Parliamentary seminar: Access to preventive tools essential to player control

The All Party Betting & Gaming Group hosted a seminar at Portcullis House in Westminster this week, asking a panel of experts if players want control and if they are getting enough of it.


This seminar was based on the Senet Group report titled; In Control: How to support safer gambling using a behaviour change approach.

The speakers included Damon De Ionno, Managing Director & Head of Strategy, Revealing Reality; Sarah Hanratty, CEO, Senet Group; Wes Himes, CEO, Remote Gambling Association (RGA); and John White, CEO, Bacta.  

The panellists addressed the audience for 10 minutes each, to explain their thoughts on the research and issues.

DDI: Before I go into detail and answer if we are giving gamblers enough control, I just want to review how we got to that conclusion. That they do want control.

In our own research, we spent a lot of time with people who gamble. We selected people to study from across a range of occupations, age groups, gender, income, geographic area and different gambling channels. We looked across the industry and we used the problem gambling severity index to make sure we had a sample that covered all different sorts of gamblers; we didn’t want to just focus on problem gamblers. The index is a test that’s used where gamblers are asked a series of questions that gives them a score. If they are above a certain number, then they are a problem gambler.

What we found was, despite great differences between people, in terms of circumstances and gambling habits that nearly all of them had, at some point, they experienced times where they felt like they had lost control. In short, for all of the gamblers we spoke to who enjoy gambling and want to continue to do so, the ultimate aim was to remain in control.

When we looked at the scores they had been assigned through the survey, we found they should have been scored a lot higher than what they were. Another important point is the people who had the most control over the way they gambled, were often the people who had lost to the greatest degree in the past.

For example, one of the most controlled gamblers in our research, we’ll call him Tom. He was a security guard in his 50s and he had quite a serious gambling problem many years ago. It had cost Tom his family and his home. He does have some limit-setting behaviour, but it goes on further. He now only bets a couple of times a week on sports. He only bets with cash, and he only takes £20 with him when he goes out. He only bets in retail establishments that he can trust and spends as little time in them as possible. He regularly checks his bank account to make sure he isn’t overspending. He knows the space where he can gamble and feel in control. It’s also worth saying he does still really enjoy gambling. The bets he places every week are some of the few things he says he does for himself.

So what can the industry to do help? We know there is some frustration as players are not using the tools as much as the industry might like. It still feels as if responsible gambling messages don’t really speak to the things that motivate players to set boundaries. The tools seem like something additional, rather than being integrated into the player experience. People shouldn’t have to get to the bottom like Tom did, to build strategies that help them gamble in a sustained, enjoyable way.

SH: We saw a real opportunity to work with behavioural insight experts to do a real deep dive. The gambling research landscape definitely has some holes in it, and this seemed like a real opportunity to take it further than just plain messaging and to understand what gambling looks like in the real world.  

We’ve taken some real key learning from this research and the real world insight is number one. What people say they do and what they are actually doing in the real world are significantly different. We as promoters of safer gambling need to understand those motivations and then as a whole industry make it much easier for players to be in control.

We learned that we must not put the onus on the players to find these levels of control. That is a key one for us. Being control is essential for everyone.

What is also incredibly enlightening is how many layers are involved in this. I think we do risk getting ourselves into a very binary debate about gamblers and we forget how complex they are as individuals.

To answer the question; are we giving players enough control? I would like the industry to flip that around entirely and ask; how can we keep doing more?

There are some brilliant examples of innovation going on across businesses, and those need to be made frictionless and built into the gaming and gambling systems. The key information we can take from other sectors is that this is all about personalisation. It might be that one player really understands profit and loss really well, in which case that tool is great. Another player may want to ensure they are having good conversations with their family, and that is a really interesting one. Let’s get businesses looking across all the opportunities and thinking about some of the triggers in there.

