Gambling Harm Prevention in Sport Review - February 2023

The results of the first year of activity undertaken by the EPIC Risk Management Pro Sport Advisory Board.







JACK FRANCIS Academy Manager (9-16) at Chelsea Football Club.

MICHELLE EVANS Head of Player Care at FirstPoint USA.

CARYL BANKS Manager of the NFLPA's Professional Athletes Foundation.

STEVE EMBERSON NICK DENNING Personal Development Manager at The Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) and independent wellbeing and performance consultant. Betting Integrity Manager at Genius Sports.

ADAM BRICKELL Director of Public Affairs for Flutter UK&I.


MADS ØLAND Former CEO and Advisor of Counter- Strike Professional Players' Association (CSPPA) and Board member of FIFPRO, the international players' association.

MARCUS HORAN Player Development Manager for Rugby Players Ireland and former Irish international forward.

International speaker and entrepreneur, leading expert on video game addiction.

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Gambling also became present in the esports industry in recent years and due to the fast growth of the industry, there is a lack of regulation in relation to gambling in esports, increasing the risks for unregulated gambling and match-fixing (Gainsbury et al., 2016; Hamari & Keronen, 2017). In response to this, EPIC Risk Management prepared a White Paper focusing on identifying the best mechanisms to reduce gambling harm in sports and esports by conducting primary research with EPIC’s Pro Sport Advisory Board members. Concentre guidance on how sports and esports organisations can address problem gambling is presented. RESEARCH The research was conducted by EPIC’s Research Manager, Anca-Maria Gherghel, who holds a 1st Class Honours Degree in Football Business and Finance and has over three years of gambling research experience. She is also a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University, focusing on problem gambling amongst professional female athletes in the UK. This paper was reviewed and approved by Dr Leah Johnstone, academic staff member at UCFB/GIS with over ten years in research and a wealth of knowledge in the sports industry.

Existing research has shown that, worldwide, the prevalence of problem gambling amongst athletes is higher than amongst the general population (Engwall et al., 2004; Weiss and Loubier, 2010; Hakansson et al., 2021) and those working in the sports industry are at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem (Curry and Jiobu, 1995; Harris et al., 2015).

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2. LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1 - Promotion of gambling in sports

Gambling has been highly promoted in the sports industry through advertising shown during sport events (Vinberg et al., 2020) and sponsorship for clubs and athletes (Lopez-Gonzalez & Tulloch, 2015; Lopez-Gonzalez & Griffiths, 2018). One of the main sources of sponsorship revenue for sports clubs comes from gambling companies, with the gambling sector being the 4th main sponsor sector in team sports in the UK (Caytoo, 2021). Whilst historically gambling’s association with sport was the domain of a few sports such as horse racing and football pools, research clearly shows that people now perceive gambling to be a normal part of sport (Djohari et al., 2019; Hakansson and Widinghoff, 2019). Athletes and coaches can be considered a group with a higher risk of gambling problems compared to the general population (Maher et al., 2006; Vinberg et al., 2021), due the increased exposure to betting, advertising and sponsorship in sports.

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2.2 - Athletes and gambling Worldwide, studies on athletes and gambling have shown that the prevalence of problem gambling amongst athletes is higher than the general population (Engwall et al., 2004; Weiss and Loubier, 2010; Hakansson et al., 2021). A now old, but well-designed study with American college students found the rate of problem gambling to be almost double amongst college athletes in comparison to non- student athletes (Engwall et al., 2004) and in Norway, the rate for male athletes experiencing gambling problems was six times higher than the rate for the whole population (Pensgaard et al., 2021; University of Bergen, 2020). The latest study on male and female athletes gambling in the UK (Rhind et al. 2014), found the problem gambling rate to be 9.2% for male athletes and 1.1% for female athletes. Those figures are significantly higher than the figures for the general population in the UK reported by the Gambling Commission the following year; 1.2% for males and 0.2% for females, as well as in 2022, it was 0.3% for males and 0.1% for females (Gambling Commission, 2022). Although everyone working within the sports industry is at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem, athletes are known to be the group at the highest risk due to the athletic socialisation and the continuous emphasis on competition (Curry and Jiobu, 1995; Harris et al., 2015), a high degree of competitiveness and increased risk-taking behaviour - traits common amongst elite athletes - can contribute to the risk of problem gambling (Grall-Bonnec et al., 2016; Derevensky et al., 2019). A study with British male football players by Lim et al. (2016) discovered that the main motivations for gambling referred to trying to capture the thrill and euphoria connected to competitive success on the field as well as attempting to alleviate boredom and loneliness when away on loans and playing away from their families.

