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Background and aims

The broadcast of wagering advertisements during televised sports matches has been associated with various adverse outcomes. In order to counter these effects, legislative bodies require wagering operators to include responsible gambling messages in their advertisements; however, the effectiveness of these messages is unclear. This study sought to examine the extent to which responsible gambling messages are looked at, in the wider context of gambling advertisements.

Methods

Forty-nine regular sports bettors and 10 non-gamblers viewed a series of sports betting advertisements, while an eye-tracker recorded the number of fixations placed on responsible gambling messages, as well as other text-based wagering content.

Results

Responsible gambling messages were, generally, presented in a non-conspicuous manner. Eye-tracking data revealed that significantly fewer fixations were placed on responsible gambling messages, compared to wagering information (p < .001); however, this effect did not differ according to level of gambling risk (p = .169). The number of fixations placed on the different types of responsible gambling messages was found to vary, based on gambling risk (p = .006), as well as, what appears to be, the physical characteristics of these messages.

Discussion

Very few fixations were placed on, or near, responsible gambling messages, compared to other wagering information, meaning that, in their current form, they are unlikely to be effective in protecting against gambling harm. Preliminary evidence shows that presenting messages on a high-contrast/block-color background increases the number of fixations on these.

Conclusion

Further research is needed to identify ways of increasing the effectiveness of responsible gambling initiatives in the sports betting context.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Cailem Murray Boyle
,
Matthew Browne
,
Matthew J. Rockloff
, and
Hannah B. Thorne

Abstract

Background and aims

The Short Gambling Harm Screen (SGHS) is currently the most frequently applied dedicated measure of gambling-related harm (GRH), though concerns relating to scale validity have been expressed. The current study aimed to address criticisms that several SGHS items do not depict genuine harms that may occur as a result of gambling, causing the scale to overestimate harm. Specifically, we aimed to test convergence between the SGHS and its constituent items with: (1) wellbeing, and (2) psychological distress.

Methods

To test criterion validity of both the scale and the items, retrospective analyses of survey data from 2,704 Australian adults (36% non-gamblers; 64% gamblers) were conducted. Subjective wellbeing and psychological distress scores, captured using the Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) and the Kessler-6 Psychological Distress Scale (K6), respectively, were used as external (non-gambling) benchmarks. A total of 428 (16%) respondents scored at least 1 on the SGHS.

Results

Monotonic decreases and increases, corresponding to poorer personal wellbeing and higher psychological distress, were found with each additional SGHS score increase. Gamblers endorsing a single SGHS item reported lower wellbeing and higher psychological distress than both non-gamblers and gamblers who scored zero on the SGHS.

Discussion and conclusion

These results show that the SGHS is a valid measure of GRH and contradict suggestions that low scores on the SGHS do not indicate true harm. The SGHS represents a valid and innovative short screening tool to measure GRH in population prevalence studies.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Alex M. T. Russell
,
Nerilee Hing
,
Philip Newall
,
Nancy Greer
,
Cassandra K. Dittman
,
Hannah Thorne
, and
Matthew Rockloff

Abstract

Background and aims

Simulated gambling products, like loot boxes and social casino games, contain gambling elements, but are not classified as gambling. They are available to minors, raising concerns about a “gateway effect” into gambling. This study examined the time course of young people's engagement in simulated and monetary gambling, and associations between simulated gambling and gambling problems and harm. A necessary, although not sufficient, condition for simulated games leading to real money gambling is that simulated play must come first.

Method

Participants were 1,026 young adults (aged 18–25 years) who played video games in the last year. They reported the age at which they first took part in seven simulated and twelve monetary gambling products, and current gambling problems and harm.

Results

First use of loot boxes and video games with gambling content tended to precede monetary gambling. Forms where gambling is a core gameplay element, such as social casino and demonstration games, tended to follow some monetary gambling forms. Engagement in most simulated gambling products was associated with greater harm from monetary gambling.

