I’m embarrassed to say there was a little bit of a Martingale involved, but know this: I went on full tilt the other day playing online casino games — which I usually only play for promo money and the like — and ended up losing a little more than 1% of my sports betting and DFS bankroll.
Ruinous? Hardly. But today, some 72 hours later, it’s still ticking me off. Not that I lost; that I can handle. It’s how I lost.
It will take me at least a month, maybe more, to nickel and dime the casino promos (and arbitrage opportunities with sports betting promos) to make up what I lost. I grind these things, and giving it away like I did … it kills me.
But I also know I stopped the bleeding and walked away, even though I easily could’ve kept going. While this episode was ugly, I’ve been gambling long enough to know I’m lucky it took me this long to do something stupid, and I’m awfully confident it won’t happen again. I also know that I’ve been keeping my gambling money separate from my “life” money since day one.
Furthermore, I realize that I’m 49 years old (ouch) and despite being an idiot, at least I’m an experienced idiot with a fully developed frontal lobe. But what about the less experienced idiots out there with less developed frontal lobes? What happens to them when they say, “Oh, come on, I just lost seven blackjack hands in a row. No way I’m going to lose eight, right?”
Well, up until a few weeks ago, no one was thinking about them. And then along came Flutter Entertainment, the Dublin-based online gambling company, which happens to be the biggest in the world. It’s issued a new limit for would-be bettors in the UK and Ireland who are under 25 years old: a monthly deposit no more than £500, or roughly $692.
Flutter, the FTSE 100 owner of PaddyPowerBetfair, is introducing a £500 monthly cap on losses for younger customers between the ages of 18 and 25. The company insists it’s “not a target” but a limit. https://t.co/oNgPnlEvO0
— Sabah Meddings (@sabahmeddings) September 5, 2021
Government steps in
“It’s complicated,” Alun Bowden, a senior consultant and lead analyst for the European gaming market for Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, told me when asked why Flutter made this decision. “There is a duality at play whereby the industry has been forced to take a deep hard look at what it does and to reinvent itself. Partly this is due to government — and to a lesser extent, public pressure — to protect players more and partly due to recognizing it’s not done as much as it could previously and wanting to do the right thing.”
The UK legal gambling market has a rich history, and the online market has been legal since 2005. The country, and the operators, have a lot more experience in dealing with problem gaming.
“Companies are run by people with families and kids and who have met gambling addicts and families of those who’ve lost people due to gambling addiction,” Bowden notes. “That stuff sticks with you.”
But it’s not just the operators that have experience. So do the lawmakers and regulators, and in recent years there has been a renewed effort in providing more layers of player protection. Flutter and others have banned credit card use to fund gambling accounts in the UK and Ireland, for instance.
— FRAN 🇬🇧 (@I2ICoach) May 6, 2020
Bowden believes a big part of the reason Flutter has instituted the deposit limit for under-25s is due to increased regulation and scrutiny.
“Generally, yes, it’s regulation. It’s a constant pressure to make sure player protection is higher, that people aren’t gambling way more than they can afford and that the most vulnerable are protected the most,” Bowden said. “Part of that is younger gamblers, and this is a small step in that direction.”
Can it happen here?
Gambling rules in America post-PASPA are a different animal than in the UK and Ireland and most other countries. The biggest difference, clearly, is how the states decide what’s best when it comes to gaming. Blanket regulations — such as under-25 deposit limits — would either be a state-by-state legislative thing, or would take the might of Congress (and probably a Supreme Court challenge) to get implemented.
Or all the sportsbooks and casinos could band together.
“At this point, we are introducing the U25 policy to our brands across the UK & Ireland division (Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Betting & Gaming),” said Vanessa Simpson, the corporate communications manager for Flutter Entertainment. “We will share the learnings with other divisions and brands across the global Group, so that they can consider how the policy might best apply and an implementation plan that works best for that brand.”
In other words, don’t expect FanDuel and FOX Bet to implement similar protections anytime soon here in America.
But can it happen? Is there a scenario where the oft-repeated Wild West nature of American online gaming gets corralled and under-25s are limited?
“It feels unlikely, but it’s far from impossible,” Bowden said. ‘It would take the media and legislators to adopt the cause in a similar way that happened in the UK. It would, sadly, probably take some tragedies to create that momentum, but maybe the industry and the regulators can act early to prevent that happening.”
Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, isn’t sure the same under-25 rule should apply stateside, but he is certainly curious to know more.
“It seems that Flutter found a common risk factor among bettors and moved to take action to reduce risk to those players and risk to their company,” Whyte said. “I’m not privy to what their internal data showed or what factors they took into account to make their decision. Without knowing that, I can’t speculate on whether it would make sense for Flutter to take similar action for U.S. players. We encourage Flutter to share all the information that led them to making their decision and to disclose if those same factors are present for their U.S. customers.”
Safety vs. freedom
In the end, there is a balance between protecting players, government overreach, and a bettor’s prerogative to do whatever he or she pleases with their money.
“These things are supposed to be safety measures, but they can easily be branded as taking away players’ rights and that muddies the discussion,” Bowden said. “Really, these are intended as controls on the operators, not the players, and it’s up to them to prove they can be trusted. Or it’s entirely possible it will end up happening in the U.S. too.”
Right now, we are in the gorgeous sunrise dawn of the American online gaming world. State legislatures have been falling over themselves to legalize gambling in their states, the airwaves are littered with advertising, the leagues can’t jump into bed with the operators quicker.
But things are different in Europe. The more mature market has led to more government involvement, and the companies are attempting to right their ships before the government really comes down on them. Is this what the future holds for the American gaming industry, or will our free-wheeling nature, coupled with a general sense of “don’t tread on me,” keep regulators and operators from trying to put the clamps on what they might consider problem gaming?
Truth be told, I wanted to keep playing the other day in an effort to get square, but again, my frontal lobe took over from my lizard brain and I walked away.
But what if I didn’t want to stop? What if I wanted one more chance to dig out of the hole I created for myself? If I were in the UK or Ireland (and under 25), I would have had the shovel taken away from me. Whether this is good or bad is a debate worth having, and it’s definitely worth having now, before the industry finds itself in a pitched battle with the government.