How to use behavioral science principles to reduce gambling harms

Many current practices that aim to minimize gambling harms are extrapolated from measures used in public health or substance use.

There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of many gambling consumer protection policies and strategies, including many required by legislation across jurisdictions.

Some policies consider cognitive errors and the tendency of people to misunderstand gambling products.

However, they largely fail to account for heuristics and resulting biases that drive ongoing gambling, even when people are provided with information to educate, encourage or scare them away from excessive gambling.

Behavioral science tools, stemming from a blend of psychology and economics, account for these human factors.

These tools are typically lowcost, subtle tweaks to the decision-making environment that promote agency, encourage positive behavioral change, and result in significant measurable reductions in harms.

Despite decades of increasingly restrictive policies and measures to prevent gambling problems, the prevalence of problem gambling has barely shifted globally.

Within the U.S., states with longer exposure to and greater availability of legal gambling tend to have higher rates of problem gambling.

Some estimates put the social costs of gambling at approximately $20 billion annually, which does not capture all forms of impacts on individuals, families and communitie.

It is time to consider a new approach to reframe our thinking and look more broadly across academic disciplines to address gambling harms in a way that would be beneficial for policymakers, industry operators and the community.

Neoclassical economics assumes that people have rational preferences among outcomes, strive to maximize utility, and act independently based on full and relevant information.

In contrast, a behavioral economics approach to gambling policies and interventions acknowledges people do not always act in their long-term best interest, and introduces a range of relatively simple policy tools that better motivate behavior change.

Behavioral science tools such as commitment devices, personalized messaging, and more generalized “nudges” can be effective across the entire spectrum of gambling harms.

These tools aim to overcome predictable heuristics in decision-making such as “loss-chasing,” “illusions of control,” “bracketing” of gambling funds.

The “gambler’s fallacy” or “hot hand,” which mistakenly assume gambling outcomes are linked.

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