Not long ago I visited the yearly forum on gambling addiction held by NGOs and support groups around Sweden, Norway and Denmark. When listening to the speakers presenting the latest findings and research about problematic gambling and gambling addiction, I was left with the thought: gambling addiction should not be about politics.
Gambling addiction is a psychiatric diagnosis that belongs to the group of ‘addictive disorders’ (as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as DSM5). Gambling addiction is classified as a nonsubstance disorder and what’s clear is that a person afflicted with this disorder really suffers. Like other similar addictive disorders, such as alcoholism, it is not only the person suffering the disorder that is affected. It also brings harm to his or her friends and family.
Recent figures from a Swedish longitudinal gambling study show that 75,000 children live with someone who has a gambling problem. For such a small country, that is a high figure.
It’s easy to close our eyes and wish that the problem would go away. It’s even easier to point our fingers at others. But the problem won’t go away, because gambling addiction is a real problem and it affects real people. The fact is that the gambling arena is expanding.
It is getting more intense and games are getting more accessible. We get exposed to gambling more and more. A recent study from England, written by Ofcom (independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries), show that 4% of all TV commercials are advertisements for gambling. On an average, a child is exposed to four gambling advertisements per week.
The debate is focusing a lot on finding the one “who is responsible” and “the owner of the problem”. Well, that one person does not exist. The discourse about gambling and gambling related problems includes a lot of stakeholders, such as operators, regulators, politicians, the healthcare sector, social services, and of course: the players. Since we do know a great deal of what the risk factors of developing problems are – let’s make sense of that knowledge and take full responsibility ourselves.
The gambling industry must focus on how they can contribute to harm minimisation – and decrease the possibility that their players develop gambling problems. How data analytics can be used to promote harm minimisation is the question. The science of psychology is trying to describe how humans behave – and then try to understand the reasons for that behaviour. It works in that order, first we need to visualise how people behave before we can understand them. Maybe the gaming industry could learn something from that?
A responsible gaming operator needs to have knowledge about the risk status of their players in order to act in a responsible way. For example, statistically unhealthy gamblers make up around 2% of the adult population. One question to ask is: how much of the operators revenue do they stand for? Data analytics and especially behavioural tracking tools are one way of getting that knowledge.
These tools find order in seemingly unstructured data and they measure the risk of developing problems. For the gaming provider, data analytics of gambling behaviour can provide intelligence about their player population and, as a consequence, find ways to act to minimise risk. This is a good thing not only for the player but also from a business standpoint since an unhealthy player is a viable risk, they are volatile and a possible ticking bomb of bad PR.
Sharing the information – gathered through the use of a behavioural tracking tool – is a good way for the gaming operators to act. This educates not only the player on how to avoid getting into trouble (and behave in irrational ways that affect their life by jeopardising relationships, education and their jobs). It also enables the player to make an informed choice about their gambling.
That same information could also be used for harm minimisation in a greater sense. If data, knowledge and information are shared with other parties within the gambling sector (regulators, academia and researchers, help lines and treatment centres) the sharing party will not only receive great PR, but the idea of what responsible gambling really is can be taken to a whole new level.
However, dogmatic minds must be left behind. Reflecting on how new research and tools can improve responsible gambling is a preferable approach.
When we talk to responsible operators who offer these kind of tools to their players they say: “There is not one thing that will work on its own – it’s the overall effort”. And that is the thing. There isn’t one single thing, one person or one actor in this industry that can solve the problem. The responsibility of solving it must be shared, but describing and understanding the problem is a good start. Sharing that knowledge and taking a cooperative responsibility is the beginning of raising responsible gambling to another level.