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It is believed that some sports receive more attention from the gambling industry, influencing the gambling cultures and betting practices and a gambling culture at sports clubs has been linked with increased participation in gambling activities (Hakansson et al., 2021). Lim et al. (2016) found that British footballers were influenced by older teammates to start and continue to gamble and in Sweden, an environment in which betting is normalised and there are regular talks about gambling has been associated with ‘at risk for gambling problems’ for athletes (Vinberg et al., 2020). There are cases of professional athletes who suffered with gambling addictions throughout their sporting careers and have faced fines and bans.

Examples of those from the UK who have faced addiction issues are: Wayne Rooney and Paul Merson, both former professional footballers. Michael Chopra, former professional footballer, Andros Townsend, current professional footballer, Chris Wood, current professional cricketer and Rob Howley, former Wales international Rugby Union player and coach, have all been charged with betting integrity breaches alongside addiction.

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2.3 - Sports betting The fast development of technology contributed to the growth of the sports betting market (Moriconi and de Cima, 2019) and sports betting is considered a form of gambling associated with increased risk for gambling related harm, especially for athletes (Mazar et al., 2020). It is skill-based gambling which could replace the competition provided by sport, formerly or normally (Lim et al., 2016) and it has fewer or no stigmatising connotations (Hing et al., 2015; Lopez-Gonzalez et al. (2019). The growth of sports betting also influenced the sports industry as it generated new betting possibilities such as in-play betting and live betting which created risks and threats to sports integrity through match-fixing linked to an entire game, the end results or certain parts of the game (Moriconi and de Cima, 2019). In-play betting is believed to be more harmful than other gambling activities for athletes as they have more control over the outcome of events and have the chance to bet against themselves anonymously (Derevensky et al., 2019).

Athletes with their own history of extensive gambling practices are more likely to engage in match-fixing in order to satisfy their gambling activities (O’Shea et al., 2021). Rhind et al. (2014) found that in the UK, male athletes were more likely to take money to underperform, provide inside information to people, affect the outcome of an event and place bets on events in which they were involved, in comparison to female athletes. Grall-Bronnec et al. (2016) also found a strong link between problem gambling and betting on one’s own game.

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2.4 - Gambling in esports In recent years, gambling became an increasingly central segment of the esports industry (Grove, 2016; Sweeney et al., 2021). The global esports market has seen a significant expansion in the last decade from a revenue of $124 million USD in 2014 (PwC, 2020) to being valued at just over $1.38 billion USD in 2022 and forecasted to grow to $1.87 billion USD in 2025 (Statista, 2022). This growth is believed to have been associated with increases in esports betting advertising and participation (Abarbanel & Phung, 2019). Esports gambling was first offered by one major gambling bookmaker in 2012 and by 2016, it was offered by all major legal gambling bookmakers (Grove, 2016).

It is an increasingly popular form of gambling and just like traditional sports betting, individuals are able to wager on the outcome of a video game or on their preferred players or teams (Abarbanel & Johnson, 2019). Similar to sports bettors, esports bettors can believe they are able to develop a certain degree of skill, knowledge and analysis of in-game features and therefore they would have a better chance of winning due to their knowledge of the game (Brook & Clark, 2019; Macey & Hamari, 2020; Winters & Derevensky, 2019). Research has shown that esports betting is not only appealing to gamers, online gamblers in particular are attracted to video game-related gambling (Macey & Hamari, 2018; Lelonek-Kuleta & Bartczuk, 2021). More frequent esports betting is also associated with greater problem gambling symptoms (Gainsbury et al., 2017; Macey & Hamari, 2019; Zendle, 2020) and recent research found that in comparison to sports bettors, esports bettors are more likely to experience gambling problems which could be due to their involvement in emerging video-game related gambling products (Greer et al., 2021).

