Study investigates use of voluntary betting controls in Australia

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Study investigates use of voluntary betting controls in Australia

Research findings by the University of Sydney have revealed that voluntary betting controls generally don’t work.

A study of 40,000 gamblers in Australia found that a government ‘opt-out’ policy saw a radical shift in online betting behaviour, according to The University of Sydney.

The study, conducted by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic (GTRC) at the University of Sydney, also found that when not required to, the overwhelming majority of online gambling customers did not use voluntary tools designed to limit problem gambling.

The research into leading Australian gambling sites found that of the 6,000 people who used deposit limits, a majority stuck to their limit during the course of a year, while one in four changed their limit to make it less restrictive and one in eight decreased or removed the limit altogether.

“The marked success of the ‘opt-out’ limit setting policy has important implications; suggesting this strategy can be used to encourage other responsible gambling behaviours,” co-author Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury said.

Lead author Dr Robert Heirene said that during the study, a policy implemented in May 2019 requiring online gambling sites to make customers set a deposit limit or actively opt out of setting one, had major implications for consumer protection.

“We noted a spike in the use of deposit limits, which coincided with a new government policy whereby online gamblers had to opt out or set deposit limits.

“The uptake is in line with trends in organ donations following the change to an opt-out policy, rather than opt-in, which similarly saw a spike in participation.

Gamblers using deposit limits jumped after government changes

Associate Professor Gainsbury said the fact that the number of people setting deposit limits per month jumped after the introduction of the scheme, from 4 to 187 on one site alone, demonstrated the effectiveness of simple and cheap opt-out strategies.

“This strategy could be trialled for encouraging other responsible gambling behaviours such as limits on spending on other forms of gambling,” she said.

“Consideration of gambling control measures like the opt-out scheme are particularly relevant at the moment, given trials under way in Australia for cashless gaming.”

The GTRC analysed 39,853 customer accounts from six leading sports and race betting sites in Australia over the 2018-19 financial year.

It found that 83 per cent did not use any of the voluntary tools studied, for example deposit limits, timeouts and self-exclusion.

Almost all of those who used the tools used only deposit limits.

Future research goals focus on impact banks can have on problem gambling

Of those who set deposit limits, half made no changes to their limit after setting, while 766 people made between one and three changes and 32 people made more than 15 changes.

Interestingly, those who set deposit limits were found to be similar to those who did not gamble, on most characteristics, such as age, gender, betting frequency and overall outcome.

While those who used time-out/self-exclusions stood out: they were younger, more likely to be male, placed more bets and in bigger amounts, won less, had fewer days without gambling and had more variability in the amount they gambled and the amount they won from day-to-day.

“This paints a clear picture: timeout/self-exclusion users appear to gamble in a more problematic way and this insight can focus future research and targeted interventions,” Dr Heirene said.

“Future research could examine whether limits on specific sites are the answer, or whether banks should step in and allow people to set limits on gambling across all sites,” Associate Professor Gainsbury said.

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