findings of this study will available via a web-based tool, known as the Responsible Gambling Knowledge Centre (RGKC).

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

Certain gambling operators now provide social responsibility tools to help players gamble more responsibly. One such innovation is the use of pop-up messages that aim to give feedback to the players about the time and money they have thus far spent gambling. Most studies of this innovation have been conducted in laboratory settings, and although controlled studies are indeed more reliable than real-world studies, the non-ecological validity of laboratory studies is still an issue. This study investigated the effects of a slot machine pop-up message in a real gambling environment by comparing the behavioural tracking data of two representative random samples of 400,000 gambling sessions before and after the pop-up message was introduced. The study comprised approximately 200,000 gamblers. The results indicated that, following the viewing of a pop-up message after 1000 consecutive gambles on an online slot machine game, nine times more gamblers ceased their gambling session than did those gamblers who had not viewed the message. The data suggest that pop-up messages can influence a small number of gamblers to cease their playing session, and that pop-ups appear to be another potentially helpful social responsibility tool in reducing excessive play within session.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Many recent studies of internet gambling—particularly those that have analysed behavioural tracking data—have used variables such ‘bet size’ and ‘number of games played’ as proxy measures for ‘gambling intensity’. In this paper it is argued that the most stable and reliable measure for ‘gambling intensity’ is the ‘theoretical loss’ (a product of total bet size and house advantage). In the long run, the theoretical loss corresponds with the Gross Gaming Revenue generated by commercial gaming operators. For shorter periods of time, theoretical loss is the most stable measure of gambling intensity as it is not distorted by gamblers’ occasional wins. Even for single bets, the theoretical loss reflects the amount a player is willing to risk. Using behavioural tracking data of 100,000 players who played online casino, lottery and/or poker games, this paper also demonstrates that bet size does not equate to or explain theoretical loss as it does not take into account the house advantage. This lack of accuracy is shown to be even more pronounced for gamblers who play a variety of games.

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

Although there is a general lack of empirical evidence that advertising influences gambling participation, the regulation of gambling advertising is hotly debated among academic researchers, treatment specialists, lobby groups, regulators, and policymakers. This study contributes to the ongoing debate by investigating perceived impacts of gambling advertising in a sample of gamblers drawn from the general population in Norway (n = 6,034). Three dimensions of advertising impacts were identified, representing perceived impacts on (a) gambling-related attitudes, interest, and behavior (“involvement”); (b) knowledge about gambling options and providers (“knowledge”); and (c) the degree to which people are aware of gambling advertising (“awareness”). Overall, impacts were strongest for the knowledge dimension, and, for all 3 dimensions, the impact increased with level of advertising exposure. Those identified as problem gamblers in the sample (n = 57) reported advertising impacts concerning involvement more than recreational gamblers, and this finding was not attributable to differences in advertising exposure. Additionally, younger gamblers reported stronger impacts on involvement and knowledge but were less likely to agree that they were aware of gambling advertising than older gamblers. Male gamblers were more likely than female gamblers to report stronger impacts on both involvement and knowledge. These findings are discussed with regard to existing research on gambling advertising as well as their implications for future research and policy-making

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

Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of gaming operators that have incorporated on-screen pop-up messages while gamblers play on slot machines and/or online as one of a range of tools to help encourage responsible gambling. Coupled with this, there has also been an increase in empirical research into whether such pop-up messages are effective, particularly in laboratory settings. However, very few studies have been conducted on the utility of pop-up messages in real-world gambling settings. The present study investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study was conducted in a real-world gambling environment by comparing the behavioral tracking data of two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). The data suggest that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions and that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing in-session.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Understanding positive play: An exploration of playing experiences and responsible gambling practices. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 1715-1734.

This study is one of the first to explore in detail the behaviors, attitudes and motivations of players that show no signs of at-risk or problem gambling behavior (so-called ‘positive players’). Via an online survey, 1484 positive players were compared with 209 problem players identified using the Lie/Bet screen. The study identified two distinct groups of positive players defined according to their motivations to play and their engagement with responsible gambling (RG) practices. Those positive players that played most frequently employed the most personal RG strategies. Reasons that positive players gave for gambling were focused on leisure (e.g., playing for fun, being entertained, and/or winning a prize). By contrast, problem gamblers were much more focused upon modifying mood states (e.g., excitement, relaxation, depression and playing when bored or upset). The present study also suggests that online gambling is not, by default, inherently riskier than gambling in more traditional ways, as online gambling was the most popular media by which positive players gambled. Furthermore, most positive players reported that it was easier to stick to their limits when playing the National Lottery online compared to traditional retail purchasing of tickets. Problem players were significantly more likely than positive players to gamble with family and friends, suggesting that, contrary to a popular RG message, social play may not be inherently safer than gambling alone. It is proposed that players (generally) may identify more with the term ‘positive play’ than the term ‘RG’ which is frequently interpreted as being aimed at people with gambling problems, rather than all players.

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

Over the last few years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. However, for a small minority, the activity can become problematic. Consequently, the gambling industry has started to acknowledge their role in player protection and harm minimization and some gambling companies have introduced responsible gambling tools as a way of helping players stay in control. The present study evaluated the effectiveness of mentor (a responsible gambling tool that provides personalized feedback to players) among 1,015 online gamblers at a European online gambling site, and compared their behavior with matched controls (n = 15,216) on the basis of age, gender, playing duration, and theoretical loss (i.e., the amount of money wagered multiplied by the payout percentage of a specific game played). The results showed that online gamblers receiving personalized feedback spent significantly less time and money gambling compared to controls that did not receive personalized feedback. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools providing personalized feedback may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively to stay within their personal time and money spending limits.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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. & 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). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

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. (2014). The use of behavioural tracking methodologies in the study of online gambling. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013517480

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Luccini, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Preventing and treating problem gamblers in Italy. Responsible Gambling Review, 2, 20-26.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Putting responsible gambling, theory and research into practice. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 1-5.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Selecting the right responsible gambling features, according to the specific portfolio of games. Responsible Gambling Review, 1(1), 51-63.