On Wednesday 10th December 2014 at the Responsible Gambling Trust Harm Minimisation conference a number of findings were presented from recent commissions research ”An investigation into gaming machines in licensed betting offices: exploring risk, harm and customer behaviour.”
The objective of the research was to see if industry data could be used to identify harmful patterns of gambling on machines in bookmakers. By simply analyzing the data and using the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score as an index to classify a player as a Problematic Gambler.
But as will be argued in this article, can you diagnose problem gambling through behavioral data by itself, i.e. labeling someone as a problematic gambler– and is the UK gambling market reinventing the wheel in doing this?
Technology that provides intervention at the right time.
Vast amounts of data is being generated every minute of the day when players gamble both online and within land-based facilities like Casinos, eGaming machines and retail points of sales. Selectively collating all those data points and combining them with data mining technology, artificial intelligence, gambling psychology and cognitive behavioural modification through targeted communications, provides the player with a unique, player centric solution that offers them an informed choice about the status of their gambling and invaluable player information for the operator and regulator’s.
Behavioural tracking provides information back to the operator about their player population, enabling them to be more proactive in reducing potential risks that could manifest itself into problematic gambling. Understanding the player’s journey is paramount, not only understanding where the player is heading but where they are coming from. “Green Marketing” is such a way, identifying those higher risk players and removing them from the operator’s regular sales and marketing campaigns. If a players journey is one of increased ”at-risk” behaviour then implementation of this green marketing process will ensure they are no being bombarded with marketing to increase their gambling, likewise if a player has decided to change their gambling habits and reduce their gambling then the last thing that player needs is frequent reminders and marketing materials to entice them back to gambling.
The information provided from these systems enables the operator to show the regulatory bodies how they are working within the areas of harm minimization, and provide full accountability for those actions.
Can behavioural tracking identify a player as a problematic gambler?
This becomes almost a semantic question or at least a question of what we put in the words “problematic gambling”, because one very important thing to mention is that behavioural tracking technology cannot identify problematic gamblers reliably enough with data only.
Behavioural tracking solutions can see how you are playing, how you are increasing your various risk levels between different types of games and understand from the player’s own perception of their own gambling behavior, but what behavioral tracking solutions does not know is the players own social or economic circumstances.
Even though it is a big chance that a player with high-risk behaviour is a problematic one, there is still a requirement for numerous other factors to be taken into consideration. What is still unknown about the player is the social, economic and psychological status. For instance the player could be an owner of a company with a high level of disposable income and available time or they could be a minimum income, family person with low disposable income and minimal available time to spend.
Behavioural tracking solutions can only identify changes in risk levels based on their actual gaming data from that operator and players own psychological belief of their gambling habits through the various system Self Reporting methods. Claiming otherwise could be very detrimental in lowering the trust towards these types of tools. There is always a non-trivial risk that any player that is identified as increased or high risk is really not – which is why one must be both cautious and humble.
So what wheel is now being reinvented?
This technology has been active within numerous Scandinavian, North America and European gaming operators for nearly a decade now. It has taken many years to understand gambling behaviour, to analyse the data correctly and how to effectively communicate with those individuals who show signs of increased risk. Therefore, it is vital for UK gambling industry in their journey of discovery, to work more closely together with various segments of the industry (such as established technology providers within this sphere, other private operators, state owned operator, researchers and regulators). There is vast information being held in all segments and combining this knowledge will inevitably benefit the industry, players as well as reducing the social impact on families and state.
Data answers what – but not why someone is at-risk.
The challenge head lies not in how to identify an at-risk gambler in gambling data; on the contrary we need to understand more about what their journey looks like – and their needs. What circumstances contributed to this? And when we, meaning the operator and regulators, have all this information, what should we do with it?
Currently State owned lotteries are leading the way over the private sector in adopting this type of technology and answering this kind of questions, which changes their responsible gambling attitudes from being a reactive one to being more of a proactive one towards the potential harmful effects of gambling.
Some of the positive effects from this are that we finally can discuss and act on topics such as reduced impact on the society, sustainable long-term revenue gain and healthier, informed players in a true, meaningful way.