Voluntary gambling harm-reduction tools generally don’t work because people don’t use them, according to a new study published by the Gambling Treatment & Research Clinic at the University of Sydney.
The study of 40,000 gamblers in Australia found that a government “opt-out” policy saw a radical shift in online betting behavior, and also found that when not required to, the overwhelming majority of online gambling customers did not use voluntary tools designed to limit problem betting.
The research into leading Australian gambling sites found that of the 6,000 people who used deposit limits, a majority stuck to their limit during the course of a year, while one in four changed their limit to make it less restrictive and one in eight decreased or removed the limit all together.
“The marked success of the ‘opt-out’ limit setting policy has important implications; suggesting this strategy could be used to encourage other responsible gambling behaviors,” said co-author Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury.
The lead author, Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr. Robert Heirene from the university’s Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology, said that during the study, a policy implemented in May 2019 requiring online gambling sites to make customers set a deposit limit, or actively opt out of setting one, had major implications for consumer protection.
“We noted a spike in the use of deposit limits, which coincided with a new government policy whereby online gamblers had to opt out or set deposit limits,” Heirene said. “The uptake is in line with trends in organ donations following the change to an opt-out policy (rather than opt-in), which similarly saw a spike in participation.”
Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, director of the GTRC, said the fact that the number of people setting deposit limits per month jumped just after the introduction of the Australian government’s opt-out scheme—from 4 to 187 on one site alone (an increase of almost 5,000 percent)—demonstrated the effectiveness of simple and cheap opt-out strategies.
“This strategy could be trialed for encouraging other responsible gambling behaviors such as limits on spending on other forms of gambling,” Gainsbury said.
“Consideration of gambling control measures like the opt-out scheme are particularly relevant at the moment, given trials under way in Australia for cashless gambling.”
The GTRC analyzed 39,853 customer accounts from six leading sports and race betting sites in Australia over the financial year of 2018-2019.
It found that 83 percent did not use any of the voluntary tools studied—for example, deposit limits, “time-outs” and self-exclusion/deactivating the account. Almost all of those who used the tools used only deposit limits. Of those who set deposit limits, half made no changes to their limit after setting it, while 766 people (one in eight) made between one and three changes and 32 people made more than 15 changes.