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Abstract

Responsible consumption of gambling (RCG) is now a major paradigm driving industry, government and public health measures that aim to prevent or minimize gambling-related harm. This is reflected in the pervasive message to ‘gamble responsibly’. However, few attempts have been made to define the concept or identify its foundation principles, resulting in substantial ambiguity over what RCG means and its essential characteristics. This study addresses this void by synthesizing findings from a systematic literature review, website analysis and online survey of 107 experts – to develop a set of underlying principles and a definition of RCG. These tasks were facilitated by the reasonably consistent principles found to underpin RCG in the three data sources, despite wide variations in how the construct has previously been defined. Thus, the set of principles of RCG developed in this study (affordability, balance, informed choice, control, enjoyment, harm-free) should attract wide acceptance, as should the definition given that it combines and summarizes these principles. Adopting a consistent definition and set of RCG principles will provide a basis for developing consistent guidelines for consumers, offer direction for public health efforts for gambling harm minimization, and inform government policies and industry measures aiming to support safe gambling.
Hing, N., Russell, A.M.T., & Hronis, A. (accepted 29-09-17). A definition and set of
principles for responsible consumption of gambling. International Gambling Studies.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14459795.2017.1390591
Authors
Nerilee Hing (corresponding author)
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences
CQUniversity
University Drive
Bundaberg Queensland Australia, 4670
Email: n.hing@cqu.edu.au
Ph: +61 7 4150 7700
Alex M.T. Russell
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences
CQUniversity
Level 6, 400 Kent St,
Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2000
Email: a.m.russell@cqu.edu.au
Ph: +61 2 9324 5026
Anastasia Hronis
Discipline of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Health
University of Technology Sydney
PO Box 123
Ultimo NSW Australia, 2007
Email: anastasia.hronis-1@uts.edu.au
Funding
This work was supported by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation under its Grants
for Gambling Research, Round 6.
Acknowledgements:
We would like to thank the 107 experts who responded to our survey for this study.
A definition and set of principles for responsible consumption of gambling
Abstract
Responsible consumption of gambling (RCG) is now a major paradigm driving industry,
government and public health measures that aim to prevent or minimise gambling-related
harm. This is reflected in the pervasive message to ‘gamble responsibly’. However, few
attempts have been made to define the concept or identify its foundation principles, resulting
in substantial ambiguity over what RCG means and its essential characteristics. This study
addresses this void by synthesising findings from a systematic literature review, website
analysis and online survey of 107 experts – to develop a set of underlying principles and a
definition of RCG. These tasks were facilitated by the reasonably consistent principles found
to underpin RCG in the three data sources, despite wide variations in how the construct has
previously been defined. Thus, the set of principles of RCG developed in this study
(affordability, balance, informed choice, control, enjoyment, harm-free) should attract wide
acceptance, as should the definition given that it combines and summarises these principles.
Adopting a consistent definition and set of RCG principles will provide a basis for
developing consistent guidelines for consumers, offer direction for public health efforts for
gambling harm minimisation, and inform government policies and industry measures aiming
to support safe gambling.
Keywords: responsible gambling; safe gambling; harm minimisation; consumer protection;
informed choice; low-risk gambling
Introduction
‘Gamble responsibly’ is a mantra now commonly embedded in media communications, both
in advertisements promoting gambling and in social marketing messages warning of the risks
of gambling. Nevertheless, this message has attracted substantial criticism – for its location of
the ‘problem’ within individual gamblers; for being stigmatising and unhelpful for people
experiencing gambling problems; for ignoring previous assumptions that responsibility can
be undermined by addictive products and/or individual vulnerabilities; and for disregarding
the responsibilities of governments and gambling operators to provide and promote gambling
in ways that prevent or minimise harm (Campbell & Smith, 2003; Hancock & Smith, 2017;
Hancock, Schellinck & Schrans 2008; Livingstone & Woolley 2007; Reith 2007, 2008;
Schull, 2012).
Regardless of these criticisms, the ‘gamble responsibly’ message is pervasive and is
(rightly or wrongly) accompanied by increasing expectations for consumers to self-regulate
their gambling consumption in an informed, rational and prudent manner (Reith, 2007, 2008).
Further, current policies and practices have proved insufficient to adequately address
gambling-related harm. A ground-breaking Australian study, using a Burden of Disease
methodology, identified the aggregate Burden of Harm from gambling to be of a similar
magnitude to major depressive disorder, and to alcohol misuse and dependence (Browne et
al., 2016). Problem gambling accounts for only 15% of the aggregate harm from gambling,
with 34% attributable to moderate risk gambling and 50% due to low risk gambling –
because many more people are at lower than higher levels of problem gambling severity
(Browne et al., 2016). This study demonstrates continued substantial and widespread harm
from gambling, highlighting that venue-based, regulatory and help service efforts have not
been sufficient, on their own, to significantly reduce gambling harm. While it is important for
gambling operators and governments to provide a safe environment for gamblers, and they
thus bear some of the responsibility for harm minimisation, clearly consumers cannot rely
solely on these measures for effective protection.
Current RG policies and practices include requirements for gambling venues relating
to player information, self-exclusion, financial transactions, marketing, the gambling
environment, staff training and, in some jurisdictions pop-up messages on gaming machines.
