21 March, 2022

Responsible Gaming: going the extra mile

Gambling Insider speaks to several Global Gaming Awards nominees about how far the industry has come with responsible gambling.

Social responsibility is important in any industry; but for gambling, it is crucial. As the industry faces ever-more restrictive regulations, it’s important to recognise when, where and how it can help those who struggle with gambling. This help can come in many forms, and various companies are pioneering new and innovative ways to tackle problem gambling.

Gambling Insider’s Global Gaming Awards provide an opportunity for the industry to acknowledge those companies who have gone above and beyond; but while our Awards focus on what they’ve done, we wondered what the industry is currently doing and, moving forward, will do.

Problem gambling will never go away but our ability to confront it, across the industry and society, is constantly changing and evolving. We have more advanced tools than ever before to identify and reach out to at-risk individuals, and our knowledge of what causes problem gambling is broader and more well-rounded than it has ever been.

With this in mind, Gambling Insider contacted those companies Shortlisted in our Awards’ Social Responsibility category to get their take on this topic; and their vision for responsible gambling’s future.

Science leads

Technology has made us healthier and more comfortable. What was once confined to the realm of science fiction is now science fact. While our forebears were forced to place wagers in person, technological advancements allow us to bet from wherever we so choose.

Gone are the days when a bettor’s sole recourse was a bookie’s shop or a racetrack. Now, anyone with a smartphone and Wi-Fi can wager from wherever, whenever and, effectively, however they want. And this applies to all gaming. While an app can never truly recreate the authentic atmosphere of a brick-and-mortar casino, it does offer you an opportunity to gamble from home.

Humans like gambling, we’ve been doing it since we lived in caves, and we’ll probably be doing it when (or if) we colonise other planets. But as technology advances, new problems arise. In the past, when a person’s gambling got out of hand, you could send them home; now, that’s no guarantee they won’t keep on gambling when they get there.

New solutions have to be created to counter new problems, and gambling harm is a perfect example. Artificial intelligence is often touted as a be-all, end-all solution; and while we have a way to go before AI allows our species to achieve utopia, it can be an effective tool in society’s ongoing battle with problem gambling.

Leading this charge are several companies, including Denmark’s Mindway AI. Lying at the crossroads of academia and industry, Mindway brings its technological and neuroscientific know-how to bear on problem gambling.

We spoke to Mindway AI CEO, Rasmus Kjaergaard, who had this to say: “In recent years, the gambling industry has seen a wave of heightened focus on responsible gambling and player protection.

“As a part of this wave, we at Mindway develop AI tech solutions that promote responsible gambling, and we work with both online operators and land-based casinos looking to improve their player protection efforts.

“Starting out as a Danish university spin-off, Mindway AI develops detection software rooted in neuroscience, which combines artificial intelligence and human expert assessment. This combination has allowed us to detect at-risk and problem gambling behaviour much earlier than what has previously been possible.

“Mindway AI’s GameScanner software monitors and detects at-risk and problem gambling around the clock for our customers, enabling operators to further boost their responsible gambling efforts and reach out to at-risk players at a very early stage.

“Denmark has, with its well-regulated market, been an excellent starting point and test market for our solutions that enhance player protection. At Mindway AI, we take pride in our Danish roots, our neuroscientific background, and in our impartial position to enhance player protection.

“As we continuously update our AI software, we collaborate with neuroscientists, gambling experts and psychologists specialising in gambling addiction.

“This way, we craft complex AI software with a human touch. These independent experts choose to work with us because they believe in the potential of early detection software.”

It's this element which Kjaergaard believes will be key in combatting problem gambling. Being able to identify at-risk players earlier will help mitigate, if not outright stop harm.

“Together, we share a belief that early detection could be a real game changer, when combined with appropriate intervention steps, as it decreases the probability of players developing a gambling addiction,he added.

Mindway is not alone in pursuing a technological solution to problem gambling. Many companies are turning to technology for their responsible gambling strategies, and among those, several are Scandinavian – or more specifically, Swedish.

LeoVegas and Betsson, both based in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, are likewise pursuing problem gambling solutions that heavily involve technological innovations and big data.

Eduards Jakubovs, Betsson Group Head of Responsible Gaming, said: “We believe the industry has made enormous progress in terms of responsible gaming throughout the years. As a tier-one operator, we are encouraged to see how comparable companies value their consumers and have made significant investments in responsible gaming.

“Betsson Group was among the first to invest in responsible gambling, and we haven’t looked back since. We created our own Responsible Gambling Prediction Tool, which we built in-house, and we’ve been improving it over the last few months.

“We feel that employing modern technology and machine learning in conjunction with human supervision is the way forward, and we have invested in both.

“The new version of the tool is able to take into consideration even more variables and detect/predict events at an earlier stage. Our many years of expertise in this industry, together with all of the historical data, allows us to put all of this information for the benefit of the player; which is ultimately what matters.”

What is technology, really?

While it’s easy to say that technology is the answer, what does this really mean? Technology isn’t one thing; it encompasses various solutions that employ all manner of innovations. Likewise, problem gambling doesn’t manifest in one way and, as a result, different methods are required.

LeoVegas touches on this, commenting: “Responsible gambling is one of LeoVegas Group's top priorities, and we continuously invest in product and technology development; so we can be really confident that we’re delivering the greatest gaming experience.

