A recent study of gambling-related content in a broad range of media sources reveals that opinions expressed as facts in news coverage pose a greater threat to those at greatest risk.
The lack of scientifically derived, evidence-based research is all the more important in that gambling is mentioned in a staggering 25,000 outlets each day, the study shows. The study was commissioned by the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG), the leading advocate for scientific research on gambling and gambling disorder.
By relying more on opinion than scientifically derived, evidence-based research, the media are complicit in furthering policies and regulations that are potentially injurious to those at greatest risk. Gambling has proven to be a counterintuitive subject when dealing with at-risk and harmed individuals—all the more reason to trust science, not opinion, in crafting effective public policy.
For example, many media stories about sports wagering have circulated the idea that this form of gambling is riskier than others. However, we don’t know if that’s the case. There is currently no body of scientific research to support this notion. In fact, we know very little about sports betting in the U.S. Claims about sports wagering should be taken with a healthy dose of salt until the research is done.
That is why the ICRG has awarded a Center of Excellence Grant to study the health impact of sports wagering in the U.S., research that will help provide the evidence needed to determine the health risks and how best to develop responsible gaming among these players.
There are also examples of misuse of available information. Many stories point to increased calls at gambling helplines as “evidence” that the prevalence of gambling disorders has risen. This assumption is wrong for several reasons. Helpline traffic is unreliable as an indicator that the prevalence rate is growing. There are other factors that may influence the number of calls to a helpline, such as expanded advertising and promotion.
Many of the states require operators to post helpline numbers in television advertisements. For some gamblers, this could be the first time they became aware of an 800 number for gambling problems.
Further, analysis of the call center records has historically revealed that a percentage of people call to check on where they can place a wager or why their wagering account isn’t working.
The impact of advertising itself is another area of speculation in the media. To be sure, the blitz of ads about sports wagering raises many questions. Will they trigger people struggling to stay in recovery? Will they attract people vulnerable to developing a gambling problem? What is the impact on children? Unfortunately, we have little research to provide the evidence needed to answer these questions or develop guidelines for responsible advertising.
What is the cost of misinformation about gambling? Individuals and families who are seeking help for gambling problems may be misled by false information on gambling addiction. Misinformation can also prevent the development of safe and effective public health policy on gambling. We don’t allow the “gray literature,” research not published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, to guide cancer research and policy—why is gambling addiction any different?
What can be done to combat misinformation? First and foremost, we need more scientific research on gambling disorders. This is a young and fast-moving field of study, and we recognize that it’s difficult to keep up with new findings. The ICRG has committed to expanding its funding for high-quality research selected in rigorous, worldwide competition.
This is vital because the National Institutes of Health, the leading source of health research funding in the U.S., rarely supports gambling research. Gambling companies and related industries involved in gambling can follow the lead of ICRG’s donors who have generously supported research for more than 25 years. Gaming regulators can consult with scientists when they establish responsible gambling requirements for operators.
Public health and treatment professionals can take advantage of evidence-based resources such as the website of the Division on Addiction at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School (www.divisiononaddiction.org). The division sponsors The Wager, a monthly research brief written for a non-academic audience and an online screen that offers a quick and confidential assessment tool for people concerned about their gambling.
The ICRG also offers education for treatment providers at the annual conference and the webinar series. Everyone—including the media—is welcome to consult with the ICRG staff or visit icrg.org if they have questions about gambling disorders and responsible gambling. If we don’t have the answer, we can refer you to scientists who know the state of the research base.
The ICRG is committed to collaboration using the latest evidence to ensure that the public and all stakeholders have access to the highest-quality research on gambling addiction so as to support effective and impactful industry regulations and public policies.
The ICRG is a global leader in scientific research on gambling disorder and responsible gambling. Founded in 1996 by the American Gaming Association, the ICRG seeks to help individuals and families affected by gambling disorder through the highest-quality research and evidence-based education programs. For more information, visit icrg.org.