Online gambling operators also provide RG tools and information, age verification checks,
and access to account history (Bonello & Griffiths, 2017). Government regulations restrict
the supply, availability and marketing of gambling. Gambling help is a key intervention, but
only problem gamblers at crisis point tend to seek formal help (Bellringer, Pulford, Abbott,
DeSouza, & Clarke, 2008; Hing, Nuske & Gainsbury, 2012). Even though these types of RG
initiatives have operated across numerous jurisdictions for over a decade, substantial
gambling harm persists.
Therefore, it is prudent to consider how consumers might be better empowered to
resist structural forces, industry marketing and psychological conditioning from gambling
products that might otherwise lead to excessive gambling. One approach is to improve
consumers’ capacity to self-regulate gambling through adopting appropriate protective
behaviours. This aligns with a major health promotion action area in the Ottawa Charter for
Health Promotion – developing personal skills – to ‘empower individuals and communities to
increase control over, and to improve, their health’ (WHO, 1986). Providing information and
education for health increases options for people to exercise more control over their own
health and to make choices conducive to health (WHO, 1986). Gamblers typically rely on
self-regulation to prevent and minimise harm from their gambling, instead of using external
constraints such as pre-commitment systems or self-exclusion (McDonnell-Phillips, 2006;
Schottler Consulting, 2010). Therefore, it makes sense to focus on improving this self-
regulation as a harm minimisation tool. Increasing uptake of protective behaviours amongst
gamblers arguably has the greatest potential for significantly reducing gambling-related harm,
especially considering the strong political pressures acting to restrain major supply-side
reforms. We emphasise that improving consumer self-regulation is in no way meant to reduce
the crucial responsibility of operators to provide safe gambling products and of governments
to implement safe gambling policies.
Identifying principles that should underpin efforts to ‘gamble responsibly’ provides a
starting point for improved consumer capacity to adopt protective gambling strategies. We
have opted to use the term ‘responsible consumption of gambling’ (RCG), although ‘safe
gambling’ and ‘positive play’ have also been suggested (Wood & Griffiths, 2015).
Developing foundation principles and a definition of RCG can facilitate a shared
understanding of the concept amongst gamblers, gambling operators, regulators, the help
sector, researchers and the wider community. It also provides the foundation for research to
identify efficacious consumption strategies in protecting consumers from gambling harm.
However, few attempts have been made to define RCG and its underlying principles, even
though the concept is central to current harm minimisation efforts. Several researchers have
commented on the ambiguity surrounding RCG. Dickson-Gillespie, Rugle, Rosenthal and
Fong (2008, p. 44) point out that ‘the terms “responsible gambling” or “responsible gaming”
generally refer to concepts applied to a broad range of issues and policies, from individual
behaviours and attitudes to public health’. Korn and Shaffer (1999, p. 329) argue that
‘responsible gambling … has moral connotations’ and is ‘ambiguous’ because it can either
imply ‘informed choice about gambling, advocacy of gambling, or subtly place the
responsibility for gambling problems with the individuals that struggle against their
impulses’. Currie, Hodgins, Wang, El-Guebaly and Wynne (2008) note that the exact place
where RG sits on the gambling continuum between no gambling and pathological gambling
is unclear and that one could argue that any level of gambling that does not contribute to
harm could be defined as responsible. More recently, an operational definition informed
development of a ‘positive play scale’, based on a rapid assessment of the literature, speaking
with 30 gamblers, and consultation with 10 experienced gambling researchers (Wood, Wohl,
Tabri & Philander, 2017):
RG, is when a player undertakes positive playing experiences and holds
attitudes and beliefs that do not put them at risk for developing gambling
problems. More specifically, this means only spending what is affordable to
lose and sticking to personally allocated spend and time limits (formal or
informal). Responsible play includes honesty and openness with self and
others about personal gambling habits. Belief in luck or other superstitions
may be present, but they do not have a significant negative impact on play.
There is recognition that gambling will always involve some degree of chance.
The current study takes an alternative approach to develop a set of underlying
principles and a definition of RCG, based on a systematic literature review, analysis of
consumer advice on relevant websites, and survey of 107 experts. Adopting a consistent
definition and set of RCG principles should enhance the scientific and practical utility of the
concept by providing a basis for developing consistent guidelines for consumers, offering
direction for public health efforts for gambling harm minimisation, and informing
government policies and industry practices that aim to support the safe consumption of
gambling.
Methods
Three methods were utilised in this study – a systematic literature review, website analysis
and expert survey. These sources were selected to provide a variety of perspectives on RCG,
including from researchers (via the literature review), from help services, governments and
industry (via the website analysis) and from experts including researchers, individual
counsellors, RG trainers, and policy-makers (via the survey). Some overlap across these
sources was inevitable; for example, researchers’ perspectives were derived from both the
literature review and survey, and policy-makers’ perspectives from both the website analysis
and survey. Nevertheless, we attempted to capture perspectives from a wide variety of
relevant stakeholders to inform development of foundation principles and a definition for
RCG. Once these have been developed, the work can be extended to identify the self-
regulatory strategies consumers actually use, and their efficacy in minimising gambling harm.
