New research finds existing ‘safer gambling’ messages raise awareness but do not change the behaviour of people who gamble

04 April 2022
  • Safer gambling messaging has not changed behaviour

    Researchers reviewed existing ‘safer gambling’ messages and tested those, as well as possible alternative messages, to gauge their potential effectiveness. The research published today by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust from the University of Bristol and the Behavioural Insights Team, found the messages tested were ineffective at changing the behaviour of gamblers, although they can raise awareness. Wider evidence reviewed on effectiveness is limited but reached similar conclusions.

    Respondents’ reactions to the different messages were strongly shaped by their age and levels of gambling engagement – and less so by their sex and ethnicity. This makes it essential that effective messaging is tailored to target audiences. To be effective at preventing or reducing harm from gambling, testing also showed that messages should aim to produce a positive emotional response, with a clear call to action, and avoid evoking negative emotions such as shame.

  • There is no public health messaging for people affected by someone else’s gambling

    Researchers also found no public health messaging in Britain for people affected by someone else’s gambling. Around 7% of the UK’s population (4.5 million adults and children in Britain) are negatively affected by someone else’s gambling, and, statistically, women are more likely to experience the full range of negative impacts of being an affected other (e.g. impacts to health and wellbeing, personal relationships, financial impacts). Yet researchers found only one Australian public health video directly addressed to affected others and their support needs.

  • Not enough is spent on safer gambling messages

The amount spent on safer gambling messages is dwarfed by the gambling industry’s advertising budgets. In 2019, just £3.3 million was spent on one of the main safer gambling campaigns (‘Bet Regret’), compared with more than £1.5 billion spent by the gambling industry on advertising its products. In this David versus Goliath situation, it’s vital the messaging used to help prevent or reduce harm from gambling is effective. However, researchers found messages such as the long-running strapline ‘when the fun stops, stop’* are not changing the behaviour of gamblers.

Mubin Haq, Chief Executive of abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said:

“The amount spent on preventing and reducing gambling harms is a drop in the ocean compared to the millions spent by the gambling industry. We urgently need much greater investment as we have seen with other public health issues, but we also need to ensure the campaigns are effective at reducing harm and stigma. This requires a real step change in our approach which targets those at risk of gambling and others affected by their gambling.”

Sara Davies, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, said:

“Very little research has been undertaken on effective messaging in this area; it’s vital to understand what works if messaging to prevent or reduce harm from gambling is going to have an impact on people’s behaviour. Funding for gambling harms research lags very far behind that for alcohol, smoking and substance abuse. For example, there have been nearly 700 alcohol studies funded by Research Councils UK and the National Institute for Health Research, but only 23 gambling research studies. It’s vital that this gap is addressed if we are to develop effective public health messaging on gambling harms.”

Aisling Ní Chonaire, Head of the Behavioural Insights Team's Gambling Policy & Research Unit said:

“‘Safer gambling’ messaging should inform people who gamble of the best way they can protect themselves and others against gambling harm. To date, ‘safer gambling’ messaging has not met this aim. In collaboration with PFRC, our research shows the importance of targeted messages with clear calls to action, which we would encourage practitioners to adopt when developing campaigns to prevent or reduce harm from gambling.”

 The report includes three calls to action:

#1 Develop and test effective messages to help prevent and reduce gambling harms

Gambling advertising is a focus of the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act. Equal attention should be given to the development and testing of effective messages that can help prevent and reduce gambling harms across Britain.

#2 Fund long-term social marketing campaigns to help reduce stigma and harm

Evaluation of the Time to Change campaign (to reduce stigma and discrimination regarding people with mental illness) shows that well-funded, long-term social marketing campaigns can help reduce stigma and harm. This is a useful model for new communication campaigns to prevent and reduce gambling harms, building on the insights from this and other research as well as activities such as the recently launched campaign to raise public awareness of the treatment and support available for people experiencing gambling harm.[1]

#3 Target key at-risk audiences

Key audiences for harm prevention and reduction messages must include people who gamble regularly but do not recognise they may be at risk of harm; and people affected by someone else’s gambling. Tailored and personalised messaging is required for these and other groups at risk of harm, including understanding the most effective communication channels. Recent welcome moves in this direction include campaigns targeted at women. Independent evaluation of these campaigns is also crucial to help us understand what works in gambling harm reduction messaging.

* In October 2021, the Betting and Gaming Council announced that ‘Take Time To Think’ would replace ‘When The Fun Stops, Stop’ as the regulated industry’s key safer gambling message.

Read the report.