You get to the end of the month, and pay day hasn’t yet hit. You have about a tenner left in your account for the next couple of days. The Men’s Wimbledon final is tomorrow and you just saw that the odds on Djokavic winning are 15/1—an unbelievable deal! You could win big… Do you place it?
Deposit limits are one way that people can manage their gambling spend. They let people plan in advance how much they would be willing to spend (or lose, essentially) while gambling. This means that people can set limits when they are in a ‘cold’ rather than a ‘hot’ emotional state, where they’re better at making decisions that are in their best interest.
Imagine the above scenario where you committed to a monthly limit and you have already reached your cap. This can act as a hard stop from you spending more than the “rational you” would like.
The good thing is, all UK gambling companies offer deposit limits. However, only around 1 in 5 gambling accounts choose to use them. Of these accounts, more than 1 in 3 set limits in excess of £50,000. Can people really afford to lose that much?
In 2021, we published results from our field test on whether the anchoring effect (i.e., the tendency for our choices to be influenced by reference points) changed the deposit limits people set. We saw people reduce their limits by almost half when large pre-set amounts were removed from view.
Building on this finding—and the success seen in using defaults, for example, to automatically enrol workers into pension plans—we wondered: Would a mandatory deposit limit help people minimise their losses? How should it be designed to best serve consumers?
Default deposit limits work
We ran an online trial with Predictiv to help answer these questions and more. We found that making deposit limits mandatory and giving people a default limit with a pre-set amount that they could change if they wanted to significantly decreased the limits they set.
People didn’t feel overly restricted by our relatively arbitrary pre-set default limit of £50, even when they encountered an extra step (i.e., friction) to change it. In fact, 6 in 10 trial participants supported a mandatory limit, believing it should be set based on income.
What we did
We ran a set of online trials to test whether renaming and redesigning deposit limits affected their appeal and to explore people’s motivations for setting a limit. Our sample included 2,114 UK adults and over-represented people who gamble regularly.
We tested whether the name of the deposit limit (e.g., calling it a ‘spending cap’ or ‘loss protector’) would affect take-up, and whether making a deposit limit mandatory with a default amount provided would influence people’s decisions.
For the latter, participants were randomly assigned to set a deposit limit in one of four different ways, as shown below. After setting their limit, we asked them questions to gauge how they felt about the screen they interacted with and about their overall sentiments around deposit limit tools.
Deposit limit screens
Optional free text. This version allowed participants to set a limit of any amount if they wanted to, but it wasn’t mandatory. This mirrors the optionality of most deposit limits in the real world.
Mandatory free text. Setting a deposit limit was mandatory for some participants—no default amount was provided or suggested, just a free text box.
Default. Others saw a mandatory deposit limit with a default amount they could change easily by typing in their preferred limit in the free text box.
Default with friction. Some participants saw a screen with a mandatory deposit limit with a default amount that they could change by taking an extra step.
The default and default with friction groups set the lowest average deposit limits—£62 and £57 respectively. About 7 out of 10 participants in these default groups also felt that deposit limits would make them feel more secure when gambling. This positive majority opinion is important, as we wondered whether a default deposit limit would make people feel overly restricted.
Participants in the control group (who saw the optional free text screen) and the mandatory free text group set the highest limits of £77 and £80 respectively on average. About 5% of people in the latter group set the maximum limit of £500.
Of course, given that those who saw the optional free text screen did not have to set any limit at all, not all of them did. Ten percent of this group left the free text box empty and were therefore excluded from this average limit calculation. In the real world, the average limit for this group would be substantially higher as a true maximum limit would be in place—for our trial we set an arbitrary maximum, which would be unfair to include in the average statistic.
While we didn’t find that renaming the deposit limit tool had an effect on whether or not people used it, our significant results from the default deposit limit design experiment offer critical insights for the Gambling Commission and other policymakers.
Recommendations for policymakers
- Roll out default deposit limits for all. Our evidence shows that default deposit limits can reduce the spending limits that people set, which could in turn decrease the risk of harmful spending and promote safer gambling practices by operators.
- Let customers set one deposit limit applied across all gambling operators. From websites to in-person casinos, applying someone’s unique deposit limit at all touchpoints will ensure that they benefit from it no matter where they gamble.
- Use affordability checks to design default deposit limit amounts. The majority of participants in our trial support a mandatory deposit limit. Nearly 3 in 5 of them believe it should be based on one’s household or disposable income. This suggests that most people would be comfortable with background or affordability checks to ensure they’re setting proportional limits.
A key principle of applied behavioural science is to not forbid any options or significantly change someone’s economic incentives to partake in a specific behaviour. Our research demonstrates that people don’t feel constrained by default deposit limits, and actually believe that the limit would make them feel more secure when gambling.
As other initiatives and tools to reduce and prevent gambling harm are under consideration, we believe that implementing default deposit limits across platforms can have a positive impact right away.
To discuss how this could work in practice or to learn more about our work to promote safer gambling, contact the Gambling Policy & Research Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org.