Discussion

The findings leave open the possibility of a catalyst pathway from youth engagement in loot boxes and games with gambling content to later monetary gambling, but causal psychosocial mechanisms remain unclear. However, a pathway from social casino and demonstration games to monetary gambling appears less likely, which may instead reflect containment or substitution effects. Simulated gambling disproportionately attracts youth who are vulnerable to gambling problems and harm, indicating the need for consumer protection measures.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Alex M.T. Russell
,
Nerilee Hing
,
Gabrielle Maria Bryden
,
Hannah Thorne
,
Matthew J Rockloff
, and
Matthew Browne

Abstract

Background and aims

COVID-19 resulted in the shutdown of almost all sporting competitions and most venue-based gambling opportunities. This study examines how wagering operators in Australia responded, by examining their advertising.

Methods

The study compared Twitter activity during lockdown (March–May 2020) to the previous year for four major wagering operators.

Results

Wagering operators continued to advertise in earnest, changing their marketing mix to include more race betting content, as races continued to operate. Most also promoted the only sports available, such as table tennis or esports. When sports resumed, sports betting advertising quickly returned to normal, or exceeded previous levels. Despite more content being available in the case of two operators, engagement from the public during lockdown was similar to or lower than previously.

Discussion and conclusion

These results indicate that gambling operators can adjust quickly to major changes. These shifts appear to have been successful, with the increase in race betting during this period almost completely offsetting the decreases in sports betting. This is likely due in part to changes in advertising, which have been associated with increased betting activity, particularly amongst vulnerable people. Responsible gambling messages were virtually non-existent on Twitter, which contrasts with mandatory requirements in other media. The study highlights that regulatory changes to advertising, e.g., banning some content, are likely to be met with substitution of content, rather than reduction, unless advertising volume is also capped. The study also highlights the adaptive capacity of the gambling industry in the face of major disruption to supply.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Nerilee Hing
,
Matthew Rockloff
,
Alex M. T. Russell
,
Matthew Browne
,
Philip Newall
,
Nancy Greer
,
Daniel L. King
, and
Hannah Thorne

Abstract

Background and aims

Purchasing loot boxes in digital games is akin to gambling as it involves risking money for a chance-based reward of uncertain value. Research has linked buying loot boxes to problem gambling amongst adolescents, but has not examined co-occurring gambling participation. This study examined links between loot box purchasing and problem gambling amongst adolescents while controlling for monetary gambling participation.

Methods

Two survey samples of Australians aged 12–17 years were recruited through advertisements (n = 843) and online panels (n = 826). They included n = 421 and n = 128 adolescents, respectively, who met criteria for problem gambling.

Results

Past-month loot box purchasing was significantly related to gambling problems in bivariate analyses. When including age, gender and past-month monetary gambling, loot box purchases were still associated with at-risk and problem gambling in both samples. As expected, these other predictors attenuated the predictive value of recent loot box purchases in relation to gambling problems. The odds-ratios, nevertheless, were still in the predicted direction and remained significant. When controlling for monetary gambling, age and gender, recent loot box purchasing increased the odds of problem gambling 3.7 to 6.0 times, and at-risk gambling 2.8 to 4.3 times.

Discussion and conclusions

While causal relationships between loot box purchasing and problem gambling remain unclear, the results indicate that loot boxes disproportionately attract adolescents experiencing gambling problems, adding to the financial stress already caused by gambling. Consumer protection measures, youth and parental education, and age restrictions on loot box games are needed to protect young people.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Nerilee Hing
,
Alex M. T. Russell
,
Catherine Tulloch
,
Lisa Lole
,
Matthew Rockloff
,
Matthew Browne
,
Hannah Thorne
, and
Philip Newall

Abstract

Background and aims

Smartphone, computer and land-based betting platforms each have distinctive features. This study examined 1) preferred features of sports betting platforms amongst young adults and 2) whether feature preferences vary with gambling severity.