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The esports gambling market offers different types of bets and the most popular ones are line bets and proposition bets also known as ‘prop bets’ or ‘side bets’ (Sweeney et al., 2021). However, regulation of esports is crucial to address the potential issues such as unregulated and underage gambling, which can occur through in-game features and the risks to the integrity of competitions through match-fixing or other forms of cheating (Gainsbury et al., 2016; Hamari & Keronen, 2017). Wilsenach et al. (2017) stated that gambling syndicates have been organising match-fixing and corrupting competitors in different markets in which the betting market was worth a lot and similar to traditional sports, a number of corruption scandals in esports came to light in the last decade (Holden et al., 2017). For example, number ‘322’ became a symbol for gambling-related match-fixing within esports after a Dota 2 player placed a bet against his own team to win $322 USD in 2013 (Durrani, 2016). In countries like South Korea where esports is extremely popular, there have been numerous cases of match-fixing influenced by illegal gambling which led to the Korean Esports Association closing the world’s longest-running esports league in 2016 (Ashcraft, 2016). Abarbanel and Johnson (2018) argued that educational programmes on rules and regulations around wagering on esports competition and the potential impact gambling has on game integrity for athletes are vital for the development of the esports and related gambling industry.

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The main aim of this research was to explore the expert views of the Pro Sport Advisory Board on gambling in sport and present guidance on how sports organisations can help prevent harm. EPIC Risk Management collected data from 8 Pro Sport Advisory Board members using an online survey which consisted of 17 closed and open-ended questions. NVivo 12 was used to manage the qualitative data, which was analysed in accordance with the six phases of thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke (2006).

The second aim was to explore gambling in esports and provide some guidance on how esports organisations can address problem gambling. EPIC Risk Management collected data from an esports expert, a member of the Pro Sport Advisory Board, using the same online survey but related to the esports industry; the responses were summarised. The questions were built around identifying the best mechanisms to reduce gambling harm by learning from other player protection initiatives and exploring how best to target those involved in sports in the most impactful way.

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Surveys represent one of the main research strategies used in social sciences as they save time and allow wide geographical coverage and different methods of data collection (Denscombe, 2014). As some board members are located in different countries around the world with different time zones, the online survey method proved to be the most beneficial and sensible research strategy for this paper. The survey also allowed the researcher to provide the participants with anonymity, encouraging honest responses . No identifying data was collected, and they were encouraged to complete the survey in their own time, taking as much time as needed. Participants engaged well and gave detailed responses. The development of the survey included an exploratory stage in which short discussions took place with the Pro Sport Advisory Board members to identify the main areas of concerns which must be explored through the survey.

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1. Risks to clubs if they are not committed to ensuring their players, staff members and fans receive safer gambling education The survey explored the following 11 areas:

The risks were divided into the following categories: human, performance, commercial and reputational/brand operational. The main theme emerging was the ‘knock-on effect’ with participants highlighting how the lack of education on safer gambling starts with a human risk, affecting an individual’s mental health and then it has a knock-on effect on performance. As Participant 5 stated: ‘The risks in these areas are all interlinked and clearly there can be a knock-on effect in all of them if any issues arise in terms of an individual experiencing problems with their gambling, including breaching the rules of the sport or committing a criminal offence in relation to betting.’ (Participant 5).

The ‘knock-on effect’ does not only relate to performance, but participants seem to feel that the knock-on effect also impacts individuals on an interpersonal level as expressed by Participant 4 ‘the collateral damage goes a lot further than club and player - the rippling effect from the gambling effect also touches family, friends, teammates etc’ , while Participant 1 noted ‘relationships can be damaged.’ In addition to the above, it is important to note the risk of a negative or damaging effect that gambling could have like ‘mental health can be adversely affected’ (Participant 1), while it can also lead to reputational damage to the brand and financial loss: ‘if integrity of the game is compromised or player suspensions are frequent this will naturally cause the brand to have a poor reputation across the board- resulting in fines, loss of game day attendance, loss of sponsors, etc.’ (Participant 7).

