A couple weeks ago, the Federal Government announced new regulations for gambling advertising: no longer will people be encouraged to “Gamble responsibly”; now they will be informed that “Chances are you are about to lose”. They will be encouraged to reflect on “What’s gambling really costing you?” and to “Imagine what you could be buying instead”, and so on. Which will fix everything.
Gambling is a massive problem in Australia, and elsewhere, and I’d readily support any serious and plausible effort to address the problem. I loathe the manipulation of suckers by gambling companies, some of which could be banned immediately if the various governments were willing to forgo their own cut of the action, or if not-all-wise judges and the ACCC had an ounce more mathematical sense. I’m not convinced, however, that these message campaigns do one iota of good. I’m not convinced that they connect whatsoever with the minds of committed gamblers.
This latest anti-gambling push is based upon “extensive behavioural research”. So you know it’s good. My all-time favourite campaign is Love The Game, Not The Odds, targeting teenagers getting sucked into sports gambling. I’m willing to bet that Love The Game was also based upon extensive behavioural research.
The signature ad of Love The Game begins with the pretty girl announcing “My favourite sport is netball …”, which is simply hilarious: no one’s favourite sport is netball. (I say this as a one-time enthusiastic wing defence.) It doesn’t improve.
Admittedly, I’m conflicted. I am a (now infrequent) gambler, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time gambling and thinking about gambling. I have fun stories I could tell, particularly of card counting in the early, Wild West days of Melbourne’s casino. Not stories of great wealth, but of decent profits and weirdness and great fun. I like gambling. And I like stirring the possum, by talking about gambling seriously and honestly and humorously, without sanctimony.
My very first public talk, in 2001, was on gambling. That talk launched me and Burkard on our popularising way, and by a sort of cannon shot resulted in the Mathologer. Overruling my objections, Burkard insisted upon creating a Mathologer on gambling, based on my talk. It is popular.
Part of my annoyance with these anti-gambling campaigns is the careless language. Is it really the case, for example, that “the chances are you are about to lose”? Not if your plan is to bet on France to beat Australia at the World Cup. It’s likely a bad bet, but not because of the (low) chances of losing.
It obviously doesn’t help a campaign if it contains falsehoods. But that is not the main problem. The main problem is that gamblers are not listening. Gamblers are well practised at being stupid. Sermonising at them is pointless.