“Technology is our main enabler in delivering sustainable customer relationships. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all way of solving harmful behaviour, which is why we have a range of tools and initiatives, which we apply and develop continuously.

“Most recently, we launched mandatory personalised deposit limits to all our customers in the UK. We are also testing on-site messaging to educate and encourage customers, to use RG tools on multiple markets.

“Innovations and fine-tuned technologies like these really play important roles: AI and automatic risk prediction models enable LeoVegas Group to refine customer interactions and tailor them to our customers’ specific circumstances and needs.”

Land-based operators are also important in the industry’s efforts to tackle problem gambling – and they also stand to gain from technology-based solutions.

Combining the cutting edge with the old fashioned is London’s Hippodrome Casino. While the property this establishment occupies is over 100 years old, its social responsibility strategy relies on the most up-to-date innovations.

Simon Thomas, Hippodrome Casino CEO, said: “In 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) challenged the industry to make better use of player data for the purposes of risk identification and to develop limit-setting capabilities on gaming machines.

“These were complex projects and required substantial investment in systems and people. In addition to these technical initiatives we created (in partnership with Aspers Casinos) a new customer messaging programme, ‘PlaySmart’, to encourage healthy attitudes and behaviours to gambling — building on academic research and practices developed over the course of the last decade in a number
of international markets.

“Most importantly, we have continued to invest in our people. This reflects the critical – and generally under-appreciated – role that our team members play in promoting customer wellbeing, creating positive experiences for all and intervening early where risk of harm is detected.”

People come first

Technology alone is not enough, as LeoVegas adds: "Technical innovations will continue to be important, but we would also like to see more cross-operator collaborations. so we can share insights, best practices and generally get better at aligning our tools for the greater good of responsible gambling.

“We from LeoVegas Group will continue to push for more industry collaborations to raise industry standards and support academia in relevant research.”

And while technology and its myriad possibilities are exciting, focusing solely on digital interventions makes it easy to forget what social responsibility is all about: helping people. People should be at the heart of any company’s responsible gambling strategy – people and community.

Betsson’s Jakubovs acknowledges this, saying: “We’re also investing in our people, and we’re continuously looking for innovative methods to exchange knowledge and train our employees, because responsible gambling must be at the core of any company’s culture.

“The impetus of this can be proven by the fact that in the latest internal survey, 94% of Betssonites feel that Betsson Group is a responsible operator.”

No operator can perhaps be said to have taken this people-first approach to heart more so than Kindred Group. Community is a crucial component of this company’s social responsibility strategy, as discussed by Anna Jein, Kindred’s Sustainability Manager. Coupled with investments in academic research, Kindred is pursuing a people-focused responsible gambling plan.

“At Kindred, our purpose is to transform gambling by being a trusted source of entertainment that contributes positively to society. To achieve our purpose, we lead by example, giving our players a superior experience while ensuring they feel safe and secure,” Jein tells Gambling Insider.

“By investing in behavioural research, a thriving sports ecosystem and local community initiatives, we can bring value to society, contributing to improved health, wellbeing and positive long-term outcomes. Earning trust sustains our business, supports the sector and widens our impact by contributing positively to society.

“Our way of working is shaped by our operating values, and rooted in our heritage of offering players a better and safer way to gamble.

“Our research, detection and control methods demonstrate leadership in responsible gambling, and we work openly with regulators, consumers and academics. In 2021, our sixth Sustainable Gambling Conference (SGC) focused on 'Safer Gambling: A shared responsibility' and covered high-priority topics such as responsible gambling and integrity.

“In addition, our employee engagement saw a boost in 2021 as we adopted a new hybrid-working model. Further, we continued with our vital work to ensure regulatory compliance and cybersecurity integrity.

“This was complemented by progress on sending our carbon emission targets for independent verification and formal acceptance as science-based by SBTi, and an ongoing focus on community impacts such as improving mental health.”

Working together

These companies have all taken major strides regarding social responsibility, but as briefly touched on at the outset of this article, regulators also have a role to play in mitigating harmful behaviour.

Striking the right balance is key. Private companies and their public sector counterparts need to work together or those most at-risk stand to lose out. 

But when all parties involved take on social responsibility as a key part of their overall strategies, everyone benefits.

As brand futurist Simon Mainwaring said: “If a brand genuinely wants to make a social contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do.”

Casino Guru upholds this ethos, as discussed by its Sustainable & Safer Gambling Lead Simon Vincze, who says: “The concept of social responsibility was at the forefront of our priorities at the inception of Casino Guru, even though my colleagues might not have called it that.

“The goal was to provide players with truthful and verified information that could be relied upon to make correct decisions.

“Casino Guru has always had the ambition to make online gambling better, increase its transparency and make operators responsible for their actions.

“The sector faces considerable distrust and needs to strengthen efforts to prove its responsibility and reliability, for example by implementing strategies to minimise harm or raise awareness of safer gambling. I am certain going the extra mile will pay off in the long run.

“Moreover, I think working towards a more sustainable online gambling market is the best long-term business strategy. If the industry self-regulates, authorities will not feel pressured to impose increasingly tight restrictions, which will make things more difficult for operators and may even chase players away to offshore markets.” Vincze concludes: “Investing into SR strategies and going beyond what’s expected is key.”