The study was funded by an Australian statutory authority with a focus on responsible
gambling, so the website analysis and expert survey sample were skewed towards Australian
perspectives. Formal ethics approval for this study was granted by [deidentified] Human
Research Ethics Committee. All research participants gave informed consent in the online
survey preamble.
Systematic literature review
The literature search aimed to locate definitions, principles and strategies associated with
RCG, as well as with responsible provision of gambling (RPG). Only information related
to definitions and principles associated with RCG is reported in this paper. A systematic
search strategy utilised several online databases: Cochrane Library, EconLit, Emerald,
Informit, MEDLINE, ProQuest, PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus, ScienceDirect, Web of
Science and Wiley Online Library. Search terms comprised: responsibl*, gambl*, self
control, self limit*, self moderat*, self help, self regulat*, harm minimis*, harm reduc*,
comsumption and protect*. Publications were included if they: were peer reviewed journal
articles, grey literature or industry/government reports; provided or commented on a
definition of RG; provided information about RPG; and/or provided information about
RCG.
Search results
The initial search produced 6,121 citations for screening. Of these, 2,437 were removed as
duplicates. Upon screening the remaining titles and abstracts, 1,849 were rejected as
irrelevant to gambling and a further 1,128 papers removed as irrelevant to RG. A total of
533 papers mentioned RG, but did not provide definitions, principles or behaviours
specific to RCG or RPG. Only 73 publications were identified as directly relevant.
Because much RG research has been published as government-commissioned reports,
websites were also searched for additional grey literature, identifying 22 relevant
publications. This produced a final sample of 95 publications.
Sample characteristics
The final sample comprised 53 empirical studies, 12 reports, six reviews, 23
commentaries, and one thesis (Appendix A). Forty-eight publications focused on RPG
(50.5%), 26 on RCG (27.4%) and 21on both RPG and RCG (22.1%).
The sample was searched for definitions of RG, provided either as commentary by
authors or as quantifiable measurements. Six proposed an original definition of RG (in
relation to either RCG or RPG), while eight cited previous definitions. Three articles
provided definitions for ‘harm minimisation/reduction’, two defined ‘responsible gambling
features’, and one defined ‘healthy gambling’. One article defined ‘responsibility’ in
general, another defined ‘gambling in moderation’, and another defined ‘positive play’.
The remaining publications (n = 72) provided no definition for RG, harm minimisation or
related terminology.
Website analysis
The literature review was supplemented with a content analysis of gambling-related
websites. Online content is the most comprehensive source of consumer RG information
and often replicates and extends upon information available in physical resources such as
workbooks and brochures.
Website selection
We used purposive sampling to include websites with comprehensive RCG information,
while ensuring a focus on Australian sites and representation of help service, government
and gambling operator sites. For inclusion, websites were required to provide RCG
strategies for consumers, other than information on formal help services. Some websites
provided in-depth information about RPG, but were excluded if there was not also an
emphasis on RCG.
Thirty websites were audited, comprising 25 Australian and five international
websites. Although varying in their target populations, with some websites specific to state
jurisdictions and others aimed at national and international audiences, all sites were
accessible to anyone online regardless of their location. Six government websites, 10
industry websites and 14 help service websites were analysed for RCG definitions,
descriptions and guidelines. The six government websites were all Australian, as were the
10 industry websites; while nine help service sites were Australian with the remainder
based in Canada (2), the US (2), and the UK (1). These international sites were selected as
providing particularly comprehensive RCG information for consumers.
Website analysis
One researcher identified definitions and descriptions of RCG as presented to consumers
through these 30 websites. A second researcher used thematic analysis to extract the main
constructs from these definitions to identify key principles conveyed as underpinning
RCG. Thematic analysis was considered appropriate to analyse meanings across the
collection of definitions to identify what was commonly mentioned, to distil and report on
the obvious or semantic meanings in these data (Braun & Clarke, 2012). This was a
relatively simple exercise as only 10 definitions were present across the 30 websites, and
these were all very short (1-5 sentences or dot points). Thus, one author used manual
coding to extract themes mentioned in each definition. The other two researchers then
reviewed and agreed upon the results of this analysis.
Expert survey
We conducted an online survey with experts in the field to gain input from a purposive
sample from numerous jurisdictions. We developed the survey with the aim of generating
definitions of RCG, its underlying principles, and a set of behavioural indicators of RCG
(the latter not reported here).
Recruitment and sampling
Experts were identified from two sources. One was the researchers’ professional contacts,
including attendees at the (Australian) National Association for Gambling Studies
Conference 2014. Recruitment emails were sent to 173 individuals, comprising 36
Australian researchers, 50 international researchers, 74 individuals working in treatment
and training, and 13 working in gambling policy/regulation. Of these, 26 emails bounced
and 11 out-of-office replies were received. Secondly, we sent a recruitment email to the
677 members of Gambling Issues International (GII), an online forum restricted to
professionals working with gambling issues or problems. Members include clinicians,
researchers, educators, public health professionals, community workers and policy makers,
but not members of the public. Bounce-backs are not received from the group address, so
the number of emails received is unknown.
The survey was open from 8th November to 10th December 2015. Two follow-up
emails were sent. Of the 156 experts who commenced the survey, 107 completed it
yielding a 13.0% response rate using the most conservative estimate (that all GII emails
were received). All respondents were offered an Amazon gift voucher for US$40 as
reimbursement for their time.
