Meet Grunk: A cautionary tale about the dangers of drunk (and high) gambling

Who: Responsible Gaming Council, with Zulu Alpha Kilo and its production arm Zulubot and PHD for media.

What: “Gambling with Grunk,” a new campaign alerting people to the dangers of gambling while under the influence of drugs and alcohol (not to be confused with gambling with Gronk, which seems like it would be hella fun).

When & Where: It’s a digitally led campaign that’s built around a series comprised of short “instructional videos” featuring a gambling influencer named Grunk (his name is a combination of the words gambling and drunk). It’s being supported by a social campaign featuring the type of shameless self-promotion an aspiring influencer would use to build an audience.

Why: Because substances and gambling are a terrible combination, worse even than a 2-7 off-suit hand in Texas Hold ‘Em.

An April survey of 2,005 Ontario gamblers (including 1,081 online gamblers) by the Responsible Gaming Council’s Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices, found that cannabis and alcohol consumption has increased by more than 40% during the pandemic, while nearly one-quarter (22.1%) of people who reported gambling online and using a substance during the first six weeks of Ontario’s emergency measures said they had gambled online while under the influence.

Another study conducted last year by the University of B.C.’s Centre for Gambling Research found that drunk gamblers are more likely to “chase losses” than their sober counterparts, and that drinking can worsen instances of so-called “gambler’s fallacy”—in which a player comes to believe they may be overdue to win.

How: The goal is to deliver an important message in a non-judgemental way, said Gerald Kugler, group creative director at Zulu. “Finger-wagging obviously isn’t the best approach when speaking to a younger audience,” he said. “Sometimes the best way to talk about consequences is to let the consequences speak for themselves.”

Instead, the videos feature a gambling influencer named Grunk, typically in a state of intoxication, trying (and failing) to provide tips on table games such as roulette, blackjack and poker.

The videos are undercut with a serious message about how substance use has affected Grunk’s personal life, from forgetting his father’s birthday, to losing his job and being forced to sell off personal possessions, to being kicked out by his girlfriend for gambling away a big portion of their joint savings on poker. Each video features a short message from the Responsible Gaming Council informing viewers that “Gambling drunk or high is always a bad bet.”

And we quote: “We have traditional prevention programs that deliver on the broader risk message, but for this campaign, we had a very direct message we needed to deliver to young adults, an audience where the stakes are higher and the scepticism even more so. We knew we had a very short time to get their interest or they’ll skip right past us. And the boldness of this approach has stopping power.” — Elaine McDougall, director of marketing, Responsible Gaming Council

Chris Powell