September was the American Gaming Association’s Responsible Gaming Month, stretched for the first time from a week. GGB did a series of columns in our GGB News Special Reports where we asked some of the RG experts and industry deep thinkers to give us their views on how RG is being handled by the industry. Here are two of the most notable pieces, although all were excellent. To read all the columns, visit GGBNews.com.
Beware Of ‘Unintended Consequences’
Why responsible gaming tools should be research-based • By Christine Reilly
When I was new to the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG; back then, the National Center for Responsible Gaming), I met with staff from the National Institutes of Health. When I mentioned our interest in prevention, the staff offered a cautionary tale about an information-based intervention for eating disorders.
Not only did the program not prevent disordered eating, it also resulted in increased symptoms of eating disorders among some students exposed to the intervention. In short, some students were using the program to learn how to have an eating disorder. There are many other such examples, such as the injuries to small children with the advent of car seat airbags. Despite the best of intentions, these public health measures resulted in adverse consequences.
Responsible gaming programs, intended to prevent excessive gambling and gambling disorder, also risk yielding adverse unintended consequences if not conceived and tested using scientific methods. For example, does setting a time limit encourage more aggressive gambling? Does slowing the pace of gambling cause players to gamble excessively? Do win/loss displays ignite “chasing losses,” a hallmark of gambling disorder, in some gamblers? Does RG messaging risk stigmatizing gambling disorder, thereby discouraging players from seeking help?
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom says that any prevention measure or responsible gaming tool is “better than nothing.” However, science shows us that interventions can help, do nothing, or make a problem worse. Many well-intentioned efforts to prevent risky behaviors have had the opposite effect. You wouldn’t use a drug that had not been tested for safety—why should prevention of gambling disorder be any different?
Although not an absolute guarantee, a scientific approach to the development and testing of RG programs promises to produce safe and effective tools to prevent gambling disorder. Here are some guidelines for such an approach.
- State legislators and gaming regulators should consult with scientists who have published in peer-reviewed journals on RG when developing laws and regulations designed to prevent gambling disorder. I emphasize “peer-reviewed” because it is vital to avoid the junk science that pervades this landscape. Research not published in a peer-reviewed journal counts as no more than opinion.
- Laws and regulations promoting RG should ask gamblers—such as those signing up for a pre-commitment program to limit time and money gambling—if they are willing to participate in future research projects. This stipulation will make it easier for researchers to get an investigation going in the future.
- Companies that make their datasets available to researchers should realize that no research is conducted without the rigorous scrutiny and approval of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the researcher’s university or hospital. The IRB’s No. 1 priority is the well-being of people participating in a research project. This level of care should be emphasized to customers who are asked to participate in a research project.
- Whoever funds the research should require the investigators to publish their findings in legitimate, peer-reviewed journals. This is how science progresses. The ICRG is proud that its research projects have yielded nearly 500 articles in peer-reviewed publications.
- In addition, the funder should require the investigators to disseminate their findings to the industry, the media and the public through publications, webinars and conferences. This is the primary goal of the Annual ICRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, held in conjunction with Global Gaming Expo.
- Finally, gaming regulators should recognize that the process doesn’t end with the adoption of an RG program. Continuous monitoring and evaluation of RG programs is vital to ensure the safety of these interventions.
The ICRG is proud to work with gaming companies that recognize the value of supporting research on RG programs, and confident that scientific research will help avoid adverse unintended consequences and produce safe and effective tools designed to prevent gambling disorder.
Christine Reilly is senior research director for the International Center for Responsible Gaming.
The Future of Responsible Gaming
Changing attitudes, advanced technology and more efficient data will all play a role in reducing the incidence of problem gambling—if we all work together • By Earle G. Hall
You might remember stories of those infamous Saturday afternoon drives in the ’70s. The sun was shining, the music was blasting and Dad had a beer between his legs and the four kids in the back were jumping, playing, and seat belts were not even a thought in anyone’s mind. Even worse, does anyone remember that uncle at the Christmas dinner table that was so drunk that everyone laughed and wondered how he would ever make it home driving in that condition?
In the 1970s, the awareness of the fatal consequences of drunk driving and not wearing seat belts was low. This article is not about debating why it was so but rather to shed light on the word awareness. Awareness is the focus of why we have to honor those that have worked so hard to educate on the risks of addiction, much like M.A.D.D. did for drunk driving. It is our responsibility to honor their hard work and dedication and embrace the tech and the tools to evolve responsible gaming, now.
