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Consumer voice - Exploring online staking (2020 research)

Background and approach


The aim of this qualitative research was to explore online staking behaviour, the issue of stake limits and other alternative limits for online betting. More specifically, the research intended to improve understanding around:

  • current staking behaviour: to understand what ‘typical’ behaviour was, why it was like that, how their behaviour has changed and how they imagine it might change in the future
  • response to staking restrictions: to understand how they felt about potential restrictions, both in terms of stake limits and alternatives, and the perceived impact of such restrictions.

The qualitative nature of the research means that the sample size is relatively small compared to the Commission's official statistic products. For this reason, the views of respondents in this research may not represent that of the wider population and this should be kept in mind throughout.

Content in speech marks indicates opinions and/or quotes from participants as part of the qualitative research. The conclusions are those drawn from 2CV.


32 participants took part in a 14 day online exercise, where they completed a series of short, reflective tasks. Tasks were designed to encourage reflection on participants’ own online gambling behaviour and staking habits, and participants were presented with potential stake and spend restrictions to consider and respond to. 29 participants completed all digital tasks.

All participants had engaged in online gambling in the last month and reported betting online at least once a week. In addition, all respondents had participated in either online bingo, online casino games or online slots. All of the participants held multiple online accounts - those with higher Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) scores were more likely to use multiple accounts regularly and simultaneously.

6 participants also took part in 45 minute in-depth interviews to reflect on the subject having ‘lived with’ the ideas for a period of time. The interviews were designed to understand staking behaviour in greater depth and explore perceptions of restrictions in the contexts of participants’ own gambling.

Exploring online staking - Exploring online gambling spend

The following table provides a range of staking behaviour (measured by usual stake and session spend) among participants, though it was evident that spend levels escalated across the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) spectrum.

Typical stake and session spend spectrum by PGSI status

Typical stake and session spend spectrum by PGSI status.
Stake and session spend1 Low-risk (PGSI score 0-2) Moderate-risk (PGSI score 3-7) Problem gambler (PGSI score 8 plus)
Typical stake spectrum (pence and pounds) 20p to £15 plus 20p to £20 plus £1 to £30 plus
Session spend spectrum (pounds) £10 to £20 and/or £30 plus £10 to £20 and/or £40 plus £10 to £40 and/or £50 plus2

Participants reported a number of variables that encouraged them to stake more, including:

  • winning streaks
  • variable prices, such as cheap plays or low-priced casino games
  • receiving information or tips, such as club and/or player form
  • seeing other players and friends place high stakes.

“The key factor that determines the amount I stake is usually whether or not I’m winning. If I feel like I am on a winning streak or having a bit of luck I tend to stake a bit more for higher returns, especially with online games such as roulette. I might feel that black has been especially lucky for me in the game so far so will stake more on that. If I’m losing, I tend to call it quits, but I have often found myself in a vicious circle where I am chasing my losses and end up putting high stakes on and losing a substantial amount of money.” (Male, 26, PGSI 8+, Scotland).

After a big win, participants reported being likely to gamble more and chase the high; sometimes needing more, better wins to sustain it. For many, especially lower risk gamblers, losses could result in a period of post-session reflection and may result in reducing spend – but this wasn’t guaranteed. At the higher end of the risk spectrum, big losses could still prompt continued spend and raised stakes. For some, until their money runs out entirely their spending would continue.

“If I’m failing behind or my money is running low I will bet more to try and win more. It will last till the end of my session then I will start again next time I can afford it. That could be the next day or maybe the next week.” (Female, 34, PGSI 0-2, Midlands).

“If I lose big, I shut myself off from everything and suspend my accounts etc. in order to try and spread losses over the next few weeks. It’s a sickening feeling” (Male, 24, PGSI 8 plus, North England).

