Responsible gambling: A year in review

By the Responsible Gambling Council

2021 was a year of hardships and challenges for many. Globally, it feels like we’re still trying to understand the implications of a new normal. RGC’s Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices (CABP) turned these challenges into opportunities by continuing to study how changes to the industry impacted players and communities.

CABP is a research engine that promotes the identification and adoption of best practices to reduce the incidence of problem gambling. Over the past year, CABP researchers published many studies that not only informed RGC prevention programming and campaigns but greatly contributed to the research community and industry as a whole.

COVID-19 and gambling

COVID-19 and the effects of the pandemic is a major theme in research today. Senior Researchers Alex Price, Ph.D. and Sasha Stark, Ph.D. conducted a longitudinal research study, alongside members of the Ontario Gambling Research Society (OGRS), on the impacts of COVID-19 on gamblers in Ontario – the first of its kind in Canada and one of the first in the world.

Findings coming out of this important research showed respondents had increases in online gambling due to emergency measures and increases in intoxicated gambling and gambling while feeling anxious or depressed. The value of this study lies in how it can inform harm prevention and minimization:

COVID-19 has led to rapid and evolving changes in population health. At a time when gambling participation and markets are also rapidly changing, longitudinal research is critically important to understand the implications of these changes on consumer safety and player health so that we may adapt and pivot to emerging challenges in the field of responsible gambling.

– Dr. Alex Price, Senior Researcher

Because knowing is half the battle, research such as this becomes invaluable to industry, treatment professionals and the research community. More broadly, this evidence goes a long way in informing strategy and programming that ensure consumer safeguards reflect the current gambling landscape and help address new risks.

Digital wellbeing

The proliferation of technology has also had impacts that are far-reaching. Mobile usage is the highest we have ever seen – in fact, in Canada 98 per cent of kids aged 15 to 24 have a smartphone and 58 per cent of them check in every 30 minutes. How do we offset the gambling and other risks involved in this digital society when it comes to vulnerable populations, such as young adults?

Sasha Stark, Ph.D. explored this question in-depth to better understand links between online gambling and digital wellbeing – the positive and negative impacts of time spent across online spaces – among young people.

“’Young people are often at high risk of both poor mental health and gambling harms – and this innovative research shows that they’re also at high risk of lower digital wellbeing. By documenting the links between online gambling harm and lower digital wellbeing, this work demonstrates the need for holistic initiatives and safeguards to support people – particularly young people – across online spaces.”

Dr. Sasha Stark, Senior Researcher

The goal of this digital wellbeing research is to generate awareness among and outline practical next steps for the many different stakeholders across online spaces, to foster collaborations for supporting the digital wellbeing of young people.

The importance of research

The gambling industry is constantly changing, evolving, and being influenced by the environment. Research is a critical tool to keep stakeholders informed of how these changes influence those who gamble, their support networks, and communities. This knowledge can inform organizational direction, policy development and programming to support a safer industry. The legalization of single-event sports wagering, Ontario’s expansion of regulated online gambling and COVID-19 are just a few examples of this massive change in Canada.

So, where do we go from here? We posed this question to CABP Senior Researchers and a few common themes emerged:

  1. The examination of Canadian regulatory developments related to standards and guidelines for single-event sports betting and its associated advertising, sponsorship and in-play betting and promotions are on our radar. Learnings from other jurisdictions have shown us that sports betting marketing and advertising overexposure negatively impacts vulnerable populations, such as youth. The development of standards that consist of the proper restrictions will help Ontario uphold its strong commitment to consumer safeguards.
  2. The pandemic had the world pivoting. Our adaptation to a new normal will likely continue over time, which means that we need to continue examining the impacts of COVID-19 on gambling behaviour and the impacts of new gambling offerings being introduced into markets.
  3. Responsible gambling isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The longitudinal study completed by the CABP team during the height of COVID emergency measures revealed that people of Chinese and South Asian descent who gambled had a much greater likelihood of experiencing severe gambling problems, intoxicated gambling, mental health problems, and endorsing risky gambling motives, compared to the general gambling population. Through this data, we know that there is a strong need for the development and pilot testing of appropriate, targeted and segmented responsible gambling messaging for these ethno-cultural populations in Canada.
  4. Core principles of responsible gambling should become a call to action for the community to continue researching and studying their value. How to effectively incentivize responsible gambling and the usage of pre-commitment tools is perhaps more important than ever when we think about the rise of online gambling. Additionally, looking at new approaches for affected others and the expansion of supports already available to prevent financial harms can further help players and society as a whole.

As the research community comes together, momentum is naturally carried forward. Because evidence and data span borders and continents, we have an opportunity to be a part of a global knowledge-sharing network. Research allows for the identification of gaps and areas of need, which is what advances best practices and responsible gambling throughout the industry.

Find a full list of publications by CABP researchers here.

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