This article was co-written with Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez.

According to a study that we recently published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, sports betting adverts are encouraging gambling by associating betting behaviour with alcohol and junk food. We found that more than two-thirds (41%) of football betting adverts in the UK and Spain featured either alcohol or junk food in some way.  The study – which is the first to investigate the use of alcohol and unhealthy food in gambling adverts – found that betting advertising appeared to capitalise on sentiments arising from the culture of sports viewing and gambling. Alcohol (particularly beer) was used to create an atmosphere of sentimental bonding between friends and sport, and was used when there was a particularly high number of characters in an advert. We reported an association between drinking alcohol in betting adverts and emotionally-charged sporting situations such as more frequent betting while viewing a football game, more goal celebrations, and greater satisfaction with the outcome of games or bets.

Similarly, eating junk food – such as crisps, chips, burgers or sugary drinks – was associated with celebrating a goal and satisfaction with the outcome of a game or bet.  Our dataset comprised 135 sports betting adverts (from 29 different gambling operators) and we found that 55 of them depicted alcohol or junk food consumption in some way. We argued that such adverts are ‘normalising’ other potentially risky behaviours by aligning them with sports culture and gambling. Consequently, media and advertising regulators and policymakers should consider the linking of risky behaviours, particularly in the context of strong emotions and impulses such as popular sports.

In interviews with the media, we noted that sport is not something that people generally approach in a neutral manner – identities and a sense of belonging are essential to understand it. This is further amplified by the thrill experienced when watching live sports in which we have a personal involvement. The bottom line in our paper is that, if we put gambling, alcohol, and junk food together in the cocktail shaker, and then we add identities and emotions to it, we should be aware of what might come out of that.

One of the reasons we carried out the study is that little is really known about how betting advertisements might be associating gambling with other potentially risky behaviours. The prevalence of sports betting advertising has become a major concern for gambling regulators. Drinking alcohol, in particular, is shown in betting adverts to have a clear association with sports culture and gambling. Betting advertising may be resorting to characters drinking alcohol, largely beer, to enhance the message of friendship bonding that is often associated with the enjoyment of sport. Our findings in this particular study are of concern because, when engaged with problem drinking and eating disorders, the effects of problem gambling can worsen.

In another study (using the same dataset) published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory, we similarly reported that sports betting companies are depicting a potentially harmful mix of gambling behaviours in their television advertising. In this paper we reported that 77% of betting adverts showed no female characters, highlighting the extent to which bookmakers were targeting men. The adverts we analysed also tapped into the appeal of high-risk bets, with gamblers typically depicted staking small amounts of money with large potential returns – up to 51 times the invested money.

In only a quarter of cases (24%) were gamblers shown in adverts betting whilst interacting with others, emphasising the individual nature and consumption of mobile betting. Betting whilst watching sport in adverts was associated with emotionally-charged situations such as celebrations and drinking alcohol, and in-play betting was shown in almost half (46%) of all adverts. More than a third (36%) of adverts promoted some form of free bet or refund when signing up new clients and mobile betting was the predominant platform advertised, with 92% of adverts depicting characters betting via their smartphones. In terms of wagers, riskier bets showed odds that involved returns of 51 times the money placed – implying a probability of less than two percent. The average potential return for bets was £132, with a maximum £576. No wagers resulted in a loss to the gambler in any of the adverts.

Whilst all of these characteristics may not be decisive in isolation, cumulatively they could have a negative influence on those vulnerable to problem gambling. When regularly and collectively portrayed in adverts, factors such as sensation-seeking, impulsivity, instant-betting and disinhibition could influence the betting behaviour of vulnerable groups such as problem gamblers and adolescents. Sports betting companies are clearly targeting males, who we know are seven times more likely to bet on sports than women and more likely to develop gambling-related problems. Policymakers and legislators should be aware of the potential effects of betting marketing and advertising, especially when they target vulnerable groups, over and under-represent issues and irresponsibly link betting with sports culture.

References

Guerrero-Solé, F., Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Online gambling advertising and the Third-Person Effect: A pilot study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 7(2), 15-30.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 20, 495-503.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41, 256-272.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Controlling the illusion of control: A grounded theory of sports betting advertising in the UK. International Gambling Studies, doi: 10.1080/14459795.2017.1377747

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. Estévez, A., Jimenez-Murcia, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Alcohol drinking and low nutritional value food eating behaviour of sports bettors in gambling adverts. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, doi: 10.1007/s11469-017-9789-0

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, doi: 10.1177/1012690216680602

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships - A responsible marketing inquiry into the 'gamblification' of English football. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, doi: 10.1007/s11469-017-9788-1

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Guerrero-Sole, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). A content analysis of how ‘normal’ sports betting behaviour is represented in gambling advertising. Addiction Research and Theory, doi: 10.1080/16066359.2017.1353082.

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