Traditionally, the approach to educating people about problem gambling has been a punitive one — i.e., if you don’t play responsibly you will experience problems. But new insights into the gambling education process, including those shared at the annual New Horizons Conference on Responsible Gambling, suggest a better approach involves the concept of positive play.

Positive messaging emphasizes how players can maximize positive experiences with gambling. This approach seems to resonate well with players and encourages them to adopt responsible gambling strategies.

Adopting positive play strategies could potentially act as a prevention mechanism for the majority of people who gamble without experiencing negative consequences. This could include responsible gambling strategies such as keeping ATM cards at home, setting time and money limits, understanding the odds for each particular game, and knowing how to play the games.

Positive, educational messaging may also help young adults, who have a greater tendency to underestimate the risks of gambling. The inclusion of responsible gambling strategies early on—in teen years when gambling begins—could potentially minimize the numbers of new gamblers landing in the continuum of problem gambling.

A Positive Approach in Helplines
Another conference presentation focused on how a positive approach to branding a helpline can help decrease the stigma often associated with having to admit a problem or seek help. In British Columbia and other Canadian provinces, helplines have been renamed Gam Info. The helpline promotes free information and support for gambling and video gaming.

When individuals call in they are asked if they would prefer to talk to someone who is a resources representative rather than a counselor. The rep connects with the individual over the phone or at a coffee shop with the goal of beginning a conversation about the individual’s gambling and what resources they might want to try.

In the two years since launching this program, British Columbia has seen a 92 percent increase in new participants accessing their support and counseling services. Available resources include online self-help, voluntary self-exclusion, social and financial services, counseling and support groups. It’s reasonable to expect that a similar, positive approach could help destigmatize problem gambling in Minnesota and encourage more people to seek available resources.