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2. The most effective player protection and duty of care initiatives delivered

The main emerging theme was ‘lived experience stories’ with most respondents stating that real life stories relatable to athletes are most effective: ‘Regular workshops with players and staff are effective if they retell real stories that are relatable to athletes’ (Participant 1). ‘Face to face education with lived experience at the core of the messaging’ (Participant 6). The need for education on gambling harms has been expressed by all participants: e.g. ‘education on what gambling issues looks like and signposting them’ (Participant 1) and ‘education and awareness is vital’ (Participant 4). However, Participant 5 believes that the best initiatives are different depending on the type of sport and it is crucial to ensure they are tailored to the audience to ‘ensure maximum impact’ . Another theme emerging was ‘key people within the club’ with respondents expressing the importance of having trusted people at the club for the players to go to if they have a problem: ‘If the players have a trusted person they can turn to then it takes away the 'fear' of having to speak to a coach/manager who they feel will judge them’ (Participant 4). Participant 3 also felt like ‘1-2 key people in the Club to take lead with training for other "influencers" of culture and care’ .

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3. Strategies used in the education of gambling harms in sports ensuring its value is continuous and long lasting Gambling harm is ‘a big issue in sport’ (Participant 4) and that there is need for education ‘across all sports (not just focusing on the ‘’limelight’’ sports)’ (Participant 7). The main emerging theme is ‘safer gambling messages’ with respondents noting that ‘clear and concise messages’ (Participant 5), which are ‘tailored to fit the audience’ (Participant 7) are crucial and that organisations should partner with unions to ensure ‘excellent messaging’ (Participant 8). Moreover, educational programmes on ‘various issues from financial wellbeing to safer gambling/gambling harms’ (Participant 4), with information delivered ‘via speakers/guests to the club’ (Participant 8) and through ‘experiential learning’ (Participant 3) are believed to be the most effective strategies which can be used in the education of gambling harms. Participant 4 also expressed the need for ‘constant interaction from the youngest groups in academies all the way up to the first team as well as with coaching staff and other staff at club’ . In terms of how often and for how long sports organisations should be interacting with safer gambling education, most participants believe there is a need for multiple sessions a year, ‘a minimum of 2/3 sessions’ (Participant 4) and it should be ‘1 hour or less for educational sessions’ (Participant 8). Participant 2 voiced that safer gambling education should not be just ‘a tick box’ , it should be embedded in the culture of a club. The views on the role of digital content in providing continuous safer gambling education was investigated and every single participant believes that digital content plays an important role in delivering the message through online resources. Participant 1 indicated that players should have access to digital content to ‘access information quickly on laws/rules of their sport on gambling’ and Participant 7 emphasised the need for ‘an online library free of resources’ as players would not look online for content if isn’t instantly available to them. Resources could also cover ‘red flags’ , ‘what to do (player/staff) if it’s you who has a challenge’ and ‘what to do (player or staff) to help a teammate ’ (Participant 8) as well as ‘3-6-minute videos’ (Participant 6). It is believed that digital content is not only helpful as an ongoing touchpoint, but as an additional support tool, it can also be beneficial for players to get help in a confident manner because ‘If someone does need help/support they likely will not reach out for help if they feel penalty or job loss will follow’ (Participant 7). However, some participants feel like face-to-face sessions are ‘more engaging and interactive’ (Participant 4) and digital content may be ‘less impactful than in-person sessions’ (Participant 6). Page 15

4. Provision of education sessions on potentially harmful activities to significant others

Most participants believe that loved ones must be included in education and awareness around safer gambling/harm and have ‘an ongoing opportunity to have education and support’ (Participant 7). The main theme emerging refers to ‘real-life stories’ with respondents feeling like ‘real story telling is impactful’ (Participant 1) and inviting ‘speakers to tell their stories’ is beneficial (Participant 8). However, other suggestions on the best approach for education to significant others were made. Participant 6 suggested that this should be done in ‘a similar way to the general public, but with a slant on how to understand problem gambling in athletes’ while Participant 3 believes ‘experiential learning, cases with role playing’ would be the most beneficial approach for significant others.

Using a closed-ended question, respondents had to rank the significant others from the most significant to the least significant. Parents appeared to have been considered the most significant by the majority with Participant 8 stating that parents are the ones players respect the most and therefore are the main ones in need of education. Coaches were on the second place, and it is believed that ‘coaching and support staff most often come from sporting backgrounds and therefore have a similar mindset’ (Participant 6) and they need to receive education in a similar way to athletes. Friends and non-playing staff were ranked 3rd and 4th respectively and extended family, communities, schools and fans were ranked lower in terms of significance.