To realize the obvious, we often must compare lack of awareness in one field with the abundance of it in another. To that effect, it is important for the land-based gaming industry to turn to online gaming and sports betting for awareness, inspiration and a path forward.
It is impossible to even fathom online gaming without KYC (Know Your Customer), as it ensures that organized crime does not infiltrate sites, launder money and evolve our online industry into a criminal haven. KYC has even a more noble mission to protect players as the real-time data ensures that policies and limits are set and enforced by automated means instead of placing so much burden and responsibility on humans to try and detect potential issues.
Evolving the land-based gaming industry to a place of automated, technology-driven responsible gaming can and should happen in several steps so as to not attack or threaten the status quo. Here are some suggested steps to begin the path to protecting players and increased profitability as a safe player base can be marketed much more efficiently.
In today’s world, everything is in real time, all the time. It would be impossible to perceive our world not evolving in real time. This means that it is time for the land-based casinos to move away from technologies that are not in sub-zero speed. Why? Addiction is subtle and happens over time, and nudges, pokes and prodding must happen at the very early stages to ensure that the player becomes aware that they need a break or to step away. For this to happen, interaction must happen in real time or the addiction energy will set in.
It is false to think that technology-driven responsible gaming monitoring must have KYC as a foundation. It is the ultimate goal, as responsible gaming can be paired with highly lucrative marketing. However, it is not needed in the infancy stages. To understand addiction, you need real-time data about speed of click, denomination changes, cash-ins and game changes. All of these parameters and more can be set to follow players anonymously. The algorithms learn over time and become much more precise than most realize. From there, all that is needed is an intervention strategy to bring awareness to the player that they may be overstepping healthy boundaries.
KYC and Marketing
We often look at KYC as a negative thing in the land-based gaming industry. That will change rapidly with the advent of mobile cash-in and out directly at the gaming machine. Moreover, KYC is the foundation of a profitable marketing program, and casinos that have the most KYC players in their database usually have the lowest cost of marketing per player. This is where responsible gaming and marketing come together and shine. If the algorithms are protecting you from getting into trouble, then marketing can ensure you are properly served, marketed to and compensated for your loyalty and engagement.
It is All In The Math
In a paper-based world, we are locking the barn after the horse has been stolen (one of my Mom’s favorite expressions). We are unfairly putting pressure on casinos to turn shift managers, floor staff and employees into human behavioral specialists. None of this makes sense when the technology exists to eliminate (not manage) this risk. With real-time data, with algorithms analyzing player behavior in real time, with alert systems ensuring the right people are aware with a strategy of how to intervene at what stage, responsible gaming can evolve to addiction prevention.
The Fear and Why Now
The land-based gaming industry has a general reputation from the public as a haven for money laundering and addiction. While this is not true, the current technology model does not offer the guarantees or the safeguards necessary to clearly and proudly broadcast to the world the integrity, transparency and traceability of the land-based industry. This is rather paradoxical considering online gaming and sports betting have applied state-of-the-art technology to monitor and react in real time.
It is even more difficult today to defend land-based gaming when the two adjacent segments are KYC-driven and higher performing and more profitable from a marketing perspective. Will land-based gaming fade away as players move to a more powerful recognition-based system such as online gaming, where KYC has become the driving force of profitability?
Who Must Act Now
With all due respect to all the actors involved (regulators, suppliers and operators) the only actor that has been tasked with all the burden is the only one who should have none. Operators have been put in a very difficult position to monitor the impossible without the correct tools to do so. Regulators must act to create policy to enforce KYC. This would alleviate the burden on operators to decide if they should go KYC. Everyone is scared to take the risk to lose clients in the quest for legitimacy and safe, more precise marketing. Casino suppliers must act to provide real-time cloud technology that regulators can monitor to ensure blacklists are global and enforced without human intervention. This is all simple, all exists and all in operation in our gaming world in jurisdictions that are ahead of the curve.
The Final Word
Gaming is fun. Gaming is essential to the economies of tribes and states. Gaming has to leave behind gambling and become a highly competitive entertainment option for people wanting to enjoy themselves in a safe environment. For this to happen, we must evolve to real-time data flow that uses technology to detect and eliminate the bad so that we can focus on more fun and entertainment in the good.