As we draw nearer to Safer Gambling Week, taking place next month (17th – 23rd October), iGamingFuture has brought together some of our industry’s most forward-thinking and influential stakeholders to discuss the pertinent issues linked with keeping our players protected. They will share their perspective on the challenges and opportunities we face as an industry, in the continued pursuit of safer gambling excellence!
In this first part of our exclusive Safer Gambling Series, we hear from key online operators as they share their valued experiences in industry and most importantly, how they will use the learnings and observations to drive their growth strategy going forward.
- David Schwieler, CEO, Lcky Group
- Ohad Narkis, Co-Founder, Play OJO
- Daniela Speranza, Director of Compliance, PressEnter Group
1. As an operator, what are the greatest challenges you face when it comes to responsible gambling?
One of the main challenges is actually being able to open up the communication lines and get in touch with players in the first place. A lot of individuals wish to remain anonymous so that friends and family don’t find out about their gambling, so striking up a sound relationship with them can often be difficult. Once you’ve done that, the next step is learning when an individual action is sufficient to minimise the risk to these players, without being overly cautious in a way that ruins their enjoyment of your product.
One of the biggest challenges operators face when it comes to complying with responsible gambling laws is the unclear regulation and often vague guidelines that are used to govern certain jurisdictions. Not only do operators have to make sure that their interpretation of these laws is accurate and watertight, but overly officious regulation can also potentially drive players to offshore or black market casinos.
On top of that, you have the cost that implementing responsible gambling regulations has on a business. In order to ensure that guidance is correctly enforced, companies need to take on increased head count as well as absorb the cost of adopting external systems, services and more. All of this can have a major impact on your business’s bottom line, but it’s something must be done nonetheless.
The greatest challenge PressEnter Group face is resource. As an operator holding multiple brands, we are growing exponentially, which means PressEnter are always looking to recruit the right people to fulfil our customer support teams. For example, when a player closes their account for problem gambling concerns, we at PressEnter aim to call this player on the telephone and have a quick chat with them, to ensure they are well, encourage blocking tools and briefly discuss the importance of getting professional help or speaking with someone they trust. Research shows that people and intimate relationships are the greatest buffer against mental illness and depression, whereas most online gamblers spend their time gambling in isolation and are in need of some expression of human contact.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, only 1 in 10 people with a gambling disorder typically seeks treatment. Therefore, PressEnter are hiring a range of customer support and RG analysts who speak multiple languages, in order to call, offer RG tools, and build trust with medium to high-risk players, before their gambling behaviour gets out of hand.
2. What would you like to see from regulators to make it more efficient for you to protect players?
I think regulators need to be a bit more forthcoming with the support they offer to operators, because both parties are ultimately working toward the same goal. I’d like to see them develop a central system that would allow players to set limits and then have these applied across all gambling sites at the same time – like GAMSTOP, but with more individual flexibility. On top of that, I’d like to see the gambling inspectorate, or another central organisation take over conversations with particularly at-risk players.
The biggest thing would be the introduction of data-driven policies and standards. While we all want to see players have fun and play in a safe and protected environment, there is a tendency from responsible gambling bodies to over-regulate where they don’t really need to. This can actually be counter-intuitive to what they’re trying to achieve, as imposing too many restrictions on players who don’t show signs of risk or financial distress can impair their enjoyment of the sites that they play on and potentially drive them into the arms of non-licensed operators, where these restrictions don’t exist.
I would love to see regulators issue guidance that is clear and direct for operators to implement effective customer interactions, early detection systems, prevention measures, and procedures.
Another great example for regulators to follow in order to better protect players, is to instill a similar requirement to obtain and maintain certification under a reputable RG Accreditation framework. Through such frameworks, gaming operators receive expert guidance and feedback on their RG policies and practices, in addition to conducting player surveys and examining employee’s knowledge around RG.
3. Is the industry at risk of over-regulation? Surely, it’s not possible to protect every vulnerable person.
Without clearer guidelines from the regulators, operators have little choice but to be extra cautious in how they enforce responsible gambling laws. Unfortunately, the result of this is that they dedicate a lot of time and resource into protecting everyone in general terms, rather than protecting the particularly vulnerable individuals in a more concrete way. This in turn can lead to the industry feeling over-regulated, despite the fact that this often isn’t the case when it comes to the most at-risk players.
We understand the risk of over-regulation and how being “too strict” might influence the player to play on unregulated gaming sites with absolutely no controls.