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5. Stakeholders’ roles in facilitating education and awareness on gambling harms

7 out of 8 participants believe that the national governing bodies, management teams and safeguarding, wellbeing and player care teams are main stakeholders responsible for a duty of care to their players and staff. The majority of respondents also believe national and international unions and club owners/executives hold a high degree of responsibility. Participant 4 feels like it is everyone’s responsibility, especially gambling companies and the government while Participant 1 thinks it is the athletes’ responsibility too. In order to facilitate education and awareness of harms, the stakeholders listed above must approach it from ‘a wellbeing point of view’ (Participant 4), use experts in the field, make sure ‘appropriate funding is in place for education’ (Participant 7) and provide support for ‘unlimited resources (e.g. counselling, mental health supports, treatment) for all players and staff’ (Participant 8). To strengthen this point, Participant 6 expressed their feelings: ‘Ensure players have access to education, addiction/support/therapy/treatment that is clearly signposted and easily addressed’ (Participant 6).

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6. Best ways to communicate safer gambling messages

The main emerging theme refers to ‘collaborative approach’ as respondents expressed how they believe they all need to work together with experts in the field to ‘put together a joined-up strategy’ (Participant 4). Participant 7 believes that if commercial partners and other relevant stakeholders are seen working together, the message that they know gambling is there, but they know how to protect those vulnerable is more powerful. Some respondents had different ideas with Participant 1 stating that an effective way would be to use ‘social media through athletes’ while Participant 2 said ‘a national day/week, like other messages across sport’ .

Participant 5 stated that the most effective consumer messages 'cause friction', ‘are relevant to the individual and their (mass market) behaviours’, ‘must drive action (e.g. self-reflection rather than forcing a behaviour)’ and ‘have meaning and make sense’ . It is believed that safer gambling narratives must be part of an organisation’s marketing and communications strategy especially if they engage with gambling organisations from a commercial angle. Participants expressed how this should be embedded in a club’s culture; e.g ‘it should become culturally part of life’ (Participant 2) and ‘these kind of messages should be embedded in the club’s culture’ / ‘should be lived and breathed by those at the club everyday’ (Participant 4).

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7. Removing potential conflict of interest with commercial partners Organisations might be concerned about a potential conflict of interest with commercial partners and guidance on how to work together to address any issues was presented. The main theme emerging was ‘working together’ . Multiple respondents believe that organisations should work together with their commercial partners to ensure ‘safer gambling is at the heart of the relationship’ (Participant 5) and that ‘working together with the same goal is what would bring success from a business and health/safety perspective’ (Participant 7). Participant 6 believes that corporate partners should be contractually obliged to engage in education programs while Participant 7 stated that they can engage with a wider audience if they make sure education and parameters are in place to minimise harm to others. 8. Importance of research for decision-making and research funding The main theme emerging was ‘research to create policies’. Participant 1 believes that ‘research is vital to backing up efforts to change policy or culture’ and Participant 5 thinks ‘best policies are evidence-led’ . Research can also be used to ensure ‘education is relevant and targeted’ (Participant 6) and can help create ‘a free-flowing approach to education, messaging and engagement’ (Participant 1). Participant 6 expressed how there is a lack of research into the prevalence of gambling in women’s high performance/professional sport. In terms of funding for research, most participants agreed that it should be funded by gambling corporations and governing bodies. Participant 7 voiced the fact that although funding should be led by the gambling industry, there should be ‘support from teams/clubs/schools’ . When looking at who should give academic partners access to the relevant participants, only Participant 5 addressed the fact that access to participants will depend on contractual/regulatory arrangements within each sport.

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9. The levels at which sports are in need of education and awareness on gambling harms Most Participants believe there should be education and awareness across all levels from grassroots up with Participant 4 stating that ‘there should be a comprehensive programme tailored for every level’ and Participant 6 feeling like ‘all sports should provide education from the ages of 16 upwards’ . It is believed that wider groups such as fans should also receive some form of education. Only Participant 1 gave example of sports which require education and awareness on gambling harms but do not have any in place: ‘Amateur sport in Ireland such as the GAA as well as the semi professional FAI, our Olympic sports and our horse racing’ (Participant 1). 10. Ways to soften stigma around gambling addiction The main emerging theme was ‘education through lived experience’ . Firstly, respondents believed that engagement in education and awareness, using ‘lived experience from peers the audience can relate to’ (Participant 7) will help soften the stigma and will become a part of the organisation’s culture. As Participant 4 stated: ‘If a club has full understanding of safer gambling and the effects of gambling harm then it will be embedded in their culture’ (Participant 4). The second theme emerging was ‘encouragement to speak up’. Respondents expressed the need to encourage people to talk about ‘gambling habits – healthy and unhealthy’ (Participant 6), to ‘take away the blame game’ (Participant 4) and remind them that addiction can come in all forms. Organisations also need to ensure there are ‘trusted and confidential ways to get help or talk with someone to see if there is a problem’ (Participant 7) and that they have ‘a strong alliance with someone who has influence, respect, and professional stability in the organisation’ (Participant 8).

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11. Match Officials receiving safer gambling education Most participants believe everyone involved in the sports industry, whether they are on the pitch or not, must receive safer gambling education. Participants 6 and 8 expressed the importance of this for Match Officials; e.g. ‘this is as important as athlete education and education should be delivered in a similar way’ (Participant 6) and ’I'd parallel their education, timing, messaging with the exact same messaging the players get’ (Participant 8). Participants 5 also highlighted how the gambling education for Match Officials must cover elements on integrity; stating: ‘there can be an integrity risk around match officials so it is important that there are clear rules and good education around what they are allowed/not allowed to do’ (Participant 5).

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Similar to gambling in sports, it is believed that there are a number of risks for esports teams if they are not committed to ensuring their players, staff and fans receive safer gambling education. The respondent, esports expert, stated that there is a risk for players to engage in excessive gaming activities including esports betting and overspending, affecting their well-being and their significant others. This could have a knock- on effect on their performance, extending to possible cheating and match-fixing scandals and organisations could then receive; ‘fines, event, tournament or league bans, lose fan support, and loss of sponsors (gambling operators and others). The reputation can also be affected as gambling issues can lead to poor reputation and media and fan outrage.'

The respondent emphasised the need to target youth players when delivering player protection and duty of care initiatives as they are at risk due to ‘developing pre-frontal cortex which impacts their emotional regulation, decision making, problem solving, planning, reasoning and empathy’ . In comparison to traditional sports, esports youth players also have unique financial opportunities in terms of both prize money and salaried positions. Safer gambling initiatives must be interactive, structured sessions delivered by trained facilitators/peers. Educational programmes on gambling harms in esports should be introduced in schools, teaching young people about gaming and esports, and focusing on mental health and risky behaviours such as gambling. Mandatory education content should also be introduced to increase awareness for professional players, teams and organisations, and safer gambling messages should be enhanced during live tournaments and games.

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The best ways to deliver education to ensure its value is continuous and long- lasting is through educational presentations, workshops, seminars and the creation of opportunities for people to participate in activities/strategies that reduce risks or enhance protection. The respondent believes that leagues should ensure content on risky behaviours becomes part of the organisation's onboarding for new players joining a team and training content is delivered on a yearly basis, while shorter refresher content is delivered quarterly. Digital content is effective in delivering education to people within the esports world as they spend a large amount of their time on digital platforms, and it would be easier to connect with them, providing immediate awareness. As mentioned previously, gambling can negatively affect esports players and their significant others. Education on potentially harmful activities should be provided to significant others by sending content out to them, by including people around the players as part of their onboarding and working with schools and their parent newsletter to inform a wider net of caregivers. The main significant others to receive education are believed to be parents, non-playing staff, coaches and fans.

The participant believes that all stakeholders from event operators, leagues, teams/clubs to streaming platforms/broadcasters, community organisations and affiliated sports clubs are responsible to ensure education and awareness of gambling harms is provided. They should work on educational awareness campaigns for at- risk groups and individuals who play video games or are interested in esports and set safety standards related to harmful activities. They could also work with ‘public health services to raise awareness of warning signs and increase skills training for professionals’ .