Survey instrument
Measures relevant to this paper were as follows.
Defining RCG. Respondents were asked to define ‘responsible consumption of
gambling’ (‘that is, what it means to gamble responsibly’) in their own words, and to
identify what they consider to be the essential objectives of RCG (both open-ended
questions). A new page then loaded with 18 possible objectives derived from the literature
review and website analysis, requiring a yes/no response for each.
The concept of RCG. Respondents were asked how likely it is that the average
person who adheres to RCG behaviours would experience no gambling-related harm; was
a non-problem gambler; and would experience no effects from their gambling (1 = very
unlikely to 5 = very likely). The experts then responded to three statements: ‘I understand
what the term “responsible gambling” means’, ‘I support the concept of responsible
gambling’ and ‘Safe levels of gambling participation are possible’ (1 = strongly disagree to
5 = strongly agree).
Terminology. Respondents were asked which of six alternatives was the best
terminology for RCG (‘responsible gambling’, ‘low risk gambling’, ‘safe gambling’,
‘positive play’, ‘healthy gambling’, ‘moderate gambling’). They were also asked how
receptive non-problem, at-risk gamblers and problem gamblers would be to the term
‘responsible gambling’ (1 = not at all receptive to 4 = very receptive).
Who is responsible? The survey asked respondents ‘Whose responsibility is it to
ensure that consumers gamble responsibly?’ and to allocate percentages amongst one or
more of eight parties so that they totalled 100%: gamblers, family and friends of gamblers,
gambling operators, governments, the broader community, public health/community
education agencies, gambling help services and other (specify). Respondents were also
asked whether the level of responsibility currently placed on gamblers, gambling operators
and governments was ‘too little’, ‘about right’, or ‘too much’.
Potential concerns with RG. The experts were asked to rate their agreement that
‘The term “responsible gambling” is discouraging for people having difficulties
controlling their gambling’ and ‘The term “responsible gambling” stigmatises people who
are having difficulties controlling their gambling’ (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly
agree).
Respondent details. These included key demographic and work-related
characteristics.
Participants
The 107 respondents were aged between 23 and 73 (M = 50.3, SD = 11.5, median = 50.0)
and most were female (57.0%). Most (74.8%) had postgraduate qualifications, and 15.9%
undergraduate qualifications as their highest educational level.
Respondents most commonly worked in research (41.1%), treatment/counselling
(23.4%) or training/education (19.6%), with 7.5% working in policy/regulation and 8.4%
indicating ‘other (specify)’, with all of the latter working in or retired from professional
gambling-related roles. Respondents most commonly worked in a university (39.3%),
counselling/treatment agency (21.5%), other community services agency (12.1%) or
government department/agency (10.3%). Of the 42 respondents working in universities, 14
(33.3%) were employed at Level E (Professor), 6 (14.3%) Level D, 12 (28.6%) Level C, 5
(11.9%) Level B and 5 (11.9%) Level A (Associate Lecturer).
When asked the country of their current appointment, and which country most of
their gambling work had focussed on, Australia was the most common response (46.7%
and 48.6% respectively), followed by Canada (22.4%/22.4%) and the US (16.8%/15.9%).
Responses were also received from: Brazil, Finland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Netherlands,
New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and the UK. Respondents had been engaged in
gambling-related work for between one and 35 years (M = 13.3, SD = 7.8, median = 14.0).
Data analysis
Because the experts varied in demographic and work-related characteristics, comparisons
were made for all response variables based on these characteristics. There were very few
significant differences, and those that were significant had very small effect sizes, and
were non-significant when corrections for multiple comparisons were applied. Thus, we
were satisfied that different types of experts had similar responses to most questions so
they were treated as one group. Descriptive statistics, paired-samples t-tests and McNemar
tests of comparison are reported below. All comparisons used an alpha of .05.
Results from the literature review
Only two definitions of RCG were located from the literature search, which was
completed by mid-2016. The Reno Model (Blaszczynski et al., 2004) describes RCG as
gambling ‘within (an individual’s) affordable limits of money, time and other resources’
(p. 567); while Currie, Hodgins, Wang, el-Guebaly, Wynne and Chen (2006, pp. 570-571)
note that RG describes gambling ‘at recreational levels’. Alternative terms described non-
harmful gambling consumption. ‘Healthy gambling’ is said to encompass informed choice
on the probability of winning, pleasurable gambling experiences in low risk situations, and
wagering in sensible amounts, while sustaining or enhancing the individual’s wellbeing
(Korn & Shaffer, 1999). ‘Moderation gambling’ describes gambling that does not cause
harm to the individual or others (Weinstock, Ledgerwood & Petry, 2007). Wood and
Griffiths (2015) coined the term ‘positive play’ to characterise the behaviours and attitudes
of gamblers ‘who exhibit no problems or concerns with their gambling’.