Nonetheless, we do not believe the industry is at risk of over-regulation in RG. We have seen evidence of the effects of gambling problems on the family, in the workplace, and in our communities. People experience mental and emotional anguish, and even worse, have suicidal thoughts after spending more than they can afford to lose. We have an ethical responsibility to do and be better, where players can truly have a positive player experience.
There is a perception with operators who believe RG is “bad for business”. Evidence implies Responsible Gaming is good for business and long-term revenue. For example, there is an empirical study conducted by the top researchers in the field of gambling behaviours, proving the effect of voluntary limit-setting on gamblers’ loyalty and long-term sustainability with the operators.
In summary, you are right in saying that “we surely cannot protect every vulnerable person”, however we have a risk-based methodology in place to ensure players that are most at risk of losing control of their gambling behaviour, are evaluated in a timely manner.
4. Is it fair that the buck ultimately stops with operators when it comes to responsible gambling?
It’s fair in many cases as it’s a profitable industry for operators and they should have a duty of care to protect their customers for the duration of their lifecycle. That being said, having more centralised help would be beneficial for everybody involved – from the operators to the players and even the state in the form of the gambling inspectorate. It would also be helpful if there was an independent organisation that operators could consult for guidance when they felt certain regulations were unclear.
Yes and no. While operators should take the bulk of the responsibility when it comes to protecting players, to do so efficiently they need to have access to data that is sometimes not available to the industry, such as individual financial and credit bureau information. In such cases, it’s important that 3rd party financial data sources also play their part, as it’s only through their continued collaboration with the industry that operators can enforce responsible gambling effectively. Operators need to be given as much detail as possible to ensure they can provide adequate protection for players in need.
PressEnter has created a strong Responsible Gaming function and collaborates with experts overseas in the field of psychology, addiction, mental health, treatment, and early detection systems.
We do not believe the buck stops with operators when it comes to responsible gaming, whereby players still manage to play and break some rules.
Responsible gaming and player protection is a community and industry-wide endeavor including regulators, operators, advertising suppliers and affiliates.
The gaming industry has come a long way, yet there is room for improvement and continued collaboration from all involved parties, for vulnerable players not to fall through cracks and traps.
5. How can the industry better come together to protect players?
It’s really a combination of many of the things that we’ve already talked about. The first step should be to agree on clearer common goals and rules that are passed down from the regulator and applied consistently to all operators. After that, there should be a greater focus on collaboration between operators and other organisations so they can share experiences and learning opportunities. Finally, we need to continue pushing for centralised systems that are based on as much anonymity as possible.
I think that we’re already doing a lot as an industry in terms of acting in a collaborative manner, particularly in the UK thanks to the work done by trade organisations like the BCG. However, what we really need is to have this similar level of collaboration in other markets, which requires the sustained cooperation of other 3rd party data sources and organisations as well.
I think the best way for the industry to come together and protect players is to actually do it and come together in person. It is unfortunate that operators are seen as competitors versus collaborators, especially in the area of RG, where there is no scope for competition. RG specialists, much like other specialists in AML and Fraud Prevention, want to connect, share their experiences, and improve player protection. PressEnter Group would like to encourage forums and workshop initiatives with guest experts, researchers, and service providers to contribute.
Certain topics that are considered relevant include, affordability checks, sensitivity training, cultural differences in gambling behaviours, improving customer interactions, responding to suicide threats, effective prevention methods, exploring case studies of previous operator fines, training methods, follow up techniques and timelines, reporting methods, exploring RG detections and measurement tools.
Ultimately, we believe RG will continue to evolve especially with the advent of new gaming products and payment methods. This brings new challenges for regulated operators and coming together to tackle such challenges with guidance, will ensure our industry is resilient and ethically responsible for many years to come.
After hearing from these market leaders, it’s clear that one of the biggest challenges is resource based. In order to give at-risk players the care and attention they need, it requires a skilled team of dedicated staff. It’s encouraging to see the efforts these operators are putting into hiring the best talent in the market to ensure their players are being well looked after and receiving the support they need. We hope to see this approach adopted soon, industry wide.
Unsurprisingly, regulation is another challenge. Although the industry agrees that it is necessary in order to keep our players safe, unclear rules and often vague guidelines make it a difficult environment to navigate and heightens the risk of prosecution. Not only do operators have to make sure that their interpretation of these laws is accurate and watertight, but overly strenuous regulation can also potentially drive players to offshore or black-market casinos. A battle that is taking place daily.
The solution to overcoming this seems to be in industry collaboration. Coming together and sharing vital information so that we can all benefit from the learnings will be the key to our industry’s success in the future.