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Gamblers prefer upbeat messages that focus on spending less, research finds

Published:17 January 2022

A portrait shot of Professor Matthew Rockloff.

Professor Matthew Rockloff leads CQUniversity’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory.

Researchers from CQUniversity have found that positive messages to help manage online gambling are more likely to encourage punters to take action.

The research follows evidence that online gambling puts participants at higher risk of gambling harm than traditional consumers.

However, the key to better habits could be at the fingertips of gamblers, with sports and racing bettors often wagering using smartphone applications, which could be effective in promoting tips and messages to prevent gambling harm.

A study by CQUniversity’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory (EGRL), funded by Gambling Research Australia (GRA), trialled a range of safe gambling messages.

Researchers found participants rated positive messaging, on how to control money spent on gambling, as the most helpful and easy to understand.

The five-week behavioural trial pushed randomised messages to more than 2,000 regular sports and race consumers. It measured impacts on the amounts they bet, the time they spent betting, and the overall gambling harms experienced.

In addition to positive-emotional messages like ’betting less lets you spend more money on the important people in your life’, the trial also included control-based messages like ‘only bet what you can afford’ and norm-based information including ‘most people who
gamble bet $10 a week or less’.

Research leader and EGRL director Professor Matthew Rockloff, said participants reduced the money and time they spent on gambling over the five-week course of their participation.

Professor Rockloff argued the carefully developed tone of the messages might have contributed to the success.

“Over the decades, we’ve observed that people with gambling problems rarely seek help, and research shows perceived social stigma and feelings of shame are driving that reluctance,” Prof Rockloff said.

“Negative advertisements showing people hitting rock bottom, being confronted by their angry families, and operating in the shadows with ominous music – those images risk contributing to their stigma and shame, and ultimately may prevent people seeking help.”

The study’s 27 messages were developed by the research team in consultation with focus groups composed of researchers, gambling-treatment providers, and regulators.

The trial showed week on week improvement in participants controlling their gambling urges and betting amounts.

“We believe it is likely the messages prompted self-reflection for the participants, especially when they related to having control over their expenses.”

This research provides evidence to inform the consistent gambling messaging measure of the National Framework in Australia.

A joint Commonwealth, state and territory government endeavour, the National Framework provides strong, nationally consistent
protections for consumers of interactive wagering services licensed in Australia, in line with international best practice.

This measure aims to provide evidence-based, nationally consistent gambling messaging. These messages will be used in connection with any interactive wagering service, including within consumers’ account windows, on their websites and internet applications, on direct marketing materials, on print and broadcast advertising, and on any sponsorships and promotional activities.

Gambling Research Australia (GRA) is a joint Commonwealth, state and territory program, established to develop an effective evidence base to support gambling policy and regulatory decisions. The Commonwealth has contributed half the annual funding of the GRA program. The combined funding contribution from states and territories has matched the annual funding from the Commonwealth, based on the proportion of national gambling expenditure.

Study co-authors were CQUniversity researchers Dr Phillip Newall, Prof Matthew Browne, Associate Prof Alex M T Russell, Dr Tess Visintin (nee Armstrong), Prof Nerilee Hing and Hannah Thorne.