The Turnbull government is reportedly considering banning the advertising of gambling during televised sporting broadcasts. This is not a new idea: Senator Nick Xenophon has long championed a ban, as have many who work with problem gamblers.
It has been reported that more than one-in-six ads shown during AFL matches are gambling-related. So, could advertising be linked with rates of problem gambling?
Evidence suggests ads have an impact
Increases in problem gambling linked to sports betting have been reported in recent years, particularly among young men. The numbers of 18-to-25-year-old men with problems related to sports betting doubled between 2012 and 2015 at the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic (where I work).
At the same time, gambling odds and prices have become a central part of sporting culture. The “gamblification” of sport is now seen as both a normal and central component of it. In pre-game reporting, the prices and odds are seen as being as important as player injuries and weather conditions.
Being able to draw a clear line between increased promotion of gambling and rates of problem gambling is not easy. Given there are always multiple factors why someone develops a gambling problem, it is never as clear-cut as blaming advertising. However, some evidence exists to suggest advertising has impacts on problem gamblers.
Interview research and large-scale survey work have both suggested that gambling ads during sport strongly affect many problem gamblers by increasing their desire to gamble when trying to cut down. Therefore, restrictions on advertising may be effective in helping those with problems to manage their urges to gamble.
Another widespread concern about gambling advertising during sports broadcasts is the impact it might be having on young people. There is evidence this advertising can have an impact.
A study of Canadian adolescents found the majority had been exposed to gambling advertising. It also found this advertising was leading to the belief that the chance of winning was high, and that gambling was an easy way to make money.
These findings are particularly concerning. In our work with problem gamblers, we have found these beliefs are crucial to the development of gambling problems.
Typically, when examining a problem gambler’s history, we find they were exposed to gambling at a young age and developed positive attitudes toward gambling at the time. In particular, a distorted belief in the likelihood of winning appears to be a key driver in many of our patients who developed problems.
Thus, advertising that promotes the idea that gambling is an easy way to make money is likely to prime our kids for developing gambling problems in the future.
What we can learn from tobacco ad bans
Would a ban on the advertising of gambling during sport broadcasts change attitudes toward gambling and gambling behaviour? Here, evidence on the impacts of tobacco advertising is instructive.
Tobacco advertising has been progressively restricted or banned in many countries. Thus, considerable evidence is available to make conclusions. There appears to be clear evidence that tobacco advertising does result in increased rates of smoking in adolescents.
It has also been found that bans on tobacco advertising appear to be effective in reducing tobacco use – but only in the case of complete bans. In contrast, attempts to limit bans on advertising to certain mediums – such as banning ads on TV – appear not to be effective, as this simply results in increases in tobacco advertising in non-banned media (in print or on billboards, for instance).
This suggests that for any restriction of gambling advertising to be effective, it needs to be widespread. Such displacement has already been seen with gambling. There is evidence of increased social media promotion of gambling, which has resulted in increases in positive attitudes toward gambling in those exposed to these promotions.
There is not yet any demonstrated definitive link between increases in gambling advertising during sports and problem gambling. However, the research that has been conducted indicates that advertising may result in increased gambling by problem gamblers and increases in distorted beliefs about gambling in young people.
If the government chooses to go down the path of increasing restrictions on gambling advertising, it is important that any restrictions are wide-ranging enough to have a clear impact on gambling behaviours and attitudes.