Skip to main content
Slot machines

Gambling harm minimisation

Reducing the impact of problem gambling in the community

We collaborate with communities, industry partners, government, community groups and treatment providers to apply our research in the real world, through policy and practice.

About our research

Community engagement and impact

Our research is fully integrated with our Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, where we provide real help to more than 550 people with gambling problems each year. This community cohort allows us to trial new, state-of-the-art treatments and prevention strategies to the people who need them most. We can test the efficacy of new treatments in a clinical setting in real time. This integration means we can roll out the best new strategies to the broader community as quickly as possible. 

Our research intern program provides unique opportunities for research students to gain real-world experience as they study. At the same time, our research and clinical insights are quickly transferred to graduates who can go on to practise in a wide variety of settings outside the University of Sydney.

Our research led to new, more effective treatments and contributes to policy and strategy including how governments think about and regulate gambling, how industry implements sustainable harm-minimisation practices and how a range of stakeholders measure and conceptualise gambling-related harm. We prioritise research which has strong implications to impact policy and practice in a meaningful way. Our research team actively engage with stakeholders throughout all stages of our research.

Research Priorities

Our team research priorities include:

  • Understanding how new technology is transforming gambling and other risk-related behaviours
  • Strategies to prevent gambling problems
  • Investigating new ways of conceptualising recovery from gambling and other behavioural addictions
  • Establishing best practice metrics to identify and measure gambling-related harm at different levels of severity
  • Establishing and evaluating gambling treatments and interventions

Our current projects

Together with our clinicians, we are launching a clinical trial with funding from the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling. The clinical trial compares the effectiveness of our current face-to-face therapy with a new, innovative self-directed online treatment option that our Senior Clinician, Fadi Anjoul, has developed. This trial, which will be taking place over the next 12 months, will provide us with useful information about how the GTRC's unique approach to gambling can be provided to those who may not be able to attend face-to-face treatment.

The GTRC is building upon existing relationships with Aboriginal services to engage elders as peer-support workers to provide ongoing support throughout the referral and treatment process. This promotes engagement in therapy among attendees and builds the peer-support worker’s knowledge of therapeutic process, enhancing their capacity to discuss this within their community and enhance referrals. 

We have developed the Gambling Effect Measure (GEM) that assesses the full depth and breadth of gambling-related harms and consequences. We are validating the measure in both clinical and community settings.

Funding: NSW Office of Responsible Gambling

Researchers: Dr. Christopher Hunt, Kirsten Shannon, Dr. Fadi Anjoul, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Mitchell Cunningham, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury

Publications:

Financial institutions have strong digital capabilities and a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role in reducing harm to customers and communities from risky gambling behaviour. This research aims to understand which types of digital and non-digital interventions are likely to reduce harmful behaviours. This line of research involves examining data to identify indicators of potentially risky gambling and designing and evaluating interventions using customer accounts and payment mechanisms to enhance financial well-being and minimise risky gambling behaviours.

Tom Swanton's PhD project investigates the impact of payment method on gambling and explores how we can help people to make smart choices about their gambling expenditure in the age of digital payments. Marie Dietz's Master's thesis explores the role cash plays in facilitating controlled consumer spending among land-based gamblers, by investigating how payment type (cash or digital) influences gambling expenditure compared to other forms of discretionary spending.

Researchers: Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Thomas Swanton, Marie Dietz, Professor Robert Slonim, Professor Ellen Garbarino, Professor Sharon Collard (Bristol University)

Funding: Commonwealth Bank of Australia, University of Sydney, NSW Office of Responsible Gambling  (Swanton PhD Scholarship)

Publications:

  • Gainsbury, S.M., & Blaszczynski, A. (in press). Digital gambling payment methods: Harm-minimization policy considerations. Gaming Law Review.
  • Swanton, T.B., & Gainsbury, S.M. (2020). Gambling-related consumer credit use and debt problems: A brief review. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 31, 21-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.09.002
  • Swanton T.B., Gainsbury, S.M., & Blaszczynski, A. (2019). The role of financial institutions in gambling. International Gambling Studies, 19, 377-398. https://doi.org/10.1080/14459795.2019.1575450
  • Gainsbury, S.M., Tobias-Webb, J., & Slonim, R. (2018). Behavioural economics and gambling: A new paradigm for approaching harm-minimization. Gaming Law Review, 22(10)https://doi.org/10.1089/glr2.2018.22106

Consumer protection tools include the ability to set limits on gambling expenditure, player activity statements that summarise recent gambling activity, and time-outs which enable gamblers to temporarily block access to their gambling accounts. These are intended to minimise gambling-related harms, by facilitating informed choice and gambling within affordable limits and are relevant for all customers of online gambling sites. This project aims to evaluate current practices related to consumer protection tools and the uptake and effect of these for online wagering customers. A survey of online wagering customers examined the use of tools, attitudes towards these and motivators and barriers to use. Research is underway to examine de-identified betting data across a 12-month period for 39,000 customers from six online wagering sites to identify patterns of betting behaviour in relation to consumer protection tool use. A live trial has been conducted with 32,000 online gambling customers to evaluate the effectiveness of using direct messages to encourage engagement with deposit limits. Future studies will aim to develop targeted and customised messages to enhance relevance and effectiveness of messages in encouraging use of consumer protection tools.

Researchers: Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Dr. Robert Heirene, Dr. Darya Vanichkina

Funding: Responsible Wagering Australia; in-kind support including access to de-identified betting data and ability to trial messages from RWA members; Sydney University Informatics Hub: data analysis support.

Publications

Venue Staff training in responsible gambling is a strategy adopted by many gaming providers to help prevent or reduce potential gambling-related harms. Research on existing venue staff training suggest methods in place do not assist in increasing staff members' ability to proactively interact with customers who show early warning signs of distress. Training does, however, increase staff members knowledge of what signs of problem gambling look like and, therefore, increase their ability to identify customers who might be at risk. The GTRC is working with RG+ and ClubsNSW to capitalise on the strengths of existing staff training programs and teach enhanced skills to proactively intervene with customers showing potential warning signs. The GTRC will be comprehensively evaluating the implementation of the program and assessing the full impact of the training on venue staff members and customers. The new enhanced program is being developed in partnership with leading responsible gambling adult education specialist Janine Robinson from RG+.

Researchers: Emeritus Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Kristin Economou, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Dr. Dylan Pickering

Funding: NSW Office of Responsible Gambling, ClubsNSW

Publications:

In a collaborative project with scholars from Harvard University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas we are exploring the uptake of open science (i.e., transparent research practices) within the field of gambling studies. The first study involves a scoping review of the gambling literature to determine the extent to which open science practices such as pre-registration and data and code sharing have been adopted by gambling researchers to date. In a second study, we are evaluating the quality and specificity of pre-registrations of gambling research. From this, we hope to bring attention to value the pre-registering one’s studies, and to highlight the importance of doing this well if wanting to reduce concerns of bias (e.g., p-hacking, HARKing).

Researchers: Dr. Robert Heirene, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Dr. Brittany Keen, Professor Debi LaPlante, Dr. Eric Louderback

Funding: Division on Addictions, Cambridge Health Alliance

Publications:

Recently completed projects

An empirical evaluation of a novel self-exclusion program that allows individuals with gambling problems to ban themselves from multiple gambling venues simultaneously. We are currently collecting data from self-exclusion users at regular intervals over a two-year period starting from when they first enter the program. This longitudinal study design will allow us to track participants' gambling behaviour and symptoms, and general wellbeing at different stages of self-exclusion.

 

In a related project, we have developed and are evaluating a website that enables individuals who are experiencing gambling harms to self-exclude from multiple gambling venues using a personal Internet device, and without needing to attend an in-person meeting with venue staff or a counsellor. Online self-enrolment is expected to enhance self-exclusion uptake and subsequently reduce gambling-related harms.

Researchers: Dr. Dylan Pickering, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Anastasia Serafimovska, and Sujeong Cho

Funding: ClubsNSW; NSW Office of Responsible Gambling (website development)

Publications:

Measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have resulted in the mass closure of gambling venues and cancellation of major sporting events, leaving limited opportunities for gambling. COVID-19 has left many Australians without jobs or with reduced incomes. Situations of economic hardship, social isolation, and increased psychological distress combined with the closure of gambling venues may have a significant impact on gambling and related problems in Australia. This study aims to understand the impact of the shutdown on gambling over time in the context of its financial and psychological effects.

Researchers: Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Thomas Swanton, Dr Martin Burgess, Dr Nicola Black

Publications:

·       Gainsbury, S.[TS1]  M., Swanton, T. B., Burgess, M. T., & Blaszczynski, A. Impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown on gambling patterns in Australia: Consideration of problem gambling and psychological distress. Journal of Addiction Medicine

·       Gainsbury, S. M., Blaszczynski, A., Swanton, T. B., & Burgess, M. T. (2020). The impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on gambling in Australia Preliminary results from Wave 1 cross-sectional survey. 

 

Electronic gaming machines have been developed that incorporate elements of skill borrowed from video games within random chance mechanics of gaming machine. Not currently regulated to be provided in Australia, these are available in some U.S. jurisdictions and aim at attracting a new market, including younger players and consumers that enjoy playing video, mobile and online games. Research is underway to determine the impact of skill-based gambling machines (SGMs) including the extent to which players understand the role of skill vs. chance, which consumers might be interested in these, the impact on gambling-related cognitions and behaviours and the impact on gambling harms. Completed research studies include: 1) a survey of online U.S.-based participants; 2) a survey of participants from U.S. casinos who have played skill-based gambling machines; 3) experimental studies, focus groups, and cognitive interviews (talking aloud while playing) of Australians within a laboratory at USyd using SGMs and EGMs.

Researchers: Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, Dr. Kahlil Philander, Washington State University, Professor Alex Blaszczynski

Funding: In-kind support for US casino research provided by GameCo. Funding for USyd trials received from Wymac Gaming Solutions. Permission to use EGMs for research provided by Liquor & Gaming NSW

Publications

The Chaplaincy Program has recently come to a finish. Data collected suggests that having a dedicated ambassador onsite at gaming venues adds value to club culture. The chaplains are shown to provide practical and emotional support to club patrons. Chaplains additionally act as an effective intermediary to assist staff members in helping customers showing signs of distress. This research adds to existing literature on responsible gambling and venue cultures and has informed an upcoming GTRC project on gaming venue staff training.

Researchers: Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Melanie Hartmann, Lanhowe Chen, Michelle Beckett

Funding: ClubsNSW

The 2016-17 National Association for Gambling Studies (NAGS) annual research grant, awarded to Dylan Pickering, Brittany Keen, and Alex Blaszczynski, funded research on the potential harms associated with daily fantasy sports (DFS) participation. Online survey responses from a sample of 620 DFS players and/or conventional sports bettors were examined. Overall, DFS participation was associated with significantly less harm than sports betting. Additionally, the few harms linked to DFS were characterised by a loss of work productivity or the neglect of a relationship, rather than financially related problems. The findings raise the question of whether it is appropriate to regulate DFS under the same online wagering laws as sports betting, which is the current practice. DFS is rapidly expanding on an international level, and the GTRC has established a strong research presence in this new field.

Researchers: Dr. Dylan Pickering, Dr. Brittany Keen, Professor Alex Blaszczynski

Funding: National Association for Gambling Studies

Dr. Pickering presented the study results to an audience at the NAGS annual conference at the Novotel, Melbourne and appeared on the ABC Radio National breakfast program to speak on the emergence of DFS in Australia. An article was also published in The Conversation exploring how problem gambling in Australia could be affected by proliferation of online DFS providers: https://theconversation.com/what-the-rise-of-daily-fantasy-sports-will-mean-for-problem-gambling-79998. The final research report was published in the 4th edition of the NAGS Bulletin in January 2018.

Publications:

Misconceptions about how gaming machines work are at the heart of many gambling disorders. This research tested the effectiveness of a brief animation that explains exactly how gaming machines work to prevent excessive gambling. The animation was most effective at reducing misconceptions amongst regular gaming machine players, however, did not appear as relevant to young people. The research highlights the importance of developing age-appropriate prevention materials for adolescents and of educating regular gamblers about how gaming machines generate losses for players.

Researchers: Dr. Brittany Keen

Funding: Gaming Technologies Association, individual clubs across NSW and ACT.

Publications: Please contact Dr. Keen for a copy of a one-page summary of this research.

We completed a systematic review which determined that recovery from a gambling problem is conceptualised as a multifaceted process. Results from the systematic review, as well as interviews with individuals seeking treatment for gambling problems helped inform the development of the Recovery Index for Gambling Disorder (RIGD). This measure underwent empirical validation and can be used by clinicians and researchers to track an individual's recovery status over six key dimensions.

Researchers: Dr. Dylan Pickering

Publications: Please contact Dr. Pickering if you are interested in using the RIGD measure in your clinic or researcher centre.

We recently interviewed 22 professionals who work with young adults in community, education, and mental health settings about the problems young people experience with excessive and problematic use of online and digital technologies. Participants reported that most problem behaviours were associated with video gaming and social media use. Harms were reported to centre around psychosocial difficulties such as peer or family relationship breakdowns, loss of self-confidence, and feelings of isolation. Most organisations did not have formal procedures to screen for technology-related problems, however participants were interested in upskilling in this area. Our findings suggest that due to the interplay between psychosocial factors, disadvantage, and technology-related problems, it may be appropriate for professionals to include conversations around healthy technology use with young people accessing community health and welfare organisations.

Researchers: Dr. Brittany Keen and Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury

Publications: Dr Keen presented the results of this research at the 29th annual National Association for Gambling Studies conference.

This multi-phase project developed and evaluated a website enabling individuals to self-exclude from multiple gambling venues using a personal Internet device without needing to attend an in-person meeting with venue staff or a counsellor. The ease and convenience of web-based self-enrolment is expected to enhance self-exclusion uptake and subsequently reduce gambling-related harms.

Phase 1: Qualitative focus group and interviews with gambling help counsellors, venue staff, government policy makers, and individuals with lived experience of gambling problems. This study explored stakeholders’ perceptions of how the website should function, key features and other factors that could impact its level of success. The results highlighted the importance of developing a highly user-friendly and secure system that meets the diverse needs of consumers who may be experiencing significant distress at the time.

Phase 2: After building an initial pilot website based on the phase 1 findings, the second study evaluated how easy or difficult it was for gambling help-seekers to use the system in order to successfully register for self-exclusion in a simulated environment and under researcher supervision.

he participants performed most tasks in the online self-exclusion process without making any errors and rated the website as ‘highly usable’. However, several ‘usability’ issues were identified and addressed in subsquent website updates.


Phase 3: The updated version of the pilot website was tested by gambling help-seekers at home, in their own environment, and without supervision. For this study, the participants were asked online survey questions about their experiences using the website to self-exclude, including their level of satisfaction and perceived likelihood of using it in the future.

These ‘acceptability’ ratings for the website were generally  high, compared with participants' experiences with the existing face-to-face self-exclusion system.

This project represents the formative steps in the development and implementation of a convenient web-based self-exclusion system for gaming machine venues in NSW. Incorporating stakeholders’ needs and wants into the website design led to positive ratings of usability and acceptability among individuals with lived experience of gambling problems. Our findings support progressing web-based self-exclusion toward implementation, with ongoing performance monitoring and evaluation.


Researchers: Dr. Dylan Pickering, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Ms. Anastasia Serafimovska, Ms. Sujeong Cho, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury

Funding: NSW Office of Responsible Gambling
Publications:
• Evaluation of a Pilot Self-Exclusion Website for NSW Gaming Machine Venues: Final Report

Report: Evaluation of a Pilot Self-exclusion website for NSW gaming machine venues. (pdf, 3MB)

This extensive project involved the use of mixed methodologies to empirically evaluate a novel self-exclusion program that allows people experiencing gambling problems to ban themselves from multiple gambling venues simultaneously.

Individuals can register for self-exclusion at the venue premises by talking to staff or management (i.e., the standard method) or otherwise by attending a session with a qualified gambling counsellor. Additionally, individuals can choose to exclude themselves from the entire venue or specific areas of the venue so they can continue to use non-gambling club facilities (e.g., restaurant and café).

The studies conducted for this project included in-depth semi-structured interviews, online retrospective surveys, and prospective longitudinal online surveys, with both current and former self-exclusion clients.

These studies aimed to understand clients’ perceptions and experiences at different stages of self-exclusion and to assess outcomes associated with their involvement in the program. Such information is important to inform continual improvements to the self-exclusion experience and its effectiveness. The findings across studies were that multi-venue self-exclusion is associated with positive client outcomes in terms of reduced problem gambling symptoms and improved psychosocial functioning and quality of life.

Participants highlighted the capacity to exclude from multiple venues as being particularly helpful. However, certain aspects of the self-exclusion process were not as well-received, including venue staff not being able to reliably detect individuals who breach their self-exclusion agreement (by gambling at self-excluded venues) and a lack of information and support towards the end of a self-exclusion period. We encourage the use of digital technologies to further improve the efficacy of the multi-venue self-exclusion system, in addition to the ongoing evaluation of client experiences and outcomes.

Peer-reviewed publications for the completed studies can be found below. The longitudinal surveys are now closed after collecting two years of follow up survey data. The research team is currently analysing and interpreting the data and updates will be posted here when the results are published.

Researchers: Dr. Dylan Pickering, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury
Funding: ClubsNSW

Publications:

Consumer perspectives of a multi-venue gambling self-exclusion program: A qualitative process analysis.

Multi-venue self-exclusion for gambling disorders: A retrospective process investigation.

Should I stay or should I go? A comparative exploratory analysis of individuals electing to continue or discontinue self-exclusion from land-based gambling venues
 

Our team

Fadi Anjoul, Nicole Allwood, Janine Bleakley, James Croft, Christopher Hunt, Fiona Lieu, Kerrie MacAlister, Sarah Rees, Kirsten Shannon, Sophia Tran, Michael Zhang

Josephine Schofield

Robert Heirene, Dylan Pickering, Kristin Economou, Su Jeong Cho

Seungyeon Kim, Thomas Swanton