The gambling industry is eyeing technology-driven opportunities to be proactive with its responsible-gaming obligations, with those efforts coming as addiction concerns have arisen amid the expansion of online sports betting and other forms of authorized wagering.
Those RG-related thoughts were aired Tuesday during an American Gaming Association webinar that probed what can be a sensitive subject for the still-growing sector. Industry representatives talked about collaborating more transparently, funding and sharing research, collecting and studying data, and reaching out to regulators.
On the last point, the nascent nature of legal sports betting in the United States could offer an opportunity for operators to provide feedback on the front end of the regulatory process, rather than after the fact.
“As an industry, we're constantly under some type of scrutiny, whether it's the media or policymakers,” said Charmaine Hogan, head of regulatory affairs at gambling-technology company Playtech. “And we've seen what's happened in European markets when restrictions ensued. So we should be out there as an industry collaborating more … with trade bodies, with regulators, proactively, not because rules are forcing us to do so.”
No need to play the blame game
The competitive environment of the legal sports betting and online gambling industries can often pit operators against each other to acquire customers, but there’s no need to “finger point” when it comes to responsible gambling, said Christine Thurmond, senior director of responsible gaming at DraftKings.
“I do think it's really important that operators fund research and that we really get behind the evidence-based information so that we can make wise decisions,” Thurmond said. “And sometimes it takes a little longer than other things to get done, but I do see that spirit there."
The comments from the industry come as more than half of U.S. states have now legalized some form of sports betting and as internet-based casino gambling has taken root in several jurisdictions, making wagering more accessible overall.
That growth has been good for the revenue of operators, but it has also stoked concern about increased gambling addiction. Bookmakers in newly-opened jurisdictions often go on promotional blitzes, throwing free bets and other offers at customers, which could run the risk of responsible-gambling efforts getting short shrift.
In addition, more mature gambling markets have been re-examining their approach to gambling, particularly in the United Kingdom. There, a pushback to a boom in internet-based betting is underway, although harsher, government-enforced reforms have yet to materialize.
Taking the lead
In the meantime, there are efforts underfoot in the U.S. to make it easier and more intuitive for problem gamblers to get help no matter where they live.
For instance, a group of major online sportsbook operators (including DraftKings) recently published “industry-led” standards for responsible gambling. Those standards included providing customers with responsible-gaming tools such as the ability to self-exclude themselves from playing at all.
“I think it's so important that we normalize the dialogue,” Thurmond said on Tuesday. “For so long, it was kind of them-against-us type of dialogue. One of the things that I'm so proud of is that the responsible-gaming people, if you will, across the industry talk to each other.”
Also discussed during Tuesday’s panel was that technology can allow operators to provide players with information about responsible-gambling tools and with resources they can use if they need help. Tech also offers other opportunities to be proactive with players who may not realize they have an issue, such as by using artificial intelligence to analyze betting and deposit patterns to determine if someone is at risk.
Another example of proactivity is a six-year licensing agreement announced earlier this year between the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) and the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Inc. The deal will allow for the use of the latter’s 1-800-GAMBLER federally registered service mark in all U.S. states outside of New Jersey, providing an easy-to-remember number for problem gamblers to call.
“We all want players who are struggling to get the help that they need,” said Jaime Costello, director of programs at the NCPG, during Tuesday’s webinar. “At the end of the day, it might look different for all of us who might be coming at it with different-colored glasses on. But, at the end of the day, that's what we all want. And so I think we're getting there.”