A self-regulated gambling industry is just too risky

This month saw the launch of The Senet Group, a self-regulatory body founded by Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, William Hill and Coral, that aims to promote “responsible gambling standards”.

A laudable goal, if not for two fundamental problems: (i) the responsibility of defining what constitutes ‘responsible gambling’ is being taken by those who dominate the market rather than those tasked with the job of helping people suffering from its worst effects; and (ii) the success of gambling businesses depends largely on people not gambling responsibly, which obviously results in a conflict of interests.

But where does the responsibility really lie – with the gambling institutions or their patrons?

The Senet Group’s public decision to limit advertisements on street corners and on TV (viewable only after the watershed) is somewhat of a red herring. Given the proliferation of online gambling sites, the decision to implement a new measure that seeks solely to reduce real-world marketing is unlikely to have any positive impact on the reduction of risky behaviours. In fact it is those who are most vulnerable to the negative effects of gambling who are also most likely to use online gambling platforms. Research has shown that the main motivations for online gamblers include the elusive, protective cloak of anonymity1.

This industry has seen a boom in growth over the past few years2, resulting in, among other things, the removal of stigma attached to gambling and a shift in societal perception towards such activities being considered acceptable leisure pursuits3.

In addition to the fact that gambling websites are often accused of being too unrealistic and harbouring safety issues, when interviewed, those who frequent these sites report that they perceive online gambling to be more addictive than offline gambling, and that online gambling would exacerbate gambling problems in society.

So are we really at risk?

When psychologists investigated the behaviours of online gamblers over the course of several months, they found that their gambling behaviours decrease over time, especially within the first 90 days of betting within any given account4. But it’s not all good news – as a general rule, online gamblers tend to bet across different accounts on different activities, and will often switch accounts to get new promotional offers and bonuses5. And if you start digging even deeper, you will begin to discover that not all gambling is created equal. Online poker players, for instance, tend to display more rational betting patterns than their peers, reducing their gambling as their percentage of loss increases6.

Whether or not you agree with gambling, the fact that it has become more commonplace and less socially taboo means that the psychological barrier to entry is now much lower. If we’re really concerned about protecting those most vulnerable, it’s up to all of us – marketers, players and society – to take responsibility, and ensure that we’re giving ourselves enough scope to play without putting those most at risk in harm’s way.

1 McCormack, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Motivating and Inhibiting Factors in Online Gambling Behaviour: A Grounded Theory Study. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, 10, pp. 39–53.

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

3 LaPlante, D. A., & Shaffer, H. J. (2007). Understanding the influence of gambling opportunities: expanding exposure models to include adaptation. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(4), pp. 616-23

4 LaPlante, D. A., Schumann, A., LaBrie, R. A. & Shaffer, H. J. (2008). Population trends in Internet sports gambling. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, pp. 2399-2414.

5 Parke, A. (2007). An explorative investigation of the effects of information technology on gambling and gambling-related behaviours. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK.

6 LaPlante, D. A., Kleschinsky, J. H., LaBrie, R. A., Nelson, S. E., & Shaffer, H. J. (2009). Sitting at the virtual poker table: A prospective epidemiological study of actual internet poker gambling behavior. Computers in Human Behaviour, 25(3), pp. 711-717.

Read more from Nathalie Nahaï on her site – thewebpsychologist.com

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