Two studies examined consumer interpretations of RCG. In Ontario, Turner,
Wiebe, Falkowski-Ham, Kelly and Skinner (2005) gathered perceived meanings of
‘responsible gambling’ via open-ended responses which they coded into 20 themes. Fewer
than two-fifths of respondents (39.8%) reported having heard the term ‘responsible
gambling’ and 6.8% considered the concept of RG to not exist. The most common
remaining responses related to not spending more money than one can afford (27.8%),
setting a gambling budget (17.9%) and being in control of gambling (13.9%). Another
Canadian study (Lucar, Weibe & Philander, 2013) analysed posts in gamblers’ online
forums, including one asking for player perspectives on RG. Themes raised included
gambling within pre-set monetary and time limits, understanding gambling risks, learning
the games before staking money, gambling for enjoyment, and having realistic
expectations about winning and losing. Other studies focused on self-regulating strategies
used by gamblers (Abbott, Bellringer, Garrett & Mundy-McPherson, 2014a, 2014b;
Hagen, Nixon & Solowoniuk, 2005; Hare, 2009; Lostutter, Lewis, Cronce, Neighbors &
Larimer, 2014; Moore, Thomas, Kyrios & Bates, 2012; Thomas et al., 2010; Wood &
Griffiths, 2015); however, these are not directly relevant to the current paper that seeks to
develop a definition and underlying principles of RCG.
Overall, the literature review revealed no agreed definition of RCG. However, the
above interpretations suggest that relevant inclusions are informed choice, low risk, an
enjoyable experience, spending only affordable amounts of time and money, and absence
of associated harm.
Results from the website analysis
The lack of consistency in the research literature was mirrored in the website analysis. Of
the 30 websites examined, only 10 defined RG (one government agency, five industry
organisations and four help service organisations) – and in highly variable ways. As Table
1 indicates, the most commonly included principle relating to RCG was included in six
definitions: gambling within affordable (or discretionary) limits of time and money. Four
websites included each of the following principles: gambling for
pleasure/entertainment/fun; exercising control over gambling; harm minimisation; and
informed decision-making. Three websites included knowing the odds/ likelihood of
losing/winning in their definitions, while two included gambling in balance with other
activities, and harm prevention. Only single websites noted each of five remaining
principles in Table 1: understanding the risks involved in gambling; knowing when to walk
away from gambling; avoiding problem gambling; not having erroneous gambling beliefs;
and not gambling when frustrated, anxious or depressed.
Insert Table 1 about here
Taken together, the website definitions encompassed principles of controlled
gambling for entertainment (and not for mood regulation) within affordable limits by
consumers who are informed about the game, the odds and risks involved, with their
gambling being in balance with other activities – in order to prevent or minimise gambling
harm and avoid problem gambling.
Results from the expert survey
The concept of RG, terminology and responsibility
Most surveyed experts agreed that they understood the meaning of RG (M = 4.22, SD = .
83), were supportive of the concept of RG (M = 4.02, SD = 1.11) and considered safe
levels of gambling to be possible (M = 4.11, SD = .84). However, they demonstrated some
ambivalence about terminology, with nearly equal proportions preferring ‘responsible
gambling’ (24.3%), ‘safe gambling’ (23.4%) and ‘low-risk gambling’ (21.5%). Most
experts considered that the term ‘responsible gambling’ is stigmatising (M = 3.19, SD =
1.28) and discouraging for people having difficulties controlling their gambling (M = 3.30,
SD = 1.18), and that problem gamblers are not particularly receptive to the term (M = 1.81,
SD = .94). At-risk gamblers were considered to be potentially more receptive (M = 2.35,
SD = .80, t(106) = 6.48, p < .001), and non-problem gamblers more receptive again (M =
2.88, SD = 1.02, t(106) = 6.10, p < .001). While the experts considered that gamblers
themselves have most responsibility to ensure that they gamble responsibly (M = 34.8%,
SD = 23.2), gambling operators (M = 28.0%, SD = 15.7) and governments (M = 21.5%,
SD = 17.5) were also viewed as having substantial levels of responsibility. Similarly, most
experts felt that too much emphasis was placed on gamblers to self-regulate their gambling
(57.0%), with too little emphasis placed on gambling operators to provide safe gambling
products and environments (81.3%), and on governments to implement safe gambling
policies (77.6%).
Open-ended responses about the definition and objectives of RCG
Responses to the two open-ended questions seeking a definition and objectives of RCG
showed considerable overlap, so results were combined. The most common theme was
affordability, keeping to limits or gambling within one’s means. This theme was mentioned
by 68 (63.6%) of the 107 respondents. All 68 respondents discussed financial limits, while
approximately one-third of these also discussed time limits. Typical examples were:
‘Gambling within reasonable limits of time and money’ and ‘gambling what you can
afford’. A related theme was the ability to maintain control over one’s gambling, such as
sticking to set limits. This was highlighted by the response ‘Gambling within the financial,
behavioural and physical means of that individual in a controlled and non excessive
manner’. The theme of control was mentioned by 20 respondents (18.7%).
Another theme related to avoiding harm. Sixty-one respondents (57.0%) described
RCG as gambling without experiencing any harm at all. One example was ‘Gambling in a
manner that does not adversely impact other aspects of the gambler’s life’. A further two
respondents indicated the aim was to minimise harm, rather than completely negate any
harm. These comments were: ‘Gambling in a manner that minimizes adverse
consequences’ and ‘Where the gambling causes… adverse effects [that] are only
minimally or temporarily experienced and able to be addressed and rectified relatively
easily without seeking professional help…’. Forty-three respondents (40.2%) mentioned
that RCG also means no harm to the gambler’s significant others or social contacts, e.g.,
‘To gamble safely and responsibly, without incurring significant harms, disruptions, and
problems in the life of the consumer or the gambler’s significant others’. A final theme was
the motivation for gambling, with 28 respondents (26.2%) stating that RCG means
gambling for entertainment rather than to make money, e.g., ‘Gambling that is appropriate
to income, that does not interfere with other responsibilities and activities and that is
geared at entertainment rather than making money’.
Three respondents stated their belief that RCG is not possible unless RPG is also
adhered to, such as ‘Playing games that are honestly run with fair and reasonable odds and
payouts as a pastime with discretionary funds that can afford to be lost’. A further two
respondents expressed opposition to RCG. One stated: ‘This is a term used by industry to
transfer responsibility to those adversely affected by gambling harm. It is goalless,
meaningless and largely used as a means of stigmatising those adversely affected’. The
other stated: ‘Responsible consumption of gambling seems like a misnomer to me in the
current gambling environment. To me there should be consumer protection in place and
the industry should be regulated to provide responsible service of gambling’. The latter
respondent acknowledged that RCG should be possible (‘i.e., spending what you can
afford to lose’), but in his/her experience it is not.
Closed responses about RCG objectives
Respondents were asked which of 18 concepts were essential objectives of RCG. A series
of repeated measures (McNemar) tests determined which objectives were endorsed by a
significantly higher proportion of respondents, using an alpha of .001, due to the multiple
comparisons. Responses were split into tiers, where items in each tier are not significantly
different in terms of endorsement to the most endorsed item in the tier.
As Table 2 indicates, the most endorsed objectives were ‘gambling within an
individual’s affordable limits of time, money and other resources’ (86.0%) and ‘keeping
gambling in balance with other activities and priorities’ (76.6%). The second tier of
responses, endorsed by 56.1%-68.2% of respondents, comprised ‘exercising informed
choice about gambling’, ‘understanding the risks associated with gambling’, ‘staying in
control of gambling’, ‘absence of gambling-related harm’, ‘adhering to pre-set time and
money limits when gambling’ and ‘an enjoyable/pleasurable gambling experience’. Items
with lowest endorsement referred to gambling that enhances or sustains wellbeing, having
no concerns about gambling, and for gamblers to be responsible for their own gambling
behaviour.
Insert Table 2 about here
Proposed underlying principles and definition of RCG
Table 3 summarises the themes extracted from the literature review, website definitions
and the open and closed responses in the expert survey.
Insert Table 3 about here
The themes in Table 3 were combined, and duplication then removed, to distil the
following key principles underpinning RCG:
1. Affordability. Gambling within an individual’s affordable limits of time,
money and other resources – which may involve setting and adhering to limits in
advance of gambling.
2. Balance. Keeping gambling in balance with other activities, responsibilities
and priorities – so that it does not compromise other aspects of the gambler’s life.
3. Informed choice. Exercising informed choice over gambling – which
includes understanding the associated risks, not being influenced by erroneous
gambling beliefs, and knowing the odds or the likelihood of losing and winning.
4. Control. Staying in control of gambling – through self-regulating one’s own
gambling and knowing when to stop.
5. Enjoyment. An enjoyable/pleasurable gambling experience – motivated by
gambling only for pleasure, entertainment and fun and not to win money.
6. Harm-free. Absence of gambling-related harm to self and others – including
gambling in a way that avoids the development of gambling problems.
These principles can be combined and summarised to formulate the following
definition of RCG:
Exercising control and informed choice to ensure that gambling is kept within
affordable limits of money and time, is enjoyable, in balance with other activities and
responsibilities, and avoids gambling-related harm.
This definition is consistent with the majority of expert views that gamblers who
adhere to RCG behaviours would be likely to experience no gambling-related harm (M =
3.65, SD = 1.31), to be a non-problem gambler (M = 4.05, SD = 1.15), and to experience
no effects from their gambling (rather than benefits or detriments; M = 3.30, SD = .97).
Discussion
By developing a set of systematically derived principles and a definition of RCG, this
study sought to address a long-standing gap in knowledge about what RCG means and its
essential characteristics (Currie et al., 2008; Dickson-Gillespie et al., 2008; Korn &
Shaffer, 1999; Wood & Griffiths, 2015). Our set of six principles of RCG – affordability,
balance, informed choice, control, enjoyment, and harm-free – captures inclusions in
previous individual definitions (Blaszczynski et al., 2004; Currie et al., 2006; Korn &
Shaffer, 1999; Weinstock et al., 2007; Wood & Griffiths, 2015; Wood et al. 2017), and
integrates them into a new definition of RCG as stated above. Because what constitutes
RCG depends on individual circumstances, consumer guidelines cannot provide exact
consumption recommendations appropriate to all gamblers. Instead, a set of principles that
characterise RCG allows for differing absolute levels of gambling that are safe, depending
on the context of individual gamblers. This study has therefore advanced the field by
developing these principles, through integrating themes from a literature review, website
definitions and expert survey, and by synthesising these principles into a concise
definition. Because reasonably consistent principles were found in the three data sources,
the RCG principles and definition developed in this study should attract wide acceptance
in the field. This represents a major advance for a concept which has lacked a shared
meaning amongst gamblers, governments, industry and the broader community (Wood &
Griffiths, 2015).
Nevertheless, the level of responsibility that gamblers may have to self-regulate
their gambling, relative to that of industry to provide safe gambling products, and of
governments to implement safe gambling policies, remains contested. The appropriate
balance of stakeholders’ responsibility for RCG is essentially an ideological question and
may vary between different cultures and countries – although no significant differences
amongst experts from different countries were found in this study. Nevertheless, the extent
to which RCG underpins government policy, industry practice and public health efforts
varies across jurisdictions and gambling forms, and may become blurred where
governments have multiple roles as gambling operators, gambling regulators, public health
custodians and providers of treatment services. Some stakeholders are opposed to the
concept of RCG completely, as found amongst some of our survey respondents, and the
majority preferred alternative terminology than responsible gambling, such as safe
gambling or low risk gambling. Thus, several aspects of RCG remain unresolved.
Nevertheless, providing commonly understood principles and a definition of RCG
provides an important foundation for further development in the field.
Implications
Adopting a universally accepted definition of RCG, with further clarification via the
accompanying principles, has potential implications for several stakeholder groups. They
can be used to provide clarity and consistency for consumers, to add meaning to the
‘gamble responsibly’ message which is widely promoted in consumer information (Hing,
Sproston, Tran & Russell, 2016). The definition can also be cited or ‘unpacked’ into its
component parts to add substance to these messages; e.g. ‘gamble responsibly: by ensuring
your gambling is affordable’; ‘gamble responsibly: by ensuring your gambling is not
harming yourself or others’; ‘gamble responsibly: by keeping your gambling in balance
with other responsibilities in your life’. This would be an important development, given
consumer skepticism around current messaging which is seen as superficial, insincere and
lacking helpful advice for gamblers (Hing, Vitartas & Lamont, 2014; Sproston, Hanley,
Brook, Hing & Gainsbury, 2015). Providing more detailed and consistent consumer
information on what it means to gamble responsibly by clarifying what RCG looks like
and how it is characterised avoids the limitations of the current approach to RG that
advises gamblers to avoid gambling problems by knowing the signs of problem gambling
and focusing on doing the opposite by staying in control (Wood & Griffiths, 2015). The
principles could therefore be used to underpin the development of more comprehensive
consumer guidelines that identify specific self-regulatory behaviours that support each
RCG principle, after appropriate validation in empirical research with consumers.
The RCG principles could also provide the basis for a self-assessment tool.
Previous research has confirmed the greater effectiveness of self-appraisal messages and
tools in changing gamblers’ behaviours, compared to only general information, warnings
and slogans (Auer & Griffiths, 2015; Monaghan & Blaszczynski, 2009, 2010). Gamblers
may be more receptive to a RCG screen than a problem gambling screen, as the former
may carry less stigma – which deters problem acknowledgement and help-seeking (Hing,
Nuske, Gainsbury & Russell, 2016; Hing, Nuske, Gainsbury, Russell & Breen, 2016;
Rockloff & Schofield, 2004). With broader uptake, more individuals would receive
appropriate feedback that encourages them to appraise, evaluate and self-regulate their
gambling – including for individuals displaying ‘irresponsible’ gambling behaviours who
may be directed to sources of help. Whether an RCG screen would carry less stigma
remains to be demonstrated, and it may still be seen as stigmatising in the absence of
broader societal changes.
The RCG principles could provide strategic direction for public health agencies
working to reduce gambling harm. Agencies could identify a strategic objective for each
principle, supported by detailed action plans and resources, to raise consumer awareness
and adoption of RCG, and to push for alignment of government policies and industry
practices to support these principles. These efforts might include community education,
advocacy, leadership, research, policy articulation and the shaping of social norms (WHO,
2011). This would synergise public health efforts to consistently promote RCG.
The RCG definition and principles could also inform government policies and
regulations, many of which have explicit RCG objectives. Without a clear understanding
of what RCG entails, it is currently difficult to gauge how well these objectives are being
met. In contrast, the RCG principles provide an unambiguous set of objectives by which
proposed, and existing, policies and regulations might by evaluated. For example, current
Australian Government proposals for a national consumer protection framework for online
wagering could be informed by assessing whether proposed regulatory changes will
support RCG, by assisting consumers to exercise control and informed choice over their
wagering, to keep their wagering at affordable limits, and to avoid gambling-related harm.
Similarly, the RCG principles could form an evaluative framework to assess the alignment
of industry practices with RCG, including the RPG measures of gambling operators,
industry marketing practices and features of new gambling products and environments.
The RCG principles could also provide direction for improved RPG practices that aim to
better support consumers to gamble safely.
Limitations and recommendations for future research
While the literature review entailed both international and Australian literature, one
potential concern may be that the website analysis and expert survey were skewed towards
Australian perspectives. However, both contained international input, and key survey
results were not significantly different between Australian and international respondents.
Nevertheless, future research could verify the current results through replicating the study
with larger, more balanced and representative international samples of websites and
experts. Some overlap exists in the three data sources. The experts surveyed included
many publishing on RG, who may have also influenced website inclusions. However,
because our principles were inclusive of all those found in the three data sources, and we
have not weighted them in importance, this overlap should not have affected the findings.
Our set of RCG principles and accompanying definition cannot reflect the original depth
of the qualitative data (published literature and website inclusions) from which they were
derived, and the inherent time-consuming nature of qualitative analysis limited the number
of websites analysed. Future research could analyse a much larger sample of websites for
their RCG inclusions. However, our sample of experts were unable to add any further RG
principles or behaviours beyond what our literature review and website analysis had
already identified. A key challenge in mixed-methods research is the complexity of
integrating qualitative and quantitative findings, and the convergent design used in the
current study may have limited conclusions that separate studies might provide (Wisdom
& Creswell, 2013). Thus, separate qualitative and quantitative studies are needed to add
both depth and breadth to research on RCG. Some subjectivity was unavoidable in
analysing the definitions and descriptions of RCG found on the websites and in the
literature, and in open-ended responses in the survey. Future research could ascertain
whether alternative samples and researchers consistently categorise the underlying
principles of RCG.
Conclusion
Consumers are advised to ‘gamble responsibly’ in community education campaigns and
consumer information, as well as in mandated messages accompanying gambling industry
advertisements. Despite this advice, there has been no consensus on a definition,
foundation principles or behaviours that might constitute responsible consumption of
gambling products, and no consistent guidelines enabling consumers to know if they are
gambling responsibly. This study takes some steps towards addressing these deficiencies,
by arguably utilising more rigorous methods and inclusive sources than previous related
studies have done. Clarifying what it means to ‘gamble responsibly’ should advance
efforts to improve gambling-related public health, while not detracting from efforts to
enhance the safe provision and regulation of gambling products and services. It is
important to note that the focus of this study on RCG should not be interpreted as
endorsing or preferencing consumers as carrying most responsibility for responsible
gambling. Instead, the study has taken a pragmatic approach in recognising that RCG is
now a dominant paradigm driving industry, government and public health measures that
aim to prevent or minimise gambling-related harm.
The definition and principles advanced in this study may continue to be refined,
given that they have been informed by only a limited number of gambling experts and
websites. Additionally, the term ‘responsible gambling’ remains a contested one, with
many experts preferring alternative terms. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this study
catalyses debate on this issue and continued attention to honing the RCG definition and
principles to maximise their acceptance, scientific utility and practical application.
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Empirical
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Empirical
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Empirical
Loba, P., Stewart, S. H., Klein, R. M., & Blackburn, J. R. (2001). Manipulations of
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Empirical
Lostutter, T. W., Lewis, M. A., Cronce, J. M., Neighbors, C., & Larimer, M. E. (2014).
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Empirical
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Empirical
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Monaghan, S., & Blaszczynski, A. (2010). Impact of mode of display and message
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Empirical
Moore, S. M., Thomas, A. C., Kyrios, M., & Bates, G. (2012). The self-regulation of
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Empirical
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Empirical
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Empirical
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Empirical
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Empirical
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url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2008-
99140-150&site=ehost-live Available from EBSCOhost psych database.
Thesis
Table 1. Frequency of different principles in website definitions of RCG
Australian state responsible gambling agency
Australian industry association
Australian gambling operator
Australian gambling operator
Australian gambling operator
Australian gambling operator
UK responsible gambling agency
UK gambling help service
Australian gambling help service
US gambling help service
No. of sites
G I I I I I HS HS HS HS
Gambling within/setting affordable limits
of time and money spent on gambling;
only gambling with discretionary funds
6
Gambling for pleasure/entertainment/fun 4
Exercising control over gambling 4
Harm minimisation 4
Informed decision-making 4
Knowing the odds/the likelihood of
losing/winning
  3
Gambling in balance with other activities 2
Harm prevention 2
Understanding the risks involved 1
Knowing when to walk away 1
Avoiding problem gambling 1
Not having erroneous gambling beliefs 1
Not gambling when frustrated, anxious or
depressed
 1
G = government agency, I = industry organisation or operator, HS = help services
Table 3. Summary of themes from the literature review, website definitions and expert survey
Literature review:
informed choice
low risk
an enjoyable experience
spending only affordable amounts of time and money
absence of associated harm
Website definitions:
controlled gambling
gambling for entertainment
gambling within affordable limits
informed decisions about gambling/understanding games, odds, risks
gambling being in balance with other activities
prevent or minimise gambling harm and avoid problem gambling
Expert survey open responses:
affordability, keeping to limits or gambling within one’s means
maintain control over one’s gambling
avoid or minimise gambling-related harm
gambling for entertainment rather than to make money
Expert survey closed responses:
gambling within an individual’s affordable limits of time, money and other resources
keeping gambling in balance with other activities and priorities
exercising informed choice about gambling
understanding the risks associated with gambling
staying in control of gambling
absence of gambling-related harm
adhering to pre-set time and money limits when gambling
an enjoyable/pleasurable gambling experience
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... Informed decision-making is believed to be an important feature of responsible gambling by individuals [62,63]. Health promotion campaigns aimed at the general public may wish to focus on the intrinsic value of SGMs as an entertainment product to be enjoyed in moderation, emphasising the social aspects of play. ...
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