| On 3 years ago

Technology Can Assist In Addressing Problem Gambling, But Use So Far Comes Up Short

Gamblers creating accounts to place sports bets or play casino games online in the U.S. can opt through the sites to limit the amount they deposit or lose in a session, or the time they spend.

Such voluntary restrictions accessible to customers have become de rigueur under regulation of the online gaming industry by states that have legalized it. It’s considered one advantage the digital platforms have over brick-and-mortar casinos in addressing problem gambling.

But no one has come up with a method of ensuring those who need such controls actually make use of them, a point hammered home by industry representatives taking part in an online panel discussion Wednesday.

Much of the Betting on Sports America digital conference this week focused on ways in which gaming operators are enjoying the fruits of rapid expansion of legalized sports betting — and to a lesser extent, online casinos. But the 2-3% of the population thought to have a gambling disorder were the focus of one industry panel: “Taking Responsibility — The Business Case for Addressing Problem Gambling.”

Representatives from DraftKings and BetMGM were among the participants acknowledging the industry has to be more proactive in reaching out to potential problem gamblers instead of leaving it to themselves to figure out they have a problem and what to do about it.

Don’t ignore technology’s potential advantages

Richard Taylor, BetMGM responsible gambling program manager, said the information available about customers’ play habits through digital technology and tracking is a huge asset, as are the player options to limit themselves. But there’s work to be done to make use of such advantages over land-based gambling.

“Players often misunderstand how much time they’ve spent or how much they’ve lost. Now the players can understand better,” Taylor noted. “The challenge is how do we get people to actually use these things. … It’s one thing to have the tool, another thing to actually use the tool … similar to a seatbelt on a car.”

Paul Buck, CEO of Epic Risk Management, which works with operators and leagues to address problem gambling, compared the operators’ responsibility to that of the financial industry, which follows use of his ATM or credit cards globally and occasionally verifies their use with him if something unusual shows up. A benefit for some, fast payouts from online casinos, could be detrimental to gambling addicts.

In England, he said, some operators have been accused of making use of their online knowledge about possibly excessive players to pursue them to play more instead of cautioning them.

“It’s about action as well as words, making sure we actually … look after players” to protect them from any harm they’re doing to themselves, Buck said.

Chrissy Thurmond, DraftKings director of responsible gaming, said operators can do more to advise players about how long they’ve played and lost, while doing it in a sensitive way that educates people about responsible gambling behavior.

“We do not want to be pejorative in any way and kibosh your fun or entertainment,” she said. Educational efforts, she said, should apply “not just to people who have problems or struggles but so the entire universe of gamblers are aware. … Let’s make it part of the conversation so people aren’t stigmatized about it.”

Call issued for national help line, self-exclusion

Panelists agreed more needs to be done on the prevention side to head off problems arising once people have online sports betting or casino games available to them, but they said a lack of consistent state funding for such efforts is a handicap.

“What I’m seeing in the U.S. is a lot of licenses being issued, a lot of money being made, but in some states literally zero dollars” for research, prevention, and treatment surrounding problem gambling, Buck said. “If the U.S. is going to be the largest market in the world, there needs to be research, there needs to be education programs.”

“I agree the patchwork approach is doing everyone a disservice,” Taylor concurred, “and seeing some more robust funding in key states would definitely be helpful.”

At the same time, he said, some sensible initiatives need to be widely adopted, such as a single national help line that can be marketed for people to call about problem gambling instead of having different phone numbers in different states. Panelists also agreed that a national self-exclusion list should be in the offing instead of the existing piecemeal approach by states or operators maintaining such lists.

One common message was that the industry itself needs to be proactive and not “proprietary” on the issue. Different operators who are normally in competition with one another need to use the problem gambling topic as a point of collaboration, they said, both with one another and with other parties such as leagues, advocacy groups, and researchers.

“What we’re seeing in the U.S. is there’s a push toward that,” Thurmond said. “It’s very exciting, because we are stronger together … supporting good ideas.”

Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.