Can Positive Social Perception and Reduced Stigma be a Problem in Sports Betting? A Qualitative Focus Group Study with Spanish Sports Bettors Undergoing Treatment for Gambling Disorder

  • Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez
  • Ana Estévez
  • Mark D. Griffiths
Original Paper


The way society perceives problem gambling, and its effects on how problem gamblers perceive themselves have significant consequences on the wellbeing of people experiencing gambling disorder. Associated with social perception, stigma and other social perception-related features have an impact on the way problem gamblers identify themselves, seek for help, and recover. However, not all gambling types are identically perceived by the society. The present paper examines the case of the social perception of sports betting in the context of Spain. A total of 43 male sports bettors undergoing treatment for gambling disorder were interviewed within seven focus group discussions. Using a qualitative thematic analysis technique, participants reported two fundamental characteristics of sports betting social perception: (1) the absence of negative connotations associated with sports betting comparative to other gambling forms; and (2) the presence of positive connotations that sanitised sports betting as a harmless practice. The study reports aspects such as the lack of stereotypes, the low-involvement of betting as a product, the novelty of online sports betting, the social construction of the normal bettor, and the workplace gambling normalisation as elements that could lead to an increase in gambling-related harm. This is the first study to explore the social perception of sports betting in a subgroup of problem sports bettors and suggests that policymakers should be cognizant of these perceptions in order to inform responsible gambling regulation .


Gambling Sports betting Problem gambling Gambling disorder Gambling stigma Workplace gambling 



This work was supported by the Government of the Basque Country, Spain, under grant reference (Eusko Jaurlaritza, POS_2015_1_0062). This work has been additionally funded by the Spanish Organization of the Blind (ONCE, III International Award, 2016). Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez and Ana Estévez declare that they have no competing interests. Mark D. Griffiths declares that he has received funding for a number of research projects in the area of gambling education for young people, social responsibility in gambling and gambling treatment from the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, a charitable body which funds its research program based on donations from the gambling industry. He also undertakes consultancy for various gaming companies in the area of social responsibility in gambling. In addition, his university currently receives funding from Norsk Tipping (the gambling operator owned by the Norwegian Government) for ongoing research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study obtained the ethical approval of the first author’s university research ethics committee. The participants signed a consent form, in which they were reassured that participation in the focus group was voluntary along with their rights to withdraw from the study at any time, the confidentiality of their data management, and their anonymity. Furthermore, participants agreed to be audiotaped (no video) for research purposes. All of the participants who agreed to take part in the study received a small gift at the end of the session (i.e., a USB flash drive or earphones with an approximate value of €10).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of DeustoBilbaoSpain
  2. 2.International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology DepartmentNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

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