What are some of the most significant changes in how the RGF operates today compared to when it opened in 2014?
The Responsible Gaming Foundation was founded on the 18 February, 2014, by the Malta Gaming Authority in conjunction with the then Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth Edward Zammit Lewis, and then Social Solidarity and Family Affairs Minister Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. An independent foundation’s requirement emerged following the debate in Parliament on the amendments of the Lotteries and Other Games Act to introduce regulations governing land-based gaming parlours. The Government and Opposition collectively agreed to establish a fund to promote responsible gaming, and initiatives and studies concerning responsible gaming measures, and actions. After travelling through a seven-year journey, the Foundation saw significant changes. It enhanced more awareness of problem gambling and responsible gaming measures among young ones through its educational campaign in Primary schools around Malta and Gozo. It also helped adults through mediatic awareness campaigns on local TV and radio, social media pages, newspapers and magazines, as well as its website. The Foundation also strengthened its local research through the €1.1m ($1.31m) “Take Action Against Problem Gambling in Malta” project, which is part-financed by the European Social Fund, with its non-executive chairman Neville Mangion and GM and project leader Shawn Zammit. The Foundation also gave more importance to problem gambling alternatives by assisting local youth organisers in sports competition activities.
But most importantly, the Foundation’s main aim is providing more support and assistance to those suffering from the problem of gambling addiction through its helpline, an anonymous free-phone, where all information gets treated confidentially. The Foundation works hand in hand with Caritas, Sedqa and FSWS among others to provide the necessary support to those who call or contact the Foundation’s professional staff through its website’s chatline service. Finally, it supports self-exclusion forms where a problematic gambler can self-exclude for six months, 12 months, or an indefinite period from land-based casinos, bingo halls, gaming parlours and lotto booths, all licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority.
What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of over the last year?
With the help of national research covering the period 2018-2019, we focused primarily on the local problem gambling reality. Three significant points that emerged from the study were that most of our teens and population, in general, started gambling between the ages of 19 and 24 and spent less than €10 monthly. Problematic individuals spent between 100% and 150% of their annual salary on gambling, and the National Lottery remains the most popular gamble on the Maltese Islands. With this project’s help, the Foundation made it its mission to provide training to different sectors that make direct or indirect contact with problem gamblers in their line of work. The training program is well underway, specialised towards primary stakeholders. Later this year, this national research will lead the way to a national awareness campaign for the Foundation to be more of a service for those problematic gamblers in need of its help.
How has funding for the RGF been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic? What can you share about the financial outlook of the organisation looking ahead to the rest of 2021?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a minimal impact on the Foundation’s funding, and its working course continued moving on steadily because of its capability to still offer its services even remotely from March till June 2020. In the meantime, looking ahead to 2021, the Foundation’s work agenda looks positive, together with its financial outlook.
Has the pandemic altered how RGF advertises itself to problem gamblers?
During the pandemic, the Foundation took a sound decision to focus more on an online prevention marketing strategy when most of the Maltese population were under partial lockdown imposed by the Government’s Health Authorities. Interesting features were created and boosted on the Foundation’s social media pages, where the main targets were parents, youth, gamblers and non-gamblers and families. These features focused on preventive measures about screen-time, the benefits of alternatives to extreme gambling and gaming, children’s ideas and mentality in regard to technology and so on. In the meantime, the Foundation’s call centre and self-barring support for problem gamblers were advertised via newspaper articles and also spots on national television.
What strategies does RGF use to target underage and young problem gamblers? Are younger gamblers at higher risk of developing problem gambling disorders, and if so, why?
In January 2015, the Foundation embarked on a national education campaign for Year 4 Primary Students in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. Through this campaign, the Foundation visits schools around Malta and Gozo, together with its mascot Chippy, to raise awareness about problem gambling prevention; support children already with a gambling problem; and support those family members around people addicted to the gambling problem. The Foundation raises awareness on responsible gaming, adverse effects of playing irresponsibly, console gaming addiction, the importance of adhering to the PEGI Number, and the extent to say no. As mentioned, most of our teens and population, in general, started gambling between the ages of 19 and 24 and spent less then €10 monthly. If this, by any chance whatsoever, can lead to problematic gambling in their future, the Foundation will be there to raise awareness from their early age. Furthermore, through the promulgation of the Malta Gaming Authority’s Gaming Player Protection Regulations in 2018, various safeguards regarding fair gaming are now in place; to prevent gaming by minors and hence protect vulnerable people and ensures that all players’ interests are adequately safeguarded.
Does the recent rise of esports add to the risk of young gamblers getting hooked on igaming?
Young gamblers can get hooked to remote gaming in various ways, not only through esports. If our young ones learn to play and gamble responsibly through time and monetary limits, it is okay. Problems start to arise once those limits begin to get surpassed regularly with pathological consequences.
What other demographics stick out as being especially at risk for problem gambling?
According to a survey conducted by the Malta Gaming Authority during the first quarter of 2018, around 186,849 individuals aged 18 and over have gambled money on some form of gaming activity. Up to 2% of those individuals (2,000-4,000 individuals) reported some form of adverse effect on their lifestyle after acquiring gaming services against payment. The persons who are highly engaged in gambling activities and hence can be at risk of problem gambling are most likely to be young adults or senior citizens (45 years and over) from the northern or southern Port districts and have a secondary education level.
What is RGF’s stance on remote gaming payment options?
The Foundation believes in the regulation and constant monitoring of responsible gaming measures, which are being administered continuously by the Malta Gaming Authority on its licensees. Operators should ensure their platforms are safe locations where players can enjoy themselves in a safe environment, and develop all transactions and processes with the necessary checks. In the meantime, player data and financial details should always be protected by the respective platforms. This leads to a safer and more secure online environment, and the Foundation favours this.
Overall, the Responsible Gaming Foundation believes that there needs to be more awareness through educational campaigns, more research, and alternatives to gambling; and more support to those problem gamblers in need.