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As an industry, we have already taken great strides forward in the battle against problem gambling. Yet many industry commentators believe there’s still much work to do before we can consider the battle won. One of the next major steps on the journey to wider protection is the concept of player affordability, a tool that can be leveraged to better protect our customers and, in-turn, give them a superior, safer service.
We caught up with Warren Russell, CEO of progressive game-changers W2, to get his unique perspective on the importance of affordability tools, how they can help operators to best understand their players and, most importantly, to hear the key role they may play in the future of Responsible Gambling.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your just-launched Affordability for Gambling Tool?
“W2’s new affordability allows operators to combine data assets from multiple sources at the individual, demographic and geographic level to ensure their player protection and safer gambling initiatives can actually be implemented as opposed to just talked about.
“The solution is built to provide a clear picture of players without disrupting the customer journey and will enable operators to access more insight into the affordability of each player.
“With more pressure than ever on operators to focus on safer gambling and the review of the Gambling Act continuing, talk amongst industry stakeholders is that affordability is going to be a central part of the review and more regulation will swiftly follow to ensure operators have systems and procedures in place to comply with this.
“It has become all too common for operators to be fined for failings relating to player protection and we are all aware that change needs to happen. And it needs to happen fast.”
What sets it aside from other affordability tools in the market?
“The uniqueness of the solution stems from the fact that it gives a crystal-clear indication of affordability on an individual level. While there are currently solutions in the market that focus predominantly on geographical data or open banking which, granted, is helpful in painting a picture of affordability, this solution gathers 50+ data indicators on various markers of harm triggers to ensure that operators can make informed decisions about specific players, and not on general information.
“Additionally, the way in which the data can be consumed is unique as we are offering custom methods of data consumption. The solution can be integrated via API at onboarding, or it can trigger based on deposit increases or specific markers of harm triggers.
“Furthermore, operators can also add the option for ongoing monitoring or batch database review. This will ensure that any changes in player circumstances (of which there are many!) will be picked up and dealt with accordingly.”
How does it allow players to determine affordability without impacting the player experience?
“Ensuring that operators can provide players with the most efficient and effective onboarding journey is vital to the success of this solution. W2’s core offering is to provide businesses with the tools they need to comply with various regulations whilst ensuring the onboarding journey isn’t impacted negatively.
“Other solutions such as open banking require the player to agree to provide access to their bank account and this could easily turn the player away from that operator.
“Our solution works by providing data in the background, directly to the operator, without having any interaction from the player. Once a specific marker of harm is triggered either at onboarding or whilst performing routine monitoring, the operator can then decide how they wish to proceed with that player, but accessing the data required in the first place is all done behind the scenes as to not impact player experience.”
Why is affordability such a hot topic right now?
“The reason that affordability has become a buzzword in the industry is ultimately because of its direct correlation to safer gambling. In the past few years, more news has come to light regarding operators failing to protect their players and there is more pressure on the industry than ever before to ensure that they are actively trying to prevent problem gamblers.
“The simple fact is that while for most people gambling is purely a leisure time activity, for a small group it can become a real problem and with advancements in technology, consumers can access gambling easier than ever before.
“How affordability plays into this picture is by aiming to give operators the tools they need to understand which of their players are at risk of becoming problem gamblers by pulling in various markers of harm triggers.
“If operators have access to sufficient data on their individual players, they can then take more preventative action in identifying problem gamblers or those who don’t have the means to gamble before the regulator needs to step in, which in turn both protects their reputation and their players.”
What changes do you think are coming from the government’s review of the Gambling Act?
“Changing regulation along with political, media and public concern means that harm minimisation and player protection is the key issue in the sector.
“The Gambling Act in the UK has been under review since 2020 with the publishing of the findings pushed back several times already. It is widely expected that the regulator will increase its oversight and enforcement.
“There have been more than £54m worth of fines handed out by the UKGC in the last 24 months and affordability is at the core of their messaging with several initiatives, working parties and consultations to try to find a workable solution.
“Most recently, the UKGC announced new rules coming into effect in September 2022 which all relate to identifying gambling-related harm. Within the announcement, the regulator stated that the next phase of research will be consulting on customers who are financially vulnerable and those who are carrying out unaffordable gambling.
“In other words, the next phase of research is going to be positioned around affordability and ultimately the review of the Gambling Act will be squarely focused on safer gambling and tackling gambling-related harm.”
How can operators prepare for these changes?
“It is fair to say that often the industry does not do enough to talk about the positive work it already does, however there is always more that can be done so the old saying of ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ applies perfectly to this situation. The Gambling Act has been under review since late 2020 so although a significant amount of work has been done through the various consultations and review work, there is likely still some time to go until the full review is complete.
“The industry as a whole, from various conversations we are having, is aware that safer gambling, affordability and player protection are going to be the focus of the review so now is the time for operators to look at their systems and procedures to ensure they are truly protecting their players from gambling-related harm.
“The new W2 affordability solution is just one part of a whole host of work we are doing with partners Crucial Compliance, nChain, the Department of Trust and the new Gibraltar-based incubator we are proud to be a part of called 3Gi.
“At W2, we are passionate about collaborating with like-minded businesses in the industry and we truly believe that for real change to happen and to push the industry into the next stage of growth and stability, collaboration is going to be integral.”
After speaking with Warren, it’s easy to see how affordability tools such as W2’s can be such a powerful weapon in the ongoing war against problem gambling. Their products’ ability to combine data assets from multiple sources at the individual, demographic and geographic level provides an invaluable opportunity for the operator to deliver the best possible, tailored customer service to punters at scale.
It’s no secret that there’s more pressure than ever on operators to focus on safer gambling and with the Gambling Act Review looming, talk amongst industry stakeholders is that affordability is going to be a central part of the review and more regulation will swiftly follow to ensure operators have systems and procedures in place to comply with this.
Now seems like the right time for us as an industry to fully embrace tools such as W2’s and we look forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on industry customer service levels and regulation going forward!