Methods

The study surveyed 616 Australians aged 18–29 years who bet at-least monthly on sports, esports and/or daily fantasy sports. Participants provided a simple rating of the importance of 24 features of betting platforms and then completed a discrete choice experiment to indicate their preferences amongst different groups of features.

Results

Smartphones were the only platform providing all preferred features. The most important feature was ability to bet instantly 24/7 from any location, followed by electronic financial transactions. Less important features were ability to access betting information online and to bet with multiple operators. Social and privacy features, and access to promotions, did not significantly predict platform choice. The experiment found no significant differences in preferred features by gambling severity group or by gender. The non-experimental descriptive data, however, indicated that participants in the moderate risk/problem gambling categories placed significantly more importance on privacy, ability to place in-play bets, bet with cash, bet with a credit card, see frequent promotions, and bet with multiple operators.

Discussion and conclusions

Most features that bettors prefer can intensify betting. Curtailment of betting promotions, in-play betting, and credit card betting are measures that can assist higher-risk gamblers without unduly affecting other gamblers. Consumer protection tools, including mandatory pre-commitment, need strengthening to help counter the unique risks of smartphone betting.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Nerilee Hing
,
Matthew Browne
,
Matthew Rockloff
,
Alex M. T. Russell
,
Catherine Tulloch
,
Lisa Lole
,
Hannah Thorne
, and
Philip Newall

Abstract

Background and aims

Smartphones extend the situational characteristics of sports betting beyond those available with land-based and computer platforms. This study examined 1) the role of situational features and betting platforms in harmful betting behaviours and short-term betting harm, and 2) whether people with more gambling problems have preferred situational features, engage more in harmful betting behaviours, and experience more severe short-term betting harm.

Methods

An ecological momentary assessment analysed 1,378 betting sessions on sports, esports or daily fantasy sports, reported by 267 respondents (18–29 years; 50.9% male) over 10 weeks.

Results

Factor analysis revealed five situational features of betting sessions: 1) quick, easy access from home, 2) ability to bet anywhere anytime, 3) privacy while betting, 4) greater access to promotions and betting options, and 5) ability to use electronic financial transactions. Regression models underpinned the analyses. Greater short-term betting harm was significantly associated with the ability to bet anywhere anytime, privacy when betting, and greater access to promotions and betting options. Betting sessions when these features were prioritised were more likely to involve impulsive betting, use of betting inducements, and betting with more operators. Respondents with more gambling problems were more likely to prioritise privacy and the ability to bet anywhere anytime; and to bet on in-game events, use promotional inducements, bet with more operators, and report greater betting harm.

Discussion and conclusions

Certain situational features of sports betting are empirically associated with engagement and subsequent harm. Only smartphone betting combines all three features associated with betting harm.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Matthew Browne
,
Paul Delfabbro
,
Hannah B. Thorne
,
Catherine Tulloch
,
Matthew J. Rockloff
,
Nerilee Hing
,
Nicki A Dowling
, and
Matthew Stevens

Abstract

Background and aims

It is well understood that engagement with some forms of gambling, like EGMs, is riskier than other forms. However, while reports of associations are common, few studies have attempted to evaluate and compare the relative risk of all available forms, and none have estimated the relative contribution of each form to the total burden of gambling problems (GP) in a population.

Methods

Using an aggregated dataset of national and state-based prevalence studies in Australia (N = 71,103), we estimated prevalence and unique effects of frequency of engagement on each form on GP. Two alternative numerical methods were then applied to infer the relative contribution of each form to the total amount of GP.

Results

EGMs are responsible for 51%–57% of gambling problems in Australia, and 90% of gambling problems are attributable to EGMs, casino, race, and sports betting. Casino table games and EGMs are equally risky at the individual level, but the former contribute far less to problems due to low participation. Bingo and lottery play show no statistically detectable risk for GP.