Being in control is a huge message and bringing that in as a positive cultural change is a huge thing right now. Being in control is the absolute key and we need to do as much as we can to keep doing more.

WH: I want to tell you about the tools of player control. Let me talk about layer one. It’s what the Gambling Commission requires of operators. Number one is signpost services. So if you feel like you have a gambling problem, you can signpost to Gamble Aware or GamStop as an example. We have duration limits for sessions, access to account history, reality time checks, and self-exclusion options. These have to be made to all customers. Not a segment of them, not to a demographic, but to all customers. That’s layer one, that is what we are required from a regulatory perspective. It does not stop there.

Let’s move on to tools voluntarily provided by operators, layer two. Loss limits, setting playing time, timeouts, days of exclusion, profit and loss accounts. You also have Gamstop, where the industry came together and realised there needed to  be a multi-operator self exclusion scheme. 

Layer three is the area of systems we are working on. One is affordability checks. We’ve been working on this in the last 12 months and are hoping to bring that out in the summer. That will allow us to profile customers and begin to look at intervention techniques built around financial stress, not just behaviour analytics. What about game design? We are testing over 40 factors of game design to determine if any of those features are a mark or harm.

Layer four involves support from outside of the industry, in areas like banking. Software filtering is next; we know players can download software that stops them from gambling. This is very important for self-exclusion customers.

I counted 20 tools for the industry, but what are the key challenges for the industry when it knows it has this toolbox? One is awareness. If you don’t know the tools are there, it’s likely you don’t have them. Other issues are ease of access, customer response, technology and training.  

I’ve given you four layers, 20 tools and six challenges. These are the things we wake up to every day as an industry, these are the ones we are working on with focus groups, trying to move forward so that we take our responsibility as seriously as the players themselves.

JW: At Bacta, we’ve only got half a foot in gambling and we often have a kind of tangential view on some of the debates that take place within the industry. The one point I want to make from the very outset will reflect some of the things that have been said already. From our experience with gambling products, you have such a vast range of people involved. They're all playing different things at different times at different venues.

So when you talk about the gambling end of the product being in control, there’s no one-size-fits-all, absolutely not. That is one of the key findings from the Senet-commissioned report.

We all want to have a sustainable gambling and minimise the risk our players our exposed to. We can never eliminate it, just like with alcohol. But we are going to minimise it and if we give out players a good time, where they feel they are in control of their behaviours, they are going to come back, and that will be good for business. So it just feels like the right thing to do, to give players control. That means they make rational choices about what they do.

After the panellists spoke, the Group’s chair, Philip Davies M,P began the Q & A session. He asked the RGA CEO if the tools were hidden.

WH: That comes back to my point about awareness. Obviously you can connect from the home page, but there’s also the issue about signposting. That’s one of the things we are looking at. You’re right, this is a challenge we face, and we have more work to do.

Questions then came from the audience; Lee Willows CEO of YGAM, asked if there are any unintended consequences of these tools meant to help, including education.

DDI: The gambling industry wants people to be informed. People like to gamble, they’ve been doing it forever. For a long time, the focus has been on slogans, now it’s on tools. What we are saying as researchers is you need to integrate those two things.  

SH: I think that’s an interesting point and there are a lot of analogies to be made. When do you start to talk to kids about key issues? We are almost talking to them too late. If you look at the data, most children begin talking about gambling by having wagers with their mates in the playground. Children talk about gambling a lot earlier than we thought; it was very similar with drinking. Children as young as 8, 9 and 10 were talking about it but their parents wouldn’t have said anything for years to come. I think there’s a real opportunity to have that constructive conversation early. The last thing we want to do is make gamblers feel stigmatized about talking about it.

Spread betting analyst Simon Clark asked if it is a fundamental issue that these tools reduce profit and income.

WH: I disagree with the idea that tools hurt profit. I think this is all part of the journey, where the customer is in control. If you’re treating them fairly, the customer will stick to you for longer and therefore it will be a fