Discovery conference: Crafting responsible-gambling messaging that’s engaging

March 27, 2024 3:33 PM
Photo: (from left), Dr. James Whelan, Executive Director, Tennessee Institute for Gambling Education & Research, Sasha Tregebov, Director, Canadian branch, The Behavioural Insights Team Canada, Elaine McDougall, Vice President, Marketing and Communications (RGC), Phillip Haid, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, PUBLIC
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
March 27, 2024 3:33 PM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is holding its annual three-day Discovery conference in Toronto this week, featuring panel discussions with industry spokespeople talking about the latest trends in prevention programming, research breakthroughs, and innovative technology.

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The complexities around responsible gambling messaging was a discussion led by Catherine Meade, Vice President of Community, Sustainability & Social Responsibility for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation; Dr. James Whelan, Executive Director for the Tennessee Institute for Gambling Education & Research; Elaine McDougall, Vice President of Marketing and Communications (RGC); Phillip Haid, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of PUBLIC; and Sasha Tregebov, Director, Canadian branch, The Behavioural Insights Team Canada.

There’s no point in pushing RG messaging if people aren’t taking it in. With responsible-gambling messaging, the panel focused on what’s already understood, along with critical aspects that still need to be uncovered, ways in which industry stakeholders can make it more engaging and effective with a variety of audiences. With RG a foundation of the regulated igaming industry in Ontario, how do you create something that really resonates?

Whelan summarized what RG messaging is, research that’s been done on the topic, and where future directions might lie.

“It’s about operators, the industry, understanding what their responsibilities are, in order to assure that their product to their customer has the appropriate safeguards and information directives,” he said. “Secondly, it’s about regulators who are informed and knowledgeable … about the idea that they’re protecting the public. And then third it’s that the individual has the responsibility to be an autonomous human being and making decisions for themselves. These RG efforts should be informed by research.”

What is known about effective messaging, according to Whelan, is the timing of message – when it’s delivered, so people are willing to both receive it and make use of it. “It’s much better to give people suggestions about what to do, give them information that they can act on, rather than tell them just don’t do something,” he said.

More effective in gambling messaging is helping people understand their chances of winning, which isn’t the same as posting odds. Rather, the goal is to get people to understand what it means when they lose. How do you approach someone to understand what the costs are for the individual and personalize them in some way? That’s important in messaging.

“No one understands odds,” he said. “The care, craftsmanship, the marketing of it are all incredibly important if we want these messages to have anything more than an average effect size.”

Said Tregebov. “I imagine tens of millions of dollars are spent each year in North America on RG messaging. And my sense is that if we were to spend half of 1% of that money on some of the high-quality field studies, real-world trials, large samples, good data, we could dramatically increase the effectiveness [in terms of behavioral change] of that large-scale investment.”

All of this is particularly timely these days, as stories about alleged out-of-control sports betting among pro athletes makes headlines. No, there isn’t a direct connection to RG education and messaging here. But there’s still a connection.

It’s becoming even more vital for operators to educate people who play on their platforms. As Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns has said in the past to CDC Gaming Reports: There’s a strong commitment in the industry to healthy play and ensuring sustainable customers.

RG messaging is, of course, Elaine McDougall’s bailiwick. She’s the RGC’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications.

It’s a good thing, she said, that industry stakeholders communicate responsible gambling messages differently.

“How an LLP communicates positive play is very different from how [RGC] is going to communicate it to different populations that we work with,” she said. “It’s still the same message. Also, the importance of tone and the language that we’re using and being intentional with that language, the tone that you’re using with different populations … how we talk about gambling with young adults or a population that might be at a higher increased chance of risk. If we’re not intentional with our language, it’s easy to dismiss the message we’re trying to communicate.

“We don’t want to just say take a break from your play. What does take a break mean and what’s the best way to communicate that to someone who is gambling online?”

That’s exactly it – that individual who downloaded that igaming app is excited about betting on something; they want to gamble. How do you communicate RG messages without coming across as intrusive and off-putting to those folks?

“How do you communicate [RG] to somebody who is gambling online, in their basement in the middle of the night?” McDougall said. “What does taking a break look like for somebody like that, versus somebody who might be playing in a casino or a charitable gaming center?”

Haid’s company is a social-impact agency with experience in how to move audiences to take pro-social actions. Haid cited work they did with Diabetes Canada; instead of messaging telling people they could be at risk for diabetes, they went onto social-media platforms where people were spending time scrolling and invited them to take a two-minute test to see if they were at risk for the disease.

“In eight weeks, we drove 400,000 people to do it,” he said. “You don’t always have to go through the front door [with messaging]. You can go through the side door.”

There are the objectives in the industry of messaging the risks of gambling and increasing awareness about where people can get treatment or access resources, McDougall added, taking into account the different populations, how they’re and where they’re playing, based on RGC research insights, and crafting messaging to best hit that particular population.

“This isn’t a one-and-done objective,” she said. “Don’t play it safe. You have to provoke your audience. When you have a small [marketing] budget, lean into the tension and unlock that, because that’s what breaks through.”

Another tip that came from the panel was to use the acceleration of online gaming and work with operators to randomly push different key messages to a select few players, then track the data and see which of those players take up responsible gambling tools, set financial limits, and the like – a randomized control trial. Then they’ll cost-effectively see which of those strategies are moving the dial.

In the end, it’s about getting the right message to the right player at the right time, Meade said. Operators need to continue to work toward whether the messaging should be sent out while the audience is gambling, after they’ve been gambling, or are thinking about gambling.

That context really matters and will drive everything in terms of how people in the industry push RG messages, and how successful that process will be, getting to impactful outcomes.

Discovery is being held at the Marriot Downtown at CF Toronto Eaton Centre.