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InPsych 2013 | Vol 35

June | Issue 3

Psychology in current issues

The increasing harm from advertising and promotion of gambling in sport

The APS recently provided a submission to the Senate Inquiry into Advertising and Promotion of Gambling Services in Sport and followed this by presenting evidence at the hearing for the inquiry. The submission was based on the APS review paper on the psychology of gambling and position statement on gambling-related harm, and was prepared by the National Office Public Interest team with input from contributors to those papers and the National Executive of the APS College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists. This article is an edited extract from the submission. As InPsych goes to print, it is pleasing to see the Australian Government has just announced moves to ban the promotion of betting odds on broadcast media during sports matches and to prohibit gambling advertisements during commercial breaks while matches are being played.

In recent years there has been a noticeable and concerning increase in the advertising of gambling opportunities within sport. Gambling sponsorship of sport has grown substantially, and sports betting turnover is growing rapidly. Recent research, for example, has found that supporters at a sporting game were exposed to an average of 341 minutes of gambling advertising when simultaneous promotions were counted separately (Thomas et al., 2012). A diverse range of marketing techniques were used to embed sports betting within the game, align betting with fans’ overall experience and encourage live betting during the game. There were very few visible or audible messages about responsible gambling to counter-frame the overwhelmingly ‘positive’ messages that individuals received about sports betting during the match.

Gambling advertising and promotion is now integrated into sports reporting in many media. Opportunities to gamble are made more accessible and immediate for a wider group of people through the non-traditional promotion of betting and the increasing use of mobile phone applications for exposure to wagering advertising. While sports gambling may be still a relatively small part of the gambling industry, it is growing faster than other forms and potentially has a significant impact on a younger and more vulnerable group of people.

Impact of gambling and gambling advertising, particularly on young people

The proliferation of gambling advertising within sport has the effect of normalising it, making it an integral component of sporting activities and an accepted part of participating in and enjoying sports, and particularly influencing the attitudes of children and young people (Gainsbury & Blaszczynski, 2011a). Betting odds, for example, have made their way into how people (young people particularly) discuss and experience sport, and the use of mobile phone technology as well as the social aspect of sports betting are both likely to have contributed to this normalisation and rapid uptake of gambling.

Increased availability of gambling opportunities typically results in a simultaneous increase in gambling behaviour and problem gambling (Productivity Commission, 2010). The constant availability of gambling from any location, accompanied by increases in advertising, may normalise this activity and result in increased participation and less perception of potential harm, particularly for adolescents who are highly influenced by advertising (Monaghan, Derevensky & Sklar, 2009).

While the impacts of such increases in the availability and promotion of sports betting have not yet been widely researched, gambling research generally shows that an increase in exposure to gambling advertising and opportunities is a risk factor for the development of gambling problems, particularly among vulnerable groups in the community.

In particular, there are serious concerns about the impact on children and young people who are regular participants and viewers of sports that involve exposure to gambling advertising. Young people are particularly at risk of harm for the following reasons.

  • They are more susceptible to gambling advertising (Lamont, Hing & Gainsbury, 2011) and vulnerable to gambling, with research showing that a substantial proportion of secondary students indicate that they gamble online (Delfabbro et al., 2005).
  • There is widespread use of emerging technology (particularly mobile phones) in all aspects of young people’s lives.
  • There are fewer checks for age appropriateness in forms of sport gambling and there is a greatly likelihood of engagement in isolation from parents or other adults.
  • Young people’s sporting ‘heroes’ are used by sporting organisations to promote gambling opportunities.
  • Young people are growing up with sports betting as an integral and normal part of their experience of high profile sports such Australian Rules football and Rugby League. This can include frequently witnessing adults betting, increasing the sense that it is a socially acceptable activity.

Impact of gambling and advertising on athletes

There is also harm posed by gambling advertising and sports gambling on athletes themselves and other key stakeholders within sporting clubs/professions. For some elite sports people, their high profiles, lucrative contracts and celebrity treatment can make them even more vulnerable than the general population.

Practice-based evidence from sport and exercise psychologists confirms that gambling is having a regular impact on athletes in professional sport, and is increasing in Olympic sports. Peer pressure is one of the biggest contributors to the impact on athletes, and results from advertising and the consequent normalisation of sports betting. Less understood are issues such as the financial losses (not gains), loss of time, eventual antisocial nature of excessive gambling, and the athlete’s vulnerability to involvement in match fixing. Athletes are also more vulnerable than the general public to problem gambling as they are directly targeted by the gambling industry. Examples cited by members of the APS College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists include athletes being offered all-expenses paid first class overseas trips as an incentive to gamble online during that week, invitations to join international gamblers at casinos (where athletes are provided with money and taught how to play), and via social media, where organised crime can follow athletes to ascertain information about injuries. It is reported that some of these athletes have been found to be contributing to match fixing as a consequence of being groomed in these ways.

With the proliferation of gambling advertising, athletes are particularly vulnerable to exposure and incentives not only to gamble themselves but also to participate in illegal gambling profiteering schemes such as match-fixing and race-fixing. Match-fixing has become a pandemic in world sports, from athletics and horse racing to cricket and all football codes. It is fuelled by real-time betting technologies exploiting the culture of normalised gambling. By contributing to this 'normalisation', gambling advertising plays into the hands of crime syndicates who remain undeterred by Interpol arrest warrants, with an estimated €8 million of betting profits generated by match-fixing in Germany alone and at least €2 million paid in bribes to those involved (Europol, 2013). With such incentives, athletes, who are typically young people themselves, may find the lure hard to resist – over and above the intense pressures that can lead to their own problematic gambling behaviours.

Effect on integrity of sport

Given the popularity and influence that sport and sporting culture have on the broader community, the rapid proliferation of gambling and its promotion within sport risks seriously affecting the legitimacy of ‘the game’. Industry sponsorship of sport is undertaken to encourage people to gamble and as a way of legitimising their product, not as an altruistic activity. Apart from the risks it poses to vulnerable groups and the concomitant intrapsychic, interpersonal, economic and social consequences, the integrity of sport is seriously threatened, with public confidence diminished and supporter enjoyment undermined.

While gambling advertising in sporting contexts is aimed at and therefore certain to impact on a growing number of Australians, including athletes themselves, the exact nature, extent and harm caused by this form of gambling and its widespread promotion remains largely unknown. The increasing integration of gambling advertising in sporting events and activities (including in online mediums and of online gambling itself) has the potential to normalise gambling and influence the attitudes of children and young people towards gambling in the future.

APS recommendations to the Senate Inquiry
  • Children and young people should be protected from exposure to gambling advertising and gambling-related harm as a matter of urgency. Young people should be the focus of targeted prevention programs, and consideration should be given to regulating the burgeoning advertising of gambling so that it does not deliberately target this vulnerable group. This could include banning gambling incentives and gambling-related marketing aimed at children, young people and families, banning gambling sponsorship of junior sport, incorporating harm minimisation messages through sport, and promoting healthy sporting participation.
  • Gambling advertising during sporting matches and related broadcasting should be seriously restricted if not banned, with restrictions similar to those for alcohol and smoking advertising to protect vulnerable groups from exposure to gambling inducements, dissociate sport from gambling, and restore the integrity of sporting codes.
  • A range of measures should be developed to target athletes and sports people specifically at primary prevention, early intervention and response levels. Such measures could start with the acknowledgement that the best prevention and ‘treatment’ is to keep athletes engaged in their sports, and to use the positive peer pressure and motivation of their sport involvement to pre-empt problems or to promote behaviour change as needed.
  • Athletes who may be engaged in problematic gambling should be supported to ensure that those seeking help are not deterred from doing so, for example by any mandatory reporting requirement on the part of health professionals.
  • Research and development should be promoted into the potential for internet and mobile phone applications to deliver responsible gambling messages, gambling treatment and self-help interventions.
  • Public education and treatment programs should be expanded and accessible to assist those who are problem gamblers, especially young people. This includes promotion of responsible gambling and harm minimisation messages in all forms of sport games and media.
  • Further research should be undertaken to understand the impact of gambling advertising on children and young people, as well as on problem gambling, to enable informed policy and regulation of gambling advertising.
  • Consumers, including athletes, sporting clubs, young people and sports fans, should be involved in the development of policies designed to reduce gambling-related harm, and in the evaluation and review of interventions to prevent and minimise gambling harm. Input from athletes and other consumers with direct experience of sport-related gambling harm would be particularly valuable.

References

  • Australian Psychological Society. (2012). Gambling-related Harm: A Position Statement prepared for the Australian Psychological Society. Melbourne, Australia. APS-Gambling-Related-Harm-Position-Statement.pdf
  • Australian Psychological Society. (2010). The Psychology of Gambling: A Review Paper prepared for the Australian Psychological Society. Melbourne, Australia. APS-Gambling-Paper-2010.pdf
  • Delfabbro, P., Lahn, J., & Grabosky, P. (2005). Adolescent Gambling in the ACT. Centre for Gambling Research. Australian National University.
  • Europol. (2013). Update – results from the largest match-fixing investigation in Europe. https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/results-largest-football-match-fixing-investigation-europe
  • Gainsbury, S.& Blaszczynki, A. (2011a). Submission to the Inquiry into the prevalence of interactive and online gambling in Australia and gambling advertising. www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Former_Committees/gamblingreform/completedinquires/2010-13/interactiveonlinegamblingadvertising/report/index/
  • Lamont, M., Hing, N., & Gainsbury, S. (2011). Gambling on sport sponsorship: A conceptual framework for research and regulatory review. Sport Management Review. DOI:10. 1016/j.smr.2011.04.004.
  • Monaghan, S., Derevensky, J., & Sklar, A. (2008). Impact of gambling advertisements and marketing on children and adolescents: Policy recommendations to minimise harm. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 252-274.
  • Productivity Commission (2010). Gambling. Productivity Commission Inquiry Report. Volume 1. Report no. 50. Canberra: Productivity Commission.
  • Thomas, S., Lewis, S., Duong, J. & McLeod, C. (2012). Sports betting marketing during sporting events: A stadium and broadcast census of Australian Football League matches. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 36, 145-152.

Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on June 2013. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.