These days, online and mobile casinos are advertising their sites more aggressively than ever before. You’ll be bombarded with ads while you’re watching TV or scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed! These ads parade free bonuses with no-deposit required, huge wins; all of which are really tempting! Many wonder: does advertising of online gambling increase gambling consumption? Have these promotions tricked us into spending more at the casino? More worryingly, does it convert non-gamblers into Internet gamblers?
Let’s take a step back and re-examine the goal of advertising. Advertisements and promotions are designed to attract attention and to create a desire for the product advertised. If it’s persuasive enough, it should lead the viewer to purchase the product.
There are three strategies to this – to capture new customers, retain existing ones or gaining a greater market share of customers. Not all strategies would translate to greater profits. Today, casinos and bookmakers spend tens millions of pounds to advertise their sites.
Did you know that there are about 1.39 million gambling adverts on British television in a year? Here is a playlist of a few familiar ones:
Casino adverts doesn’t exactly attract new gamblers
There is an academic study conducted in Australia that studied this issue. After interviewing 80 Internet gamblers, the study concluded that adverts mostly attract players that have already gambled at brick-and-mortar establishments, such as casinos and betting shops. In other words, adverts did not introduce them to slots or card games; it only made them aware of the options available on the Internet.
They saw the ad and simply shifted online. As one player tells it, “I looked at lotto results on the website, and then I realised that you could actually get lottery online that way.”
Research also reiterates the fact that very few viewers feel the urge to start gambling because they’ve seen it on TV. Only 13% of people begun playing internet poker because of advertising (Shead and Hodgins 2008); only 11% in another Danish study (Bonke 2007). These low percentages show that the impact of adverts on non-gamblers is minimal.
Advertisers aim to steal market share.
From another point of view, the lack of new customers reflect the existing prevalence to gambling. Since 70% of the population already participate in gambling activities regularly, there aren’t many new participants to attract anyway. This brings us to the next realisation. Gambling is a relatively mature market in many Western countries including the UK and growth opportunities are restricted.
As a result, advertisers focus more effort in attracting customers from their competitors. They try to out-do their competition with bigger bonuses or newer games. This strategy affects the distribution of the market share, but not consumption.
For example, the residents of Town X eat 500 loaves of bread a day. It doesn't matter whether a supermarket sells them or a independent grocer, the level of consumption (500 loaves) remains the same.
Operators themselves begin to question whether this marketing spend is worth it. Are they actually getting a return on their investment?
So, do adverts stimulate consumption?
Kind of, yes. I’m guilty of subscribing to promo codes via SMS and visiting casinos every time there’s a good offer. If a TV advert shouts about a big jackpot for that week’s lottery draw, more of us would get up and buy a ticket.
Sometimes, an advert tells you about better odds in a different sport, and you’ll bet on a market that you don’t normally deal with. Ads expose us to new gambling forms. We add more new games to our repertoire and open new casino accounts. Amounts wagered go up every year, although it cannot be attributed to promotions alone.
Then again, consumption may increase but our expenditure doesn’t exactly increase proportionately. Sometimes, we’d indulge in an extra spin because we accepted 20 free spins upon registration. When we accept welcome packages with refunds on losses and free cash to try, we are testing the waters without actually spending money.
It’s the terms and conditions that increases gambling spend.
The problem only really starts when a player tries to withdraw cash from their casino account. Having indulged in a plethora of bonuses and free-bet offers, they have also (often unknowingly) accepted the strict terms and conditions of the casino.
Players are confronted with wagering requirements (or ‘playthrough requirements'). For example, had they accepted a meagre £5 bonus, they’d have to wager about 30 times that amount (£150) before they are eligible for withdrawals. Accept £20 bonus and be prepared for a £600 “bill” to withdraw. There are other landmines hidden among the fine print, such as a minimum deposit to qualify for a deposit match offer. These conditions then trigger players to deposit a little more than they would have.
Gambling advertising raises some strong opinions in society. For most of us, these ads inform us of the bonuses every casino has got to offer, adding excitement into our daily lives. For others, promoting gambling on TV is to “encourage” people to gamble their savings away; worse, it could fuel addiction or tell children that gambling is okay.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there’s no escaping these advertisements on the Internet and on TV. We should just take comfort in knowing that, as long as the message is controlled, gambling advertising doesn’t really impact the amount we spend. We may watch the adverts and accept the bonuses, but we must be aware of the terms and conditions.