Responsible gaming impeded by social stigma: Dr. Hronis

Experts have recently argued the importance of messaging to take the social stigma out of Responsible Gaming. In this week’s Face-to-Face, we speak to Dr. Anastasia Hronis, clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute for Human Wellness and an expert in mental health and addiction. We discuss where the stigma comes from, particularly amongst Asian cultures, and how operators can better deal with this on the gaming floor. 

Welcome to another edition of Asia Gaming Brief’s Face-to-Face series. Today, I’m sitting down with Dr. Anastasia Hronis. Anastasia is a clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute for Human Wellness. She is also an honorary associate at the University of Technology Sydney. She’s an expert on mental health and addiction disorders and she also works with a number of casinos on their RG training initiatives. We caught up with Dr. Anastasia following her address at the Regulating the Game conference in Sydney.
AGBrief: What challenges are being caused by problem gambling stigma, why is it so important to remove it?
Anastasia Hronis, responsible gaming
Dr. Anastasia Hronis

Dr. Hronis: We’ve made a lot of good progress when it comes to promoting the message of responsible gaming, but we’re finding that the concept of RG is very much tangled up with the concept of problem gambling. People are not getting on board with RG strategies because they think it means they have a problem. 

I believe it is because we’ve always had this reactive approach to trying to assist those who have problems with gambling. We want to untie those two concepts so that people can get on board with the notion of Responsible Gambling as something you just do to engage in safe play, without bringing up any problems that a player may or may not have. 

AGBrief: I recently had a chance to speak with a casino operator who deals with a lot of Chinese VIP gamblers about this particular issue. They’ve found that when trying to approach this group in particular, they’re met with a defensive or combative attitude. Why do certain groups or cultures attribute more negative stigma to responsible gambling than others? 

Dr. Hronis: There are certain groups where we know there are higher rates of stigma and shame. And that’s not just sort of specific to gambling. Research has shown when we look at some of Asian communities, there is higher shame and stigma when it comes to getting assistance for gambling problems, or mental health and addiction more broadly. With that added barrier, trying to have casino staff approach a customer is going to be much more difficult because there is the added barrier of stigma and shame.

AGBrief: Where does that stigma come from?

Dr. Hronis: It can be a range of factors, culture definitely comes into it. In some cultures, there is a perception that one shouldn’t share vulnerabilities with people outside your family. The other factor that comes into it is how normalized gambling and gaming are within a particular culture. We’ve found that in some cultures, luck is very much tied to character and person. So there are a number of factors that come into play.

AGBrief: You’ve helped a lot of staff become better equipped at approaching these people. What kind of advice are you giving to them about these encounters?

Dr. Hronis: Building rapport is a really key part of it. If staff just approach someone out of the blue, they are more likely to be met with defensiveness. But if there is a relationship and rapport that can be developed, it could be as easy as just having a conversation with them. That’s a really crucial part because now there’s a foundation from which to potentially escalate that conversation to one about responsible gambling. 

AGBrief: The Philippines has excluded around 1,200 people in the last eight years from their casinos, in Macau the number is around 3,000 in the last 10 years. Interestingly, in Singapore, there were 178,000 just in 2020. What causes such a massive discrepancy?

Dr. Hronis: The way in which self-exclusion programs are pitched is a really important factor. Some exclusion programs could make you feel like a criminal if you’re applying for the program. The person needs to go into the venue in person, have their photo taken, and face penalties if they breach exclusion rules. For other self-exclusion programs, it’s much easier, you can do it online, it’s more accessible, there’s more flexibility over how long you self exclude, and that’s really where we need to be moving towards. 

AGBrief: You made a really great analogy about the similarities and differences between responsible gaming messaging and responsible drinking. How do you see those two coming together?

Dr. Hronis: We’ve made more progress in the space of drinking and consumption of alcohol, particularly in Australia, where it’s a common message to hear things like don’t drink and drive. For example, if you are planning to go out and drink then have a Plan B ride to get home, or if you are going out to consume alcohol it’s a good idea to eat before you do, maybe have some water in between drinks. 

You’re not necessarily doing any of these things because you might have a drinking problem or trying to prevent a drinking problem, you’re doing them because they’re safe, responsible strategies for you to put in place if you want to go out and have a good time and minimize the harmful effects of alcohol. 

We’re yet to catch up with being able to translate that into gambling.

AGBrief: How do you suggest messaging can be changed so it’s able to achieve this? 

Dr. Hronis: We have to normalize it as we have with responsible drinking. Responsible drinking was a slow burn, it’s been constant messaging over time. Such as messaging within pubs, labels on bottles, and campaigns that we see on TV. 

So similarly, with gambling, we need to come at it from all directions and have consistent messaging that responsible safe play is normal, and you don’t need to have a problem to do it. 

We need to shift the culture and the stigmatism that’s attached to those safe play strategies.

AGBrief: What work needs to be done amongst Asian jurisdictions to make responsible gaming part of a more normalized conversation?

Dr. Hronis: Exactly what you just said, you need to normalize the conversation. Whether it’s within casinos or through governments and public health campaigns, we need to be getting ahead of the curve.

We don’t want to just be reactive to people developing gambling problems, but actually, get ahead of the curve and look at prevention and preventative strategies starting from those in low-risk categories. 

And that is going to require constant messaging, normalizing the conversation, and making it a normal, responsible thing for people to assess and reflect on their own gambling behaviors.

AGBrief: Thank you very much for your insights today, Anastasia.

Hronis: Thank you very much.

AGBrief: And that was Dr. Anastasia Hronis, responsible gaming and mental health expert, talking to us about some of the cultural differences that could have a profound impact on responsible gaming initiatives. Tune in every Friday as we hear from the leading minds in Australia’s and Asia’s gaming industry.