Participants also highlighted a range of external influences that also impact on their gambling spend:

  • overall financial situation was the biggest external influence on spend – proximity to pay day and the amount they have ‘banked’ across different accounts often played a role in determining spend levels day-to-day
  • peer influence also played a significant role – gambling is competitive and social. Sports betting was often done competitively with friends and online chat functions on bingo and/or casino games enabled peers to encourage continued and raised spending
  • advertising across channels could pull people into play – promotions (spend X and get X) often influenced stake amounts
  • alcohol and/or drugs – spending decisions were often riskier when under the influence, particularly with peer encouragement
  • emotional state also influenced spending behaviour – ‘mood’ sometimes drove people to spend more or less than normal.

Most moderate-risk gamblers and those who classified as problem gamblers on the PGSI said that they had increased their average stake over the last three years, whereas for low-risk gamblers, it had mostly stayed consistent. Increased spending on gambling was felt to be driven by a wide range of factors, with ease and convenience of online being key.

Exploring online staking - Online gambling tools and limits

‘Safe gambling’ was perceived by participants as always being in control, with or without support. This was done through awareness of risk and self-imposed restrictions across overall spend, time spent and maximum stake, but also playing with trusted operators that provided information and control over limits.

Whereas moderate-risk gamblers emphasized self-imposed limits, low-risk and those classified as problem gamblers on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) tended to emphasize operator restrictions.

However, there was always the acknowledgement that self-imposed restrictions are often broken, and reminders and interruptions are often appreciated more in the ‘cold state’ of consideration, less so when playing.

All participants wanted to be safe gamblers, but in the ‘hot state'3, self-set limits and operator nudges could easily be overridden.

Online versus In-person gambling

Compared to online gambling, in-person gambling was perceived to be a more restrained, controlled experience. For most, online gambling was increasingly identified as being more 'unsafe' than in-person gambling, although some participants claimed that there is no difference and that if gamblers have restraint, the platform shouldn’t matter.

Safer gambling messaging

Safer gambling communications were perceived as most effective by low-risk gamblers – they were more easily dismissed by moderate risk gamblers and those classified as problem gamblers on the PGSI. In general, safer gambling messages were felt to be easy to opt out of. Without functional barriers in place, they were too easy to ignore.

Attitudes to safer gambling messaging varied according to PGSI status, as can be seen as follows.

Low-risk (PGSI score 0-2)

Low-risk participants were the most likely to feel safer gambling messaging was effective - but see it as primarily for other people. Most felt in control of their spending so opted-out.

Moderate-risk (PGSI score 3-7)

Most moderate-risk gamblers opted out of messaging as it didn’t feel ‘for them’ - they were adamant that they were in control, and don’t like to be reminded to 'gamble responsibly’ because they felt their play was safe.

Problem gambler (PGSI score 8 plus)

Highlighting losses can push spending further – participants classified as problem gamblers on the PGSI were aware that to a certain extent, communications need to be replaced by limits.

Gambling management tools

There are a number of gambling management tools, such as limit-setting, reality checks and time outs, available to help consumers stay safe when gambling. Just under 30 percent (8 out of 28) of participants reported currently using at least one gambling management tool, with the majority not using them and a third of respondents being unaware of the tools.

Most opted out of using gambling management tools due to their perceived irrelevance, either because they felt in control of their own gambling or were conscious of the ease of using workarounds. However, most participants said that they appreciate that the tools are there and will not hesitate to use them when appropriate – but they don’t currently see them as relevant to them.

The small proportion of the sample that did use gambling management tools referenced tools such as spend and deposit limits, self-exclusion and/or timeouts and/or cool off periods, and whilst not technically a ‘tool’, some participants talked about deleting their apps or accounts to help stop them from playing.

Most people with operator limits in place were females classified as moderate-risk or problem gambler categories on the PGSI.

Exploring online staking - Exploring stake restrictions

Participants were asked to discuss the concept of stake limits to better understand how they felt about potential restrictions and the perceived impact of them. The discussion of stake limits raised numerous questions ranging from the practical, to the difficult, and participants often asked themselves tough questions when they explored this issue.

Most participants were aware that some gamblers don’t know how to stop, therefore all participants agree that limiting gambling spend overall would be useful. However, the majority also believed that limits would benefit ‘other people’ rather than themselves.

Few, even those scoring more than 8 on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), thought that they would benefit personally and many, especially low and moderate-risk gamblers, assumed they would spend below any limits as a matter of course. As a consequence, it was common to suggest limits that wouldn’t affect them personally. For example, some suggested stake caps higher than they would normally spend, and caps on games they wouldn’t normally play.

There was little consensus over how limits should be applied, and weighing up the idea of potential limits highlighted various tensions:

  • fun versus safety: It’s supposed to be fun, the greater the focus on harm prevention, the less fun it is
  • prevention versus freedom: Every move towards harm prevention tends to involve increased restrictions
  • effectiveness versus choice: Limits must be low enough to make a difference, yet high enough to give a choice
  • stakes versus overall spend: Little agreement over whether focus on individual stakes or overall spend
  • choice versus control: Should people spend money as they like, or should they be forced to reduce it?

Chance-based games were thought to be prime candidates for limits, with participants broadly bucketing gambling types into the following three groups:

Chance-based games
Participants' arguments for limits:

Too easy to spend a lot swiftly.
Naturally addictive.
Tendency to chase one’s losses.
Can bet more than once on some (for example roulette).
Participants' arguments against limits:

Spend is often low (or at least perceived to be).
More for entertainment than big wins for most players.
Skill-based games
Participants' arguments for limits:

Chasing losses also common.
Addictive and some stakes can spiral out of control.
Built in need to spend more to win more.
Participants' arguments against limits:

People won’t play if they can’t win big.
Takes longer to lose your money.
Sports and Horse Betting
Participants' arguments for limits:

Some had personally (or known others who had) put huge amounts on games and/or races.
Some cannot watch games without betting, so may limit spend.
Participants' arguments against limits:

Potential to win large amounts from small stakes, or vice versa.
Far slower turnaround; one off bets common.
May damage enjoyment of sport.

As follows, low-risk and problem gamblers were most likely to approve limits:

Low-risk (PGSI score 0-2)

These participants were broadly in favour of limiting stakes, but wary of losing the fun they see as inherent.

They tend to prefer limits that are far higher than their personal thresholds and have a preference for game-dependent limits such as: more stringent caps for games of chance; greater leniency for skill-based games.

“I think there should be max stakes on non-skilled games. With skilled games like poker and if entering a tournament I think that's okay to have higher stakes because you have to keep up a level of play and it takes longer to lose.” (Female, 24, PGSI 0-2, Scotland).

Moderate-risk (PGSI score 3-7)

While most agreed on limits, the nature of these are divisive, and they argued for multiple variables to be taken into account for example, household income, state of mind.

Opinions amongst this group were mixed, with little consensus reached. It was also common to believe players should be able to overrule any limits.

Problem gambler (PGSI score 8 plus)

Those most at risk were also clear that there should be limits, often because they were aware of the risks.

They placed responsibility firmly on the shoulders of betting firms.

However, participants also recognised that any limits face numerous implementation problems.

“I like it when it is restricted it makes it feel like a responsible site. I restrain myself as I have friends who have gone over, people don’t stop until they’ve got nothing left. Tombola reward you for not going over your deposit.” (Female, 41, PGSI 8 plus, North England).

Views on maximum stakes

Unsurprisingly, risk level also informed participants’ views on what an appropriate maximum stake might look like, as shown as follows4.

Low-risk (PGSI score 0-2)

Most participants in this group favoured low stakes anyway, with the levels. They suggested allowing some scope for big wins, while limiting overall spend.

There was a strong argument that fun is the critical factor rather than stake level and it was more common for them to set aside an amount they assumed they would lose from the outset.

Ultimately these players appeared to be focused on limiting loss and preventing overspend.

£7.20 average suggested stake.

Moderate-risk (PGSI score 3-7)

The participants favoured a sum that finds a balance between making a game ‘worth it’ and avoiding financial mistakes.

They felt wins need to feel worthwhile, so rejected low limits.

They are primed to lose a few games without worrying too much, and their key focus is on enabling decent wins while preventing major risk.

£26.33 average suggested stake.

Problem gambler (PGSI score 8 plus)

Again, this group felt that levels needed to be significant enough to make a bet worthwhile.

Some see larger, low-stakes bets as ‘safer’ than smaller, riskier bets, so argued they need to be allowed this potential.

They also argued that higher stakes encourage greater consideration. This group are focused on the win.

£38.24 average suggested stake.

Alternatives to stake limits

Alternatives to stake limits all suffered from concerns from participants over the practicality of implementation.

Affordability checks5 intuitively felt most fair and sensible, because restrictions would relate to an individuals’ circumstances rather than a blanket restriction. They encourage playing within one’s means and are particularly important for those on lower incomes. However, participants were concerned that it risked being too intrusive, thought it may take the fun out of it, and also questioned how it would be enforced and whether it posed data security risks.

Deposit limits felt relatively unintrusive and straight forward, as they put players in control of their limits and they create a ‘cooling off’ period to prevent rash decisions. However, there were concerns that it could interfere with certain games where continuity may be important, such as poker.

Weekly and monthly limits had similar positives to deposit limits. They were felt to be unintrusive, easy and put players in control. Participants felt that they could be changed according to individual circumstance. However, participants questioned how they would be meaningful if they were not means tested and were concerned that participants could circumvent it if they had the opportunity to change weekly limits.

Loss limits were perceived to go to the heart of the problem, and participants noted that it was a positive approach that doesn’t prevent extended play if people are winning. However, some were concerned that it could make the idea of losing too salient and could encourage people to go elsewhere to make up their losses.

Less popular ideas included session speed limits, duration limits and play and/or spin limits, all of which participants perceived to damage the enjoyment that players value.

The Impact of Stake Restrictions

Hypothetically, stake restrictions were felt to have a greater impact on moderate-risk and problem gamblers. Most low-risk gamblers (PGSI score 0-2) assumed that stake limits would be higher than their typical stake anyway, and therefore such limits would have a limited impact. They imagined that they could only benefit, as it might stop them when they get caught in the heat of the moment, chase a loss or drink to much.

Among moderate-risk gamblers (PGSI score 3-7), responses were largely dictated by personal insight into their own gambling habits. Ultimately, they tended to conform to the views at either end of the risk spectrum and those with greater awareness of their own shortcomings believed it may prevent their worst instincts. The potential impact among this group was mixed, and there was perhaps a greater sense of defensiveness, with stake limits often seen as only applicable to those who are already struggling and/or vulnerable to risk.

Those classified as problem gamblers (PGSI score 8 plus) felt that stake limits would have a significant impact - most thought this would prevent them spending too much and were keen for its introduction; though a small number argued they don’t spend enough for it to have an impact. Some acknowledged that the transition would be hard, and it may stop people playing, but they thought it could make a difference to their lives. Some were concerned that people may open multiple accounts to work around it.

Exploring online staking - Conclusion

2CV provided the following points for consideration.

The nature of limits ultimately depends on what the end goal is. If the goal is for people to stop and think about their playing, avoid falling into familiar harmful behaviours, and limit harm caused by related factors (such as alcohol), then increased friction such as stake limits, deposit limits and loss limits are felt to be most suitable. However, there are a number of disadvantages to them.

Alternatively, if the goal is to prevent overspend, to avoid people chasing losses to their detriment, and to guarantee harm prevention, absolute limits such as affordability checks and weekly and/or monthly limits are more suitable. Ultimately, there are a number of consequences to consider with each type of limit.


1Participants were not asked to reflect on spend for a specific gambling activity and therefore may have been reflecting on stake and session spend for different activities.

2 Whilst the session spend wasn’t much higher for problem gamblers, the likelihood of multiple sessions a week was higher.

3 Hot state play occurs when attitudes to gambling soften, and behaviour can be triggered more easily. Further information on hot states can be found in our research on 'Understanding why people gamble and typologies'.

4Participants were not asked to reflect on spend for a specific gambling activity and therefore may have been reflecting on maximum stake for different activities.

5 This research was conducted prior to the remote customer interaction consultation, which opened in November 2020.

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