Assisting Customers to Gamble in a Sustainable Way is the Only Win-Win Solution

Tools and resources that encourage and enhance gambling at a sustainable level, within affordable limits and without experiencing harms, will provide long-term benefits for individuals and businesses, writes Dr. Sally Gainsbury (l.).

Assisting Customers to Gamble in a Sustainable Way is the Only Win-Win Solution

Despite good intentions, it is time to do away with the term “responsible gambling.” This term does not resonate with customers. Research shows that it is ambiguous and vague and not considered relevant by customers.

Although an alternate term has not been agreed on, sustainable gambling refers to behavior whereby individuals gamble within their own level of affordability and make informed decisions with an accurate understanding of the game and how outcomes are determined, free from the influence of external factors.

Sustainable gambling is a behavior, rather than an individual trait or group, and it is not constant over time. We all make decisions everyday which are more or less “risky” in terms of short and longer-term impacts for ourselves and others. Decisions are influenced by our internal states, such as how hungry or tired we are and our affect (positive vs. negative moods), as well as social and environmental factors.

Many of us are unaware of the factors influencing our decisions at any point in time. It is very difficult for others, including gambling operators, to perceive whether someone is gambling in a risky vs. sustainable way, particularly if they do not know the individual well and are not familiar with their “typical” patterns of play. We can never presume that someone is going to gamble in a “safe” way. Although past behavior is a good indicator, it does not mean people are immune from getting out of control in short or longer bursts.

The good news is that there are many opportunities to intervene and change behaviours and trajectories away from increasing gambling harms. Research shows that people typically cycle in and out of levels of gambling problem severity. Early interventions and prevention strategies can enable people to continue to gamble in a sustainable way over time, if they choose. This should be at the core of any sustainable business and legislative model for gambling.

Tools and resources promoting and facilitating sustainable gambling, such as setting deposit/spend limit or viewing information with self or normative referential information on gambling activity, are intended for a target audience of regular gambling customers who are experiencing low or moderate harms.

The prevalence of harmful gambling is not one percent. Around one-fifth of regular gambling customers experience at least moderate levels of gambling harms. An additional 10 to 20 percent of regular customers on most forms of gambling experience low levels of harm. This creates a sizable proportion of regular gambling customers who would arguably benefit from tools and resources to enhance their ability to gamble in a lower-risk way.

Much like responsible gambling, lower risk gambling is ill-defined. Some population level guidelines have been created to outline levels at which the experience of gambling harms is unlikely. Lower-risk gambling conceptually would refer to gambling only amounts which are affordable to lose and in a way which enables a fully rounded healthy lifestyle. It also requires an informed decision about all gambling, free from influence of external factors (e.g., advertising, promotions, product and venue design).

Behavioral science offers many strategies to enhance informed choices, such as by creating “friction” through slowing down the time taken to commit to a decision, such as through delays and repeated confirmations. It is important to ensure individuals have all the relevant information to make a decision, such as understanding the context of what decisions people similar to them make and their own past behaviours.

For example, providing feedback to customers about their level of gambling compared to others and compared to a previous time period, drawing attention to any risky patterns. Amounts bet should always be displayed in dollar values rather than credits, and can potentially include reminders of the value of bets (such as what else that amount of money could be used for or what the projected amount would be if repeated over time).

Similarly, behavioral science can enhance safer gambling through choice architecture, that is, designing systems to encourage sustainable play. This includes making it easier and more prominent to withdraw funds from gambling than to deposit these and requiring specific amounts to be nominated to gamble rather than using high anchors or defaults when inserting funds or making deposits.

Players should be encouraged to nominate an amount they are willing to lose in advance of starting play, commonly referred to as “deposit” or “loss” limit. This puts the player in control of their spend and may create a small amount of temporary frustration, but enabling longer-term goals to be adhered to. Players can always change their deposit limits, although delays need to ensure that they are not doing so in an emotional and non-rational way.

Essentially, sustainable gambling is all about putting the player back in control. Removing the influence of biasing influences and ensuring customers are making their own decisions about their gambling and can stick with their planned goals. It is essential that this is how sustainable gambling tools and resources are marketed to players. They are not about help, problems or restrictions.

They are not only for people out of control but are intended for all customers. Normalization and positive attitudes about these tools are key to their success. Research has demonstrated that gambling customers perceive companies that provide sustainable gambling tools positively and have greater trust and loyalty towards companies who demonstrate their support of customer wellbeing.

Providing tools and resources to enhance customer’s ability to play in a sustainable way and encouraging their use is essential to the long-term success of gambling businesses and a clear differentiator in an increasingly crowded field.

Articles by Author: Dr. Sally Gainsbury

Dr. Sally Gainsbury is Director, Gambling Treatment & Research Clinic at the University of Sydney.