Ditch the Fun. Ditch the Entertainment.

Responsible Gaming Strategy

Mar 22, 2023

As I move forward with my personal projects and consulting aimed at reducing gambling harm, I’ll be eliminating (or suggesting the elimination of) two core concepts that are frequently used in responsible gaming messaging: fun and entertainment.

To this point, they have both been widely used. Throw a dart at a board full of responsible gambling or safer gambling campaigns and you are likely to land on one that encourages the target audience to “only gamble for fun” or highlights that “gambling should be for entertainment”.

They are so widely used that even bringing up the idea that they might not be a great idea is likely to be met with doubt and criticism. “If everyone is using them, how can they be a bad idea?” one might think.

Well, we currently have no reliable data that I know of to support their use. They definitely sound like a good idea, until you dyve a bit deeper.

Dyving Deeper

As consumers, we’re constantly being bombarded with messaging. This has only increased over the past 20 years as the Internet and smartphones have provided endless new avenues to hack our attention. I could go grab stats on this, but I’ll save the time and assume this isn’t something that anyone would debate.

With our brains being flooded with competing messages and stories, we continually refine our system of censoring information. We know we can’t take it all in, so we look for keywords or buzzwords as well as visual cues to filter what we let through.

Ultimately, our goal is to allow the things which will improve or broaden our lives through and put up walls to keep the rest of the junk from contaminating our time and attention.

Put another way, we are more likely to lower the drawbridge and take on new information if it appears to align with our current beliefs and will help us in our future endeavors.

In my view, “fun” and “entertainment” have become such obvious tells to the target audience that what surrounds them are messages designed to reduce the amount of gambling they engage in. Once they sense it, they raise up the drawbridge and add the messenger to the Do Not Disturb list. Furthermore, they become more and more aware of the tactics each time they are attempted and update their database to avoid letting future messaging through.

I imagine this to be incredibly frustrating to an interested observer. From their viewpoint, it would appear to be the right message for the right audience. If they never switch shoes and understand why their message continues to be given a stiff-arm that would make a running backs coach proud, they’ll likely continue to invest in MOAR prevention ads with MOAR of the same messaging.

This approach would continue to ignore the reality that this audience isn’t interested in fun or entertainment. I’m not saying that many people don’t gamble for fun or entertainment.

They do!

But people who gamble for fun and entertainment have a view of the products which—in my opinion—makes them much less likely to result in problematic play. It’s definitely possible “fun” and “entertainment” can continue to be used in targeted prevention campaigns towards this group, but we need a new approach for the segment that is of higher risk due to their view that gambling is a way they can make money.

There, I said it.


Hold on!

Don’t let your mind run to where it was going to run. Telling them “gambling isn’t a way to make money” or some variation of that message is the right message, but will do a massive belly flop of failure when delivered in that way.

Reaching this group—which I would classify as a top priority given their risk profile—will not be quick and easy. It will take some time. And it will take a completely different approach to “responsible gaming”. We’ll need to throw out everything we’ve done in the past as they have already identified it as a threat to their current belief system. The moment they see fun, entertainment, prevention, or harm mentioned, they will be racing to the drawbridge.

The proposal I present is to create a Trojan Horse of sorts when it comes to campaigns and messaging. This group wants to gamble and they see gambling as a way to make money.

So why not help them in their pursuit?

Can we help them to be profitable? Of course not!

However, we can help them to become better gamblers.

We can do that by helping them to level up their math skills.

We can do that by helping them to level up their emotional intelligence.

We can do that by helping them to level up their ability to make wins last longer and minimize their losses.

We can do that by helping them to level up their risk/benefit analysis skills.

In the end, if we do a really good job of all of the above, they will have a much better understanding of what the products they are engaged in CAN and CAN NOT do for them. Most importantly, THEY will have come to these conclusions on their own (with a few seemingly invisible nudges in the right direction).

This is where the power of personal growth can truly shine. This at-risk group doesn’t want to be at-risk. They want to improve and get better. The moment we understand that and give them tools and insights to further their agenda, we will see progress in our agenda.

But first, we need to understand how they view gambling—and how they don’t view gambling. When we do this, we can begin to speak their language and avoid delivering messaging that is unlikely to connect.

The marketers goal is to tap into the story the target audience already believes to be true and then guide them to new products, services, or ideas. This is an area I believe we can greatly improve upon, but first we need to understand how our current efforts might not be working as intended.

Jamie combined his professional background as a brand strategist with his experience as a former problem gambler to create dyve. He is also host of The After Gambling Podcast.

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