Gambling on our children’s future

Improving Health and Wellbeing

Children as young as six can identify different gambling companies’ brands and advertisement plotlines.

Associate Professor Samantha Thomas and her team at Deakin’s Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR) have examined the frequency and nature of gambling advertisements and how they influence attitudes and behaviours, particularly towards gambling and sports.

“Our research is gathering increasing evidence that shows that how gambling is advertised affects the most vulnerable people in our community and that it needs to be treated as an important public health issue,” she said.

“This is still an area that very few researchers are looking at. You have to be very brave to ask questions of the gambling industry because it’s so powerful.

“That’s why it’s great that young researchers are taking an interest in the social and public health issues surrounding gambling.”

Researcher Hannah Pitt, a PhD student in Associate Prof Thomas’ team, is studying the normalisation of gambling advertising and the effect it has on children. She has found the content of gambling ads – the humour, cartoons and catchy music – is engaging children and making them take notice.

“It doesn’t matter that children are not the target of these ads, they are still being exposed to, and affected by the content.”
Ms Hannah Pitt Research Assistant, Faculty of Health

“Even though there are rules that gambling ads can’t be shown in ‘G’ rated shows, these exclude sporting events that children watch avidly.

“In my research, I’ve asked parents and children where they see gambling advertising and they say they see it everywhere, on TV, at sporting stadiums and on billboards, while they’re in the car.”

The next stage in Hannah’s research is to examine how exposure to gambling ads might affect children’s future behaviour. Early results already show that children see gambling as a normal part of sport, plan to gamble when they’re old enough and understand cash-back incentives in ads “as meaning you can gamble and never lose.”

Assoc Prof Thomas added that gambling advertising also negatively affects the target of the ads – young men aged 18-35.

“Young men are increasingly gambling as part of their engagement with sport. The incentives and inducements used by gambling companies have an impact on betting behaviours,” she said. “The marketing encourages young men to bet on things they wouldn’t bet on otherwise and to bet more than they otherwise would.”

Amy Bestman, another PhD student in Assoc Prof Thomas’s team, is investigating how gambling venues become places that children see as normal to visit with their family and how that affects the way they view gambling activities.

“Gambling venues are not allowed to advertise their gambling activities, so, instead, they market themselves as ‘family friendly’ – they have a playground, cheap meals and ‘kids eat free’ deals, for example,” she said.

She noted that the team is not opposed to gambling, just concerned about the impact on children of being exposed to a product that’s as dangerous as alcohol and tobacco.

“We’ve found there is a mentality in Australia where people distance themselves from gambling damage.

“The advertisements say, ‘if you have a problem with gambling, seek help,’ but also send the message that everyone else is having a good time. People don’t think it will harm them, so they don’t consider the wider health and social implications.”

Assoc Prof Thomas said she hopes the research will raise awareness of the impact gambling advertising is having on children and young men and will lead to policy makers tightening advertising regulations.

“Kids don’t understand that you can lose money and that it is risky. The gambling industry says parents should be responsible for teaching children about the risks, but research from food and tobacco has shown that it is very difficult for parents to compete with the highly seductive messages from industry. We need comprehensive regulation to ensure the industry, including broadcasters and sporting codes, are more responsible in marketing gambling products that may cause significant harm.”

Centre for Population Health Research

The Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR) aims to deliver health improvements for Australian and global populations through its extensive and diverse portfolio of research activities in public health, implementation, knowledge translation and advocacy, training and expert advisory services.