A Driving Force

By Gambling Insider
Entrepreneur Anders Bergman, brother of Catena Media co-founder Erik Bergman, talks to Tim Poole about Malta-based QuitGamble.com, a site designed to help people battle gambling addiction

Tell us all about QuitGamble.com.

QuitGamble.com is about identifying and fighting pain. We believe pain is the cause of addiction; we don’t get addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs and so on. We get addicted to escaping from pain, those precious moments when it’s quiet, when no one tells us what to do, when we don’t feel bad about ourselves. Those moments are an escape and gambling is one way to reach that. Alcohol and drugs are other ways. But it’s the pain that is the cause of addiction, so what I did with QuitGamble.com was I developed a test to see where the pain is coming from in your life. I believe pain comes from needs that aren’t being met. It might be that you have a need for socialising but that particular day you don’t have any friends to talk to, and that loneliness can be a source of pain. It might be that you’re out of a job, or on sick leave and life feels damn meaningless.

You feel basically unhappy and then seek ways to escape from pain. Fora gambling addict, gambling is the first thing the brain thinks of when it experiences pain. I think one difference from how I see it and how many others see it is there’s an upside to addiction. The addiction is doing something for you. So to be able to quit gambling, or whatever addiction you have, you need to understand there is a positive effect of the gambling or the addiction. Perhaps you can get that from something else or start dealing with that problem. A famous psychologist who deals with heroin addicts said someone’s addiction has saved their life so many times, because without that addiction, they would probably have killed themselves.

 

On your site, you say the gambling industry is not the enemy, as long as gambling companies don’t deliberately focus on people with gambling problems. But you emphasise that many slot machines are created to keep players betting. Are you essentially saying slots are the most harmful form of gambling?

I have a section that I call the gambling addiction curve, where I try to visualise the connection between why you do something and the risk of becoming an addict. On the addiction curve, if you gamble, the question is can you gamble responsibly? In my world, you can gamble responsibly if you gamble to have fun – if it’s all about entertainment. People love it; it’s a little bit of excitement, you can win money. After all, no one would put money in a slot machine or buy a scratch ticket if you couldn’t win. And for me, as long as the ‘why’ is about entertainment, it’s fine. But as soon as you start gambling to win money, I say you are on thin ice. Because then it’s so easy to slip over the edge. For me, I can see a certain excitement and entertainment in slot machines. I know they are built so you should be hooked on them and they are very easy to get addicted to.

I think you can get addicted to any kind of gambling, so I don’t say sports betting is less addictive than a slot machine. But slot machines are deliberately built to hook your brain. Sports betting is not. Yet for me, even the pros that live from sports betting can have a gambling problem. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There are some lucky few that are gambling pros and live making their money from poker and sports betting. But they gamble to win, so they might not be gambling addicts but they definitely display some problematic gambling behaviour. The difference is they make money from it and others don’t. So I’d say slot machines are basically built for people to get hooked on, whereas poker and sports betting are a little different in the way they are built. They’re not built to get you hooked but they can get you hooked anyway.

 

Your site has also spoken honestly about some affiliates and casino tactics, with the story of Lukas Better [a fictional name] being enticed by companies to lose a huge sum of money. In your view, how much of the industry does this represent?

I can’t say I have a direct number. I have heard affiliate managers talk about insane numbers, that 80 to 90% of revenue comes from VIP players. Naturally with VIP players, I don’t know how many have gambling problems, but it’s probably a high proportion of them. But when you ask the casinos themselves, they say it’s probably 20%. I don’t have a number; casinos know exactly but it’s not something any casino would go public with.

 

Kindred Group recently said 4% of its revenue is from harmful, high-risk gamblers.

If it’s 4%, I think it’s fine. We talk about 3% of the population having gambling problems so if 4% of revenue comes from them it’s only natural. I would not bet on 4%, though. It’s probably more than 50% but there’s no official data for it. Recently, the Swedish Gambling Authority fined four casinos with really high fines. For me, it was insane. I actually called my colleague and was furious with it. Because they tried to do their best and got punished for it. Why should you have a licence if the thanks you get is a £6.5m ($9m) fine? They make mistakes and they play dirty as well, but they try to do it under a green flag.

So that’s the part I don’t like with these regulations; they tend to punish people that at least try to be compliant and pay taxes for their winnings. You could be a black-hat casino, not pay any taxes, not follow any rules, and if they are fined with £6.5m, they will say, ‘Okay, we will never pay that.’ It’s not really fair. I would rather see collaboration between companies and regulators. It’s the same in the UK. There have been insane fines. I don’t say these operators are fault-free but there has to be a collaboration between these parts, to make a better product.

 

Do you think your message of saying it’s not gambling’s fault might be a bit conflicted, given the fact  you’ve provided several specific examples of where companies have gone out of their way to encourage addiction?

In the case of this guy, Lukas Better, yeah the casinos were doing a lot of dirty things. That’s not okay, because they are targeting a person they know has a problem. They know everything about the person and they target that person anyway. For me, that’s not okay. But I also believe in personal responsibility, so it’s not like the person is free of responsibility themselves. Of course, if you give alcohol to an alcoholic, they will drink more. You give a gambler an opportunity to thrive because what you do is you make them forget about their pain. You do everything you can do to ease their pain with something that is toxic to them. Naturally, then, the gambling industry is at fault. But I don’t think it’s the gambling that’s the root cause of the problem. If you read the story of Lukas Better, his story is quite similar to many others.

You often see a person that has a pretty good life going on. He had a good job, was a respected person and everything was good in his life. Then he had an accident, so he went from being a happy person to someone who had something missing. Then the addiction hit, the pain was sobig and he found something to fill that void, so gambling became everything. For me, this drop of happiness is the cause of the problem. But of course if a casino is then throwing wood on this fire, that’s not okay. The gambling industry is not free of fault and they of course can be feeding the fire. I understand why they do that – to make money – but it’s still not okay. If we can control that in some way, then I believe it would be beneficial for everyone.

 

What is the QuitGamble.com business model? Are you a not-for-profit organisation?

At this stage, I’m selling some links on my sites. We have some small revenue streams from old projects. I’m not working actively with my sites anymore; I just have them to get a little revenue so we can invest everything into our new project. I live from my savings to fund this project; I don’t see it as a non-profit and hope we have a revenue stream from it one day. But my focus right now is not to make money but to create a product that really works. That is my driving force, however long
it takes. I want to create something that can really help people and it feels good
to have that drive.

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