Australian sports fans are bombarded with gambling advertising – players’ jerseys are covered in logos and television ads are rampant.
But increasingly, even their smartphones are fair game for betting operators.
As new public gambling advertising restrictions come into effect restricting the use of inducements (think offers to deposit $50 and get $200 worth of bets), operators are after new ways of reaching punters.
Private messages in the form of texts and emails from betting operators are on the rise, making people’s personal devices the next frontier for betting promotion.
Our research at CQUniversity has shown that private messages that invite you to place a bet are a particularly effective means of communication for online gambling companies.
Many of us check our smartphones regularly and can immediately place a bet via various sports betting apps.
Our research has found that on days when people receive these messages, they bet more, suggesting they are highly effective.
When around 5 to 12 per cent of Australians are estimated to experience gambling-related harm each year, we need to consider the risks.
Punters receive dozens of private messages
For our study, we asked 98 sports bettors and 104 race bettors to complete daily surveys for a week.
On average, each sports bettor received 3.7 emails and 2.3 texts during the week, while the race bettors received 6.5 emails and 4.3 texts on average.
Many of the messages were regular promotions available to most or all punters: “We’ve got a great special on for this weekend’s Grand Final! View now”.
Some messages suggested the offers were personalised: “FOR YOU: Deposit up to $200 and we’ll match it”.
We also asked them how much they had bet in the past 24 hours, and how much they intended to bet in the next 24 hours.
This allowed us to compare their intended expenditure with their actual expenditure, and whether any differences between the two were related to certain types of direct messages.
Our results suggest emails made people think about betting, but texts were more likely to make people actually do it, at least within the next 24 hours.
And we know that people who are most vulnerable to gambling-related harm often have accounts with multiple operators, and are far more likely to receive a high number of such messages.
Texts can be more effective than email
We should expect text messages from gambling operators to increase. And for some obvious reasons: They are effective and relatively cheap.
Think about your smartphone. You may receive emails all the time, but do you disregard most of them? Marketing statistics suggest only about 22 per cent of emails are opened.
In contrast, we open the majority of our text messages, and more quickly. Clearly, text messaging is a good way for gambling companies to make you react.
But private messages also offer features that are not available in more public advertising, like television or billboard ads.
In particular, they can be tailored to the person. We call this behavioural insights or behavioural tracking, and gambling operators are beginning to use it.
Because you have an account with a gambling operator, they know what you like to bet on, when, and they can remind you about bets that might specifically be of interest to you.
As they get better at crunching the data, they are likely to get more and more effective.
“Last time this team played, you won $20! They’re playing in 10 minutes. Quick, BET NOW! Click on this link to open our app on your phone.”
In contrast, public advertising cannot be so highly tailored and is designed to appeal to as many relevant eyeballs as possible.
We need restrictions on gambling messages
Australian gambling regulators have recently cracked down on the use of inducements, like bonus bets, where an operator allows you to place a bet worth a certain value for free.
In NSW, it is an offence to publish or communicate an inducement to gamble, but this restriction only applies to public advertising. Texts and emails are still fair game.
Other jurisdictions, such as South Australia, have tighter restrictions.
But we can expect gambling operators to get creative. After all, the fact that private messages are – of course – private may be particularly appealing.
Gambling advertising has become more brazen. The most complained about ad in 2018 was an ad by Sportsbet, according to the Ad Standards body.
But private messages are not seen by the general public, only those who have received them, meaning fewer complaints are likely to be received.
Gambling regulation is always a cat-and-mouse game. Restrictions are brought in, and operators find ways to get around them.
Most of the restrictions on gambling ads have focused on those aired during televised sporting contests, partly because kids watch and partly because they are so abundant.
But we need to step up regulation on private advertising. Otherwise, we’ll find gambling operators sliding regularly into our private messages, raising the potential for further gambling harm.
Dr Alex Russell is a senior postdoctoral fellow in the Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory at Central Queensland University, with broad expertise in gambling. He is also one of the Top 5 scientists for 2019.