In conversation with SBC Leaders, Shelley White, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council in Canada, explains how the organisation uses player education campaigns to reduce the risks of gambling harm amongst those aged 18-24.

Responsible gambling is an increasingly crucial part of the industry’s inner workings. Both internal and external pressures have made operators, suppliers and other stakeholders take notice of the work they do to protect players from gambling harms. 

Whilst attention has traditionally gone towards making existing gamblers aware of the risks associated with wagering, often those gamblers are of older demographics. A survey conducted by Statista in December 2021 found that the age group that had the most weekly sports betting participants was those aged 35-44.

Yet, as the rise of online and mobile gambling has increased the accessibility and usability of gambling to those of much younger age groups, the focus has shifted to ensuring that young people growing up around gambling do not get sucked in by the risks of online gambling. 

At the forefront of this in Canada is the Responsible Gambling Council, which has conducted research into gambling harms for decades and has taken up a role as an educator. The RGC has ramped up its efforts in recent times to educate young people aged 18-25 to reduce the impact of online gambling.

There are myriad reasons why young people may get involved in gambling, especially online. Peer pressure through social groups, access to drugs and increased accessibility certainly all play a role, but a far more intrinsic and internal reason plays a part.

White told SBC Leaders that neurology is a key influence on young people’s susceptibility: “There’s a neuroscience element to this, and that the prefrontal cortex, which manages judgement, really doesn’t develop fully until the age of 25. So actually, prior to that age, young people are making decisions with more of the emotional side of their brain.”

“…we know that based on research there is a correlation between higher gambling risk, and simultaneously using alcohol or cannabis”

A popular way of educating players is to encourage players to not drink and gamble. But in Canada, specifically, there is an issue too with the use of cannabis and gambling, which White noted plays a big role in young people’s risk.

“In several jurisdictions, it’s in that age range that they have legal access to alcohol and to substances such as cannabis,” she added. “And, in a few jurisdictions globally, we know that based on research there is a correlation between higher gambling risk, and simultaneously using alcohol or cannabis.”

An evidence-based organisation, the RGC always conducts thorough research before undertaking any line of strategy. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the organisation conducted a study into the effects of lockdowns on the gambling behaviours of those aged 18-24. 

Owing to financial issues, mental health deterioration and loneliness, young people were found to be at increased risk of gambling harm during this period.

As the RGC’s lead outlined: “Young adults 18 to 24 years of age were consistently found to be at an increased risk of gambling-related harms during COVID. More specifically, young adults are more likely to have suffered negative financial impacts due to losing their job or reduced work hours. 

“Over 50 per cent experienced a reduction in their household income. And in line with the financial harm, young people were also significantly more prone to mental health concerns, reporting greater levels of severe anxiety and depression, as well as lower life satisfaction compared to older adults. And social isolation contributed to that immensely.”

But having well-thought-out and reasoned research isn’t the only factor in creating an effective player education program, White noted. Striking the right tone, developing the most engaging language and reaching the correct medium is essential to communicating with this digital-savvy cohort of gamblers. 

“We also know how to communicate with language that isn’t patronising, so the inclusion of humour is really helpful too”

“That’s one thing that we’ve learned over the years, that it’s so important to tailor the message to the audience. So because we understand that youth and young adults are at an increased risk, we’ve really created a dedicated youth and young adult portion to our website that provides information to these groups about what is gambling because we know that they’re online, they’ll go to websites to seek information.” 

As well as carving out a specific youth page on its website, RGC has developed several other ways to reach younger gamblers while using the correct language to create an effective piece of education.

White addressed the need to use appropriate language within the messaging: “Public service announcements (used to be) more directive, like don’t drink and drive, to a culture that is more about engagement and giving people the information so they can make choices. 

“So if we look at the alcohol industry, it’s gone from ‘don’t drink and drive’, to ‘plan your ride home’ and giving people options, which we know is extremely important. Providing individuals with messaging that lets them know what the risks are lets them know what the options are, but gives people choices. 

“We also know how to communicate with language that isn’t patronising, so the inclusion of humour is really helpful too. We did research and created an ad campaign for young people about the risks of gambling while under the influence of cannabis. 

“When cannabis became legalised in Canada, we developed a whole campaign called Grunk that had this young guy who was trying to teach people gambling while he was under the influence of cannabis, so that you could see how ridiculous and how his judgement was impaired. 

“It was really successful in terms of helping to communicate that message in a way that young people could relate to.”

“We’ve also gamified the approach – we find that gamification of the message also resonates well”

Ensuring that youngsters are protected from gaming is essential for the campaign, yet for the RGC this doesn’t mean that any form of gaming must be ruled out of the messaging. 

After all, young people nowadays have, for the most part, grown up with game consoles and other devices, meaning they can often be engaged and informed by gaming content.

White explained: “We’ve also gamified the approach – we find that gamification of the message also resonates well with this particular age cohort as well, just given the fact that they’ve grown up with video games. So for teenagers, we have a programme that goes into secondary schools throughout the province called the Game Brain and it’s more like a game show.” 

Having created player education campaigns to reduce the impact of gambling harms on young people across Canada, the RGC is turning its attention to measuring success, as well as reinforcing its messaging and creating new campaigns.

For White it will be a long process, as she admitted that it can be a difficult task to measure changes in gambling or individual activity. 

But remaining adamant and consistent that problem gambling is a stain on Canadian society will help to reduce the issue.

“I have to say that measuring behavioural change is somewhat difficult, but we believe that being consistent is imperative,” she said. “We consistently reach different segments of the population with our programmes and campaigns, and we’re constantly reevaluating the message and the tactics that are evidence-informed and backed by research.”

It’s not just the RGC that has a responsibility to fight this battle. It remains a key priority for all stakeholders, particularly operators to fight problem gambling across all demographics, not just younger people. 

iGaming Ontario is mandating all partners in the province to undergo the RGC’s RG Check from April 2023 to ensure they employ best practices when it comes to RG, whilst AGCO remains strict on its advertising standards, which include banning offers and inducements. 

Concluding, White noted that every industry stakeholder has a shared responsibility and the initial signs are encouraging. “I think it’s a real partnership,” she noted. “I have to say that at RGC, we’re really encouraged to see how seriously operators are taking responsible gambling and that it’s at the forefront of their work. You’ll see it on the home pages of their sites, they’re really trying to incorporate it into the player experience. 

“They’re talking about player sustainability, customer loyalty, they see it as really important to the sustainability of the industry. And these are operators around the world. So we really believe that collaboration is key.”