Discussion and conclusion

The results illustrate which forms present the greatest population burden and illuminate the reasons why. EGMs have an outsized impact. EGM uniquely combines high risk conditional on play, with a high participation rate and a high frequency of play among participants. This is in contrast to risky but less commonly played casino games, and prevalent but non-risky forms like lotteries. We conclude that EGM regulation should be a primary focus of policy action in Australia. More innovative policy ideas relating to EGMs should be tested due to the disproportionate impact of this product type.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Alex M.T. Russell
,
Matthew Browne
,
Nerilee Hing
,
Matthew Rockloff
,
Philip Newall
,
Nicki A. Dowling
,
Stephanie Merkouris
,
Daniel L. King
,
Matthew Stevens
,
Anne H. Salonen
,
Helen Breen
,
Nancy Greer
,
Hannah B. Thorne
,
Tess Visintin
,
Vijay Rawat
, and
Linda Woo

Abstract

Background

Electronic gaming machines (EGMs) are one of the most harmful forms of gambling at an individual level. It is unclear whether restriction of EGM functions and accessibility results in meaningful reductions in population-level gambling harm.

Methods

A natural policy experiment using a large (N = 15,000) national dataset weighted to standard population variables was employed to compare estimates of gambling problems between Australian residents in Western Australia (WA), where EGMs are restricted to one venue and have different structural features, to residents in other Australian jurisdictions where EGMs are widely accessible in casinos, hotels and clubs. Accessibility of other gambling forms is similar across jurisdictions.

Results

Gambling participation was higher in WA, but EGM participation was approximately half that of the rest of Australia. Aggregate gambling problems and harm were about one-third lower in WA, and self-reported attribution of harm from EGMs by gamblers and affected others was 2.7× and 4× lower, respectively. Mediation analyses found that less frequent EGM use in WA accounted for the vast majority of the discrepancy in gambling problems (indirect path = −0.055, 95% CI −0.071; −0.038). Moderation analyses found that EGMs are the form most strongly associated with problems, and the strength of this relationship did not differ significantly across jurisdictions.

Discussion

Lower harm from gambling in WA is attributable to restricted accessibility of EGMs, rather than different structural features. There appears to be little transfer of problems to other gambling forms. These results suggest that restricting the accessibility of EGMs substantially reduces gambling harm.

Open access
Journal of Behavioral Addictions
Authors:
Nerilee Hing
,
Alex M.T. Russell
,
Vijay Rawat
,
Gabrielle M. Bryden
,
Matthew Browne
,
Matthew Rockloff
,
Hannah B. Thorne
,
Philip Newall
,
Nicki A. Dowling
,
Stephanie S. Merkouris
, and
Matthew Stevens

Abstract

Background and aims

COVID-19 lockdowns limited access to gambling but simultaneously elevated psychosocial stressors. This study assessed the relative effects of these changes on gambling risk status during and after the Australian COVID-19 lockdown from late-March to late-May 2020.

Methods

The study administered three surveys to people who had gambled within the past year at T1. Wave 1 asked about before (T1, N = 2,125) and during lockdown (T2, N = 2,125). Subsequent surveys focused on one year (T3; N = 649) and two years after lockdown (T4, N = 458). The dependent variable was changes in reporting any problem gambling symptoms (PGSI 0 vs 1+). Bivariate analyses and multinomial logistic regression tested for significant associations with: demographics, psychosocial stressors (perceived stress, psychological distress, loneliness, health anxiety about COVID, financial hardship, stressful life events), gambling participation and gambling frequency.

Results

Gambling participation and at-risk gambling decreased between T1 and T2, increased at T3, with little further change at T4. When gambling availability was curtailed, decreased gambling frequency on EGMs, casino games, sports betting or race betting, and lower psychosocial stress, were associated with transitions from at-risk to non-problem gambling. When gambling availability resumed, increased EGM gambling frequency, decreased online gambling frequency, and higher psychosocial stress were associated with transitions from non-problem to at-risk gambling.

Discussion and conclusions

Gambling availability appears a stronger influence on gambling problems, at the population level, than psychosocial risk factors. Reducing the supply of high-risk gambling products, particularly EGMs, is likely to reduce gambling harm.

Open access