Tackling Problem Gambling as an Industry Affiliate, by Marcus Lawrence, Seven Star Digital

The gambling industry is one of the most tightly regulated in the UK, but it’s clear that more can be done to protect consumers from the inherent risks of this long-standing pastime. While a significant majority of players enjoy gambling without encountering difficulties with their finances or addiction, it’s important to be mindful of the negative impacts faced by some and the measures that can be taken to steer users away from developing unhealthy habits.

YouGov estimated in 2020 that 2.7% of the UK population has a gambling problem, and that as many as 7% have been affected by someone else’s gambling issues. The dangers posed by unhealthy gambling are vast – it’s easy to imagine that someone with a gambling compulsion could quickly accrue immense debt that they cannot repay, alongside the potential for relationship and social issues and the distress of a preoccupied mind. This imagined scenario is, sadly, a reality for many people, but a conscious effort on the part of everyone within the gambling industry can mitigate the likelihood of these problems occurring.

Affiliate Responsibility

At Seven Star Digital, we operate a number of online gambling comparison sites. Our mission is to make it easy for users to compare casinos and bonus offers, and find the site that best fits their needs. As a gambling affiliate with close ties to the industry, we are deeply aware of the responsibility we hold to promote healthy gambling practices at every opportunity. We are committed to ensuring the content we create and the sites we manage steer clear of suggestive commentary or misleading information, and we continually review our approach to find new ways to fulfil our role more effectively. We present facts, never seek to imply that gambling is a potential avenue for financial success, and never inflate the likelihood of winning.

While we are proud of our approach, we know that more can always be done. The UK Gambling Commission, famous the world over for its excellent regulatory framework and no-nonsense approach to licensing, regularly announces new measures designed to increase player safety. For example, the ongoing 2021 Gambling Act Review recently highlighted the necessity to re-engineer existing and upcoming slot titles to remove autoplay features and graphics and sounds that seek to compel players to continue playing, even when they are losing. It is clear that a granular approach is vital to minimising the likelihood of players developing gambling problems, and that extends beyond how operators and game developers approach their work and into how we, as an affiliate, can do more.

To that end, our entire team completed a problem gambling awareness course with industrial charity GamCare in 2020. Since its launch in 1997, GamCare has been a leading provider of advice and support for those affected by problem gambling, both for individuals with direct gambling issues and for their loved ones. The charity also runs the National Gambling Helpline, offering free advice, support, and information geared towards both preventing the development of gambling addiction and helping to steer afflicted people towards recovery. At Seven Star Digital, we felt that GamCare was ideally placed to augment our existing approach with a greater understanding of problem gambling’s triggers, and how we can increase awareness of those triggers among our users.

The Mechanism of Gambling Addiction

One of the key takeaways from our training with GamCare was to view gambling addiction from a psychological and biochemical perspective. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter with many roles in our body chemistry, but its most famous role is as ‘the pleasure hormone’. When we hear a funny joke, eat food, drink alcohol, take recreational drugs, see our football team win a match, or land a winning payline on a video slot, we get a shot of dopamine that, in the simplest terms, makes us feel good. Dopamine imbalances are considered to be a significant factor in myriad physical and psychological problems, including Parkinson’s Disease, ADHD, depression, and addiction. While other factors are in play, and research into how these mechanisms work is ongoing, it is clear that a considerable element of addiction is rooted in chasing hits of dopamine. Whether the trigger for those rushes is food, alcohol, shopping, smoking, gambling, or something else, ultimately it’s dopamine that both casual users and addicts are hunting. Regularly abusing our dopamine mechanisms can lead to an imbalance in how much dopamine we produce when we aren’t actively seeking pleasure, and its absence can trigger (among other things) low moods, depression, anxiety, irritability, clouded judgement, and a subconscious desire to find a way to trigger dopamine production –– this is where dopamine’s role in addiction becomes clear.

Gambling is inherently about the anticipation of a win, the win itself, the rush of dopamine from a win, the inevitable disappointment of losing, and the potential to combat that disappointment by taking another chance at winning. When approached responsibly, as with other potentially addictive pastimes, this relationship with dopamine doesn’t necessarily mean the individual will become addicted to that rush. For some people, unfortunately, those hits of pleasure become a preoccupation. External factors have a part to play here – individuals with existing financial problems, relationship issues, psychological challenges, a history of addiction, issues with self-esteem, and/or other difficulties in their lives are likely to be more prone to both dopamine imbalances and problem gambling. The burden of responsibility, however, lies on the gambling industry to avoid exploiting this biochemical mechanism. While efforts to combat such instances are ongoing and led primarily by the UK Gambling Commission, everyone in the industry must contribute to making the realities of gambling clear to everyone who partakes in it.

Searching for the Ideal Approach

From the perspective of a gambling affiliate in 2021, the foundation of promoting responsible gambling is in recognising instances where phrasing and presentation can exploit a vulnerable person’s propensity to gamble for reasons beyond simple enjoyment. It is vital to avoid suggesting that players have a good chance of winning, that they will have a better chance of winning through certain games or tactics, that they should rush to an online casino to play, or that their lives can be changed for the better by gambling. The added clarity provided by GamCare into the finer details of this approach means we’re better able to present facts to users in a plain, non-suggestive fashion, and thereby protect our users more effectively.

Our existing ‘Before You Play’ section on TopRatedCasinos, a series of guides aimed at educating players on how various elements of the industry work, has been joined by a host of dedicated sections across the site’s pages that focus entirely on responsible gambling. We offer clear advice on what to look out for as a player when it comes to the triggers of problem gambling, measures players can take to manage their habits effectively, and information directing users to charities and organisations dedicated to preventing problem gambling and supporting those affected by it.

It is imperative that gambling affiliates take their role in the industry as seriously as the operators offering casino games and services. Together, as an industry, we can make a serious and positive impact on the likelihood of gambling problems arising in individuals. We also feel that our users, who are likely familiar with efforts to prevent problem gambling, appreciate a clear and unbiased approach to gambling marketing. Honesty, integrity, and responsibility are winning components for any business, and we believe our approach to gambling affiliation and the respect we have for our users and their health is clear. While there is no panacea or known ideal approach when it comes to promoting the gambling industry in the absolute safest way, it is vital for affiliates and operators alike to continually seek brighter and better ways of doing things.

AUTHOR BIO – Marcus Lawrence is a Senior Content Writer at Seven Star Digital, a gambling affiliate that operates a number of online casino comparison sites including TopRatedCasinos.co.uk.

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