The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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Gambling adverts can be harmful, but reduction will have minor effect –Responsible Gaming Foundation

Marc Galdes Sunday, 11 December 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

Gambling adverts “most definitely” make it difficult for gambling addicts to quit, but reducing them will not have a major effect, the general manager of the Responsible Gaming Foundation (RGF), Kevin O’Neil, told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

In a court judgment on 28 November, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech called on the authorities to consider limiting gambling adverts as they are haunting gambling addicts to keep playing.

She pointed out how gambling adverts are making it difficult for people to overcome their addiction when they are exposed to these adverts in a place of comfort, and therefore, addicts would be inclined to return to this addiction.

The vulnerable, like any addict, should not be involuntarily subjected to temptations even in the protection of the home at a time when he or she is following TV shows and even the news, Frendo Dimech said.

The court also cited a study that was conducted on gambling advertising in 2020. The study showed that exposure to gambling adverts “can have an impact on attitudes towards the prevalence and acceptability of gambling advertising”. Also, the adverts may not immediately push a person to gamble, however, they may convince a person to gamble in the future.

The Malta Independent on Sunday got in contact with the Responsible Gaming Foundation (RGF) to get its comments on this.

O’Neil said that there is no denying that gambling advertising is a “major stumbling block” for addicts.

He said that the word “gambler” did not necessarily mean “problem gambler,” it also includes “casual gamblers”.

Casual gamblers are in full control of their time and money, which are “the two key control components necessary for gambling in a responsible manner”.

When talking about advertising he said that “any form of advertising has only one aim; to induce an action, be it to purchase an item, subscribe to a service, vote for a certain candidate or solicit a donation, for example. Advertising in itself is an integral part of a company’s business operation and no company can expect to do well if its promotional arm is not up to scratch.”

He said that adverts are there for the consumer to decide where they would like to bet to get the best value and most entertainment.

“It is also important to note that the Malta Gaming Authority’s Gaming Commercial Communications Regulations offer a very robust framework to ensure that any such communication is duly authorised and in line with the dedicated guidelines in place overseen by a competent Commercial Communications Committee tasked with ensuring that minors and vulnerable persons are adequately protected.”

Although he agreed that adverts can make it difficult for problem gamblers to quit, he could not see how “adverts can however induce someone to behave in a reckless manner, especially where such forms of advertising are explicitly regulated, as is the case in Malta, clearly defining what is acceptable advertising and what is not.”

Asked whether calls through the foundation’s support line have increased since the start of the World Cup, he said that there has been no particular increase.

“The assumption that there must be a correlation between major sporting events, which indeed typically generate an exponential increase in betting activity, and calls for support is somewhat fallacious.”

He said that for the most part most bettors will only be dipping their toes in sports betting for the major event and most will bet within their financial limits making it an enjoyable complement to the whole buzz such major tournaments generate.

However, he admitted that there might be people who might win once and be tempted to make this activity a frequent endeavour. “This is where the importance of awareness becomes all the more significant and the very reason why the Foundation invests considerably in perpetuating the importance of control and responsibility when gambling.”

The magistrate had also said: “The time is ripe to consider whether gambling ought to be afforded the same sensitive approach as alcohol and tobacco products.”

Increase awareness

Asked whether adverts promoting gambling should be reduced, he brought up the argument that people do not smoke significantly less since tobacco advertising has been banned.

“Recent WHO statistics concede that despite progress being made, current trends still suggest that tobacco use is not decreasing as quickly as it should to meet the globally agreed targets.”

His argument was that if completely banning tobacco adverts had such a minor effect, then reducing gambling adverts would have a “negligible effect” too.

“So I would suggest that rather than reducing adverts per se, an increase in awareness should be sought in order to serve as a counterbalance. It certainly isn’t a silver bullet but will likely provoke a more rational approach to gambling for those considering getting involved.”

“I also believe that education as early as possible will serve to equip our children with the necessary tools that will allow them to make the right decisions when the time comes. In fact, education is another of the Foundation’s core objectives ensuring that children are well informed on both gaming and gambling and how they can stay safe and protected.”

Frendo Dimech also said that telling people to “gamble responsibly” on a gambling advert does not have much effect.

Asked whether he agreed with this statement, O’Neil said that “at face value” he totally agrees with it.

“It’s similar to the horrific picture of various diseases which adorn cigarette packs nowadays. The noble intention is to deter but for some reason, those who partake seem to be unfazed by these graphic depictions.”

Having said that, he said that he would still rather have that message visible, even if it most likely has little effect in deterring a compulsive gambler, “because it may serve to keep a level-headed person in check and perhaps be the difference in seeing that same person think twice about making another bet or deposit more money beyond what was initially intended.”

The RGF initiated the “Take Action: Against problem gambling in Malta” awareness project in September, which is part of a €1.1 million project which is partly being financed by the European Social Fund. The foundation said that the complete project includes research, training and also an awareness campaign.

O’Neil said that the project has been successful in bringing the subject of gambling to the forefront.

He found it very strange that the topic was still very much taboo, considering Malta is such a prominent iGaming hub, “not mentioning the historical backdrop of gambling in Maltese society.”

“The project is in its final phase which is a nationwide survey intended to gauge the campaign’s effectiveness and will be concluded towards the beginning of January 2023.”

Asked whether there has been an increase in calls since the start of the campaign, he said that there has only been a “marginal increase” in calls.

“The effects are typically not immediate in the sense that a person may ask for support months or even years down the line but thanks to the level of awareness raised, that person knows where to turn to when the moment comes and that is the result that we have been seeking all along.”


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