How does a disclaimer affect gambling behaviour?

You probably haven’t missed it: the disclaimer Speel bewust 18+ (play responsibly 18+) has recently into Wat kost gokken jou? Stop op tijd. 18+ (What does gambling cost you? Stop in time. 18+).

Not everyone is enthusiastic about it. The former slogan sounded nice, because although it wasn’t in full rhyme, it sounded like a rhyme. The new disclaimer doesn’t. On the other hand, ‘play responsibly’ is a phrase that can mean something else to everyone. There’s room for interpretation, and is that desirable for a slogan like this? In 2016, member of parliament Mei Li Vos asked for an amendment to the Remote Gambling Law (Wet Koa). She found the disclaimer too light and too inciting.

The first part of the slogan entails an imperative: play. After that comes responsibly, of course, but maybe there is something to say for Vos’ remark. This led to research to develop a new slogan. This became, as we know now, What does gambling cost you? Stop in time. 18+. But the decision for this slogan wasn’t an easy one.

During the investigation, they looked at slogans of other countries and how they work. The disclaimer of the UK, for example, also changed. They conducted research also. Today we look into the motivations for choosing, or not choosing, a specific slogan and what the influence of a (wrong) disclaimer can be.

When the fun stops, stop.

Let’s start with the UK. The former slogan was When the fun stops, stop. In researching a new Dutch disclaimer, they also investigated this slogan. They found a positive association with gambling: the word fun might stimulate gambling. Showing this word in a bigger font, which emphasizes it, enhances the positive association. This is, of course, not what this kind of disclaimer should intend. Furthermore, showing the disclaimer in black on a yellow background might further downplay the warning.

The research in the UK was conducted in three groups. Two of them consisted of players who sometimes place a bet on a soccer game. A third group consisted of online roulette players. All participants were assigned a task and got a reward when completed; they were free to gamble with it.  Every group was split up into different kinds of participants. With the sports betting groups, about half of the participants were shown the slogan, and the others did not. In the roulette group, there were three scenarios: one where the participants were shown no slogan, one where they were shown the old (yellow) disclaimer, and one where they were shown the new (white) slogan. The distribution was even.

No unambiguous results

The goal of the research was to investigate the effects on gambling behavior. What stood out was that almost all participants who were shown the slogan played more and longer than the other participants. Participants in group 2 (old format of the slogan) played more and longer, especially compared to participants who didn’t get a message. Overall, the difference was little, and the sample was too small to actually call it a significant difference. A cautious conclusion might be that the message doesn’t have the preventive effect it was intended to.

The research also mentions a possible undesirable effect: it might work counter-wise when players see the message more often. Especially when a text like that in the UK was used. There is also a noticeable difference between a dynamic versus static message: a text that moves has more effect. Also, a message like When the fun stops, stop might be too generic and leaves too much responsibility to the player. A slogan that strongly mentions the risks might work better. Also, personalized messages and disclaimers that positively work psychologically might work.

After this, the slogan in the UK is changed to Take time to think.

Play responsibly

In the Netherlands, the slogan Play responsibly 18+ was used until early 2022. In the research, it is compared to those of other countries:

  • Belgium: Gamble in moderation (Gok met mate)
  • Australië: Gamble responsibly
  • Ontario, Canada: Play smart

Like the former Dutch and British slogans, they are criticized for being too generic and leaving too much responsibility to the players to act accordingly. We might expect that the results from the British research apply to those too. These kinds of disclaimers will be less preventive. We have to do it differently.

Dijksterhuis en van Baaren (D&B) were assigned to develop a new slogan for the Dutch gambling branche. They had to take behavior and behavioral change into consideration, which they deemed to be complex. Behavior is influenced by the environment, personal competencies, and psychological incentives. D&B uses the Behavior Change Model (BCM) to gain behavioral change.

The goal of the new disclaimer should be:

Point out the risks of playing games of change. With this focus on prevention from a health perspective. The aim is: to prevent problematic gambling behavior.

Behavior analyses

They conducted extensive behavior analyses. Some points that followed are:

  • The illusion of control (magic thinking) can be influenced, and so are wrong risk perception, cognitive biases, social norms, positive associations, and abundance of knowledge. E
  • A text that lets one think about themselves and their behavior has the most potential to point out the risks of games of chance.
  • The disclaimer can be used as an intervention on win framing in commercial messages.
  • The word ‘not’ should not be used, as the human brain can not cope with it too well.
  • A slogan can easily have a positive association, which should be avoided as much as possible.
  • The slogan should be accessible and to be understood by almost everyone.

From this came a strategy. The slogan should:

  • Gain attention.
  • Activate certain behavior, e.g., by asking a question or moving the player.
  • Be unambiguous and accessible.
  • Be easy to process and remember (e.g., by rhyme or alliteration).

When checking the former slogan for these points, it fails at all of it. It is short and fluent, which is positive. But it isn’t accessible for ‘responsibly’ is abstract and subjective, it doesn’t gain attention or activate self-consciousness, it is ambiguous (somewhere between motivating and warning), not concrete, and has little to no effect. The word ‘play’ might be too optimistic and, therefore, too motivating. Overall it does not point out the risks of playing.

In the end, D&B comes up with four possible scenarios for the new slogan. Informing about the risks, correct cognitive biases (wrong assumptions about winning, for example), dwell upon personal limits or social acceptance, and reduce normalization.

5 potential slogans and their ratings

Op basis van bovenstaande is D&B tot vijf mogelijke nieuwe slogans gekomen. Deze zijn door een projectteam, bestaande uit vertegenwoordigers van kansspelen en de verslavingssector, beoordeeld.

  • Everyone can lose. You too. 18+
  • Chances are you loose. 18+
  • Gambling costs money. What is your limit? 18+
  • Prevent regret. Stop in time. 18+
  • What does gambling cost you? Stop in time. 18+

All of them check all the boxes. They all have pros and cons. The chosen disclaimer What does gambling cost you? Stop in time. 18+ has a long list of pros and just one con: it might be less fluent. It doesn’t have the ring of the former slogan to it. But that goes for three of the other four too. Although it wasn’t with very convincing numbers, this slogan got the most votes.

The panel was allowed to make a proposal themselves, and they chose:

  • Define your deposit, know your limit. 18+
  • Play responsible, restrict your deposit. 18+

Both of them didn’t thick all the boxes, so they were rejected. Especially the lotteries had objections against the other five but got approval to use the old one. Number five remains the best and is introduced as the new disclaimer.

What do we think?

Using the new slogan is mandatory per 1 April 2022, exactly one year after the Remote Gambling Act (Wet Koa) came into force. Both providers and affiliates have to use it with all of their messages. Most of them changed the slogan earlier thought, somewhere in the first quarter of 2022. But, what do ‘we’ (branche, players) think about it? A difficult question.

Onetime asked on their forum what ‘play responsibly’ meant to players. The reactions were diverse: ‘It doesn’t have a ring to it,’ ‘They have thought well about it, I assume,’ ‘It is for the stage (to let everyone see how well they are doing),’ and ‘Well found, but will it help?’. To summarize, it lets them think about responsible gambling, but they actually need more to play responsibly. How? Social pressure, a good conversation, who can tell?

Fact is there is a new slogan without fully knowing the effects of the use of these kinds of disclaimers. On the other hand, if we can prevent one player from getting into trouble, that is something. Playing responsibly is a combination of several factors which strengthen each other. Strength is in repeating the message, in how players want to be addressed, in creating awareness with everyone it affects, and more.

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