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In terms of safer gambling messages, the most effective way to deliver them is by ‘leveraging players and streamers to communicate about safeguarding’ and by ensuring tournaments advertising esports betting are verbally addressing risks and safeguard messaging. Esports teams and tournaments are sponsored by gambling operators and players support gambling messaging through their personal social media channels, streams and jerseys. Therefore, it is essential that players share about safer gambling and the importance of mental health too in order to protect fans. Esports professionals are seen as icons and can also use their voice to reduce stigma attached to gambling addiction. Organisations might be concerned about conflict of interest with commercial partners, but it should be in everyone’s best interest to reduce harm for individuals engaged in esports and all parties should prioritise it across their sectors. The importance of research for decision-making has been expressed as the respondent believes ‘policy will be heavily shaped and influenced by evidence- based frameworks’ . Industry stakeholders should be in charge of funding independent research to investigate and develop best practices. When asked what additional online activities are in need of education and awareness on gambling harms and in-game spending, the respondent stated that there should be more focus on social media and general online-related activities for players, as maintaining healthy habits with all online activities is paramount for health and performance.

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This paper has shown that it is crucial for sports and esports organisations to ensure safer gambling education is provided to their players, those closest to them, staff members and fans. Having a gambling problem can have a knock-on effect, starting with a decline in an individual’s mental health and performance, financial losses for the individual and the club due to reputational and brand damage, through to the threat of a potential prosecution due to breaching sporting integrity. Guidance on how sports and esports organisations can approach mitigating the risks of developing problem gambling and the provision of safer gambling has been provided. For both, sports and esports, this is as follows:

1. Safer gambling needs to be part of the embedded culture of every sports club, not just a box-ticking annual exercise, meaning that senior leaders of sports organisations – including the sports executives and owners – should be involved in the education, in order to imbue that commitment to developing a safer gambling culture. There is a need for constant interaction from the youngest groups upwards, and with all playing and staff members. It is crucial to provide education extending wider than just the athletes, coaches and support staff, with parents highlighted as the most influential group on a player and match officials to wider safeguard the integrity of the sports industry.

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2. It is crucial to have trusted people within a club in order to reduce fear of speaking openly around gambling issues; clubs should take the lead, training those tasked with engendering culture and care, and should encourage people to speak up and talk about healthy and non-healthy gambling habits, helping them understand how addiction can come in all forms. 3. In association with their commercial partners (particularly gambling partners), the national governing bodies, management teams and safeguarding, wellbeing and player care teams should be responsible for the facilitation of education and awareness on gambling harms as part of wider wellbeing initiatives. 4. Organisations should proactively enter into discussions with any gambling partners to devise an organisation-wide strategy that ensures that a clear safer gambling message is delivered and understood across all departments and key stakeholders (including the fanbase/membership). We advise communicating safer gambling messages through a collaborative approach, a joined-up strategy, and it should be a part of an inclusive marketing and communications strategy, embedded in a club’s culture; concise and consistent messaging tailored to fit the audience – both internally and externally. 5. Organisations concerned about the wider perception of engaging into commercial partnerships with gambling-related organisations must agree upon a collaborative approach with such commercial partners to ensure that safer gambling focus is at the heart of the relationship. It is recommended that any sporting organisation that enters into a new commercial partnership with a gambling operator should embed mandatory gambling harm education programmes into their contract to help inform and safeguard the individuals within their organisation(s). 6. Safer gambling education delivery should begin at junior level and continue through to the most senior levels. This is particularly pertinent in esports; given that even young children have the potential to win prize money on a par with adults, this community should be particularly proactive in offering gambling harm education to every age group eligible to compete.

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7. In order to eradicate the stigma around gambling harm, there should be increased awareness of gambling harms within organisations. Most pertinently for esports, where iconic players are more regularly involved in the delivery of messaging promoting gambling activities via tournaments, it is important that this pro-gambling message is also balanced by players using their influence to reduce the stigma attached to gambling addiction.

8. There is a need for face-to-face education with lived experience at the core of the message – tailored to suit the audience and sport to ensure maximum impact. It is widely believed to be the most efficient way to deliver safer gambling education.

9. There is a role for digital resources, in order to access information at all times – especially for esports players as they are more familiar with digital learning platforms, but it could be less effective than face-to-face sessions for traditional sports athletes.

10. Despite a recent increase in relevant gambling research, there are numerous gaps in the data – especially around gambling amongst female athletes and athletes of younger ages – which limits evidence-led practices in such areas. Research is vital for decision- making and to create policies, and gambling research should be funded by gambling corporations and governing bodies.

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EPIC Risk Management and the Pro Sport Advisory Board thank our partners from UCFB Global Institute of Sport (GIS) for their advice and consultancy in bringing this white paper together.


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