You’ll lose: new gambling warnings reflect reality

5 minute read

The public discourse on alcohol and drug addiction has shifted. Now, it’s gambling addiction’s turn.

There’s been a shift in the way addiction is perceived over recent years, with public discourse moving from a personal-responsibility paradigm to one that views addiction as an illness.  

Gambling addiction, perhaps because it doesn’t take the obvious physical toll that drug and alcohol misuse does, is still catching up. 

From April next year, the ubiquitous “Gamble responsibly” tagline that accompanies ads for online betting companies on TV, apps, radio, newspapers and websites will be refreshed. 

“[Gambling] has not been front of mind for us, particularly as GPs,” said Dr Hester Wilson, a Sydney GP with special interest in addiction medicine.  

“We think about smoking, we think about alcohol, we think about other drugs – and they have real medical impacts – but [problem gambling] is not something that we’ve routinely asked about or thought about with our patients.”  

In reality, she told The Medical Republic, up to 7% of the population either experience gambling harm or are at risk of experiencing it.  

What’s more, gambling addictions tend to harm more people than just the gambler.  

“The person that kind of started me thinking, ‘hang on a sec, I could do this better’, was one of my patients who came in and said, ‘Oh my God, my husband has double mortgaged the house, we’re gonna lose the house,’” Dr Wilson said. 

“They had three teenage kids and were going to lose the house, because he was gambling.  

“I had no idea that he even had a gambling issue.” 

Dr Wilson won’t be sad to see the end of the “Gamble responsibly” tagline.  

“It doesn’t mean anything, because people don’t gamble to be responsible,” she said. 

Those words will be replaced by seven new slogans, which gambling companies will be required to use on a rotating basis. 

The new taglines were proposed by consulting firm Hall & Partners in a specially commissioned report for the Department of Social Services.  

Two of the messages – “Chances are you’re about to lose” and “Think. Is this a bet you really want to place?” – are designed to reduce the overconfidence that gamblers feel when placing a bet.  

Another two – “You win some. You lose more” and “What are you prepared to lose today? Set a deposit limit” – were written to remind consumers of the rational truth that they will likely lose money.  

“Imagine what you could be buying instead” is meant to reframe the conversation away from the harms of betting.  

The final two taglines, “What are you really gambling with?” and “What’s gambling really costing you?”, had a relatively weaker performance with test audiences.  

Dr Wilson hopes that the new slogans will help cut through the noise.  

“The bottom line is that the house will always win, you will always lose,” she said.  

“When you say ‘gamble responsibly’, people say ‘well I’m trying to be responsible, I’m trying to get my money back’.  

“But having [that tagline] where it says ‘you are going to lose’, is really countering and reframing those incorrect cognitions.” 

The Sydney GP urged other doctors to consider making questions about gambling part of their routine. 

“If you’re going to ask one question, ask about whether they have experienced any harm from gambling in the last year, [whether that’s] losing money or having arguments,” Dr Wilson said.  

Central Queensland University gambling researcher Associate Professor Alex Russell said that while messaging is just one part of gambling reform, it was a welcome change.  

“‘Gamble responsibly’ has always been a bit of a nothing slogan, with no real practical advice,” he told TMR.  

“But it’s also been a really stigmatising slogan – it puts all of the onus on the person to keep themselves safe and takes away the role of industry to offer safe products and safe environments.” 

Hall & Partners said their research had concluded that rotating slogans will reduce the chances of message fatigue, and that the range of messaging approaches will maximise the opportunity to reduce gambling harm. 

“It’s meant to get rid of that saturation effect,” Professor Russell said.  

The researcher also welcomed the fact that deposit limits were specifically mentioned in one slogan but highlighted the fact that it’s not the only limit someone can set.  

“There are other things you can [set limits on too], like how much you’re willing to bet in a day,” Professor Russell said.  

“It’s one thing putting money into the account, but actually placing the bets or have a set amount you’re willing to lose.”  

Time limits, too, can be effective, according to Professor Russell.  

“The focus is often on the money, but the time side of things is also pretty important too,” he said.  

“People have different amounts of money, but we all have the same number of hours in a day.” 

Australia has free gambling counselling services in every state and territory, which are also open to close friends and family of people who gamble.  

Some states and territories also offer the option for people to voluntarily exclude themselves from the gaming areas of pubs, clubs and casinos. 

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