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The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention.

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Prevention Programs: What Is Success?

by Jamie Wiebe, Ph.D. | May 25, 2012 12:30 PM

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 20)

For over a decade, RGC has developed programs and social marketing campaigns that address problem gambling (Safe or Sorry encourages youth aged 18-24 to be more aware of risky gambling behaviours and to take precautions; Know the Risks showed mature adults the potential consequences of a gambling problem). Millions have seen these ads and when surveyed, the majority recognize and retain key messages. These surveys have also told us that large numbers of the audience would use the information if the need arose. But, is recognition and retention enough? How do you know if you have truly prevented a gambling problem? Is that even the right question?

In its purest meaning, prevention suggests that something that might have happened didn’t. Someone stopped smoking or did not start; someone stopped drinking and driving. When it comes to problem gambling, not an easy task to prove! How can you really know that a) someone was going to have a gambling problem and b) that the reason they don’t have a gambling problem is due to a particular prevention initiative?

This is not to say that the success of problem gambling prevention initiatives can't be measured. Beyond the absence of a gambling problem, there are numerous indicators of success. For example, RGC prevention programs equip people with information and skills to make informed decisions about their gambling and avoid gambling-related problems. So we can measure changes in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours before and after the initiative. We can also measure increases in website visits, calls to the helpline and admissions to problem gambling treatment.

But problem gambling is complicated, and there is no easy answer to prevention. Gamblers are a diverse population and not all decisions present the same level of risk to every gambler. On one end of the continuum, there is someone just starting to gamble. For this person, it's about understanding the basics—that there are risks and how to avoid them. This is not dissimilar to learning how to drive a car: the need to understand the rules of the road, how to operate a vehicle, the hazards and how to take precautions. As we move along the continuum, we encounter individuals who are more involved with gambling, who are demonstrating riskier behaviours and at the far end, are experiencing significant problems related to their gambling. "Prevention" takes on a different meaning—it’s about preventing increased risk, or stated differently, creating reduced risk.

We also know that it is not enough to just target the individual gambler. Prevention requires a multi-faceted approach that also targets how gambling is provided. This includes responsible gambling policies, self-exclusion programs, staff training, machine characteristics, advertising practices, and the list goes on. Establishing best practices is critical to problem gambling prevention efforts.

In the end, we need to expand our idea of successful problem gambling prevention and realize that a number of steps are required along the path to the ultimate destination. Rather than strictly focusing on whether a gambling problem was prevented, perhaps the more pertinent question to ask is: Are we getting the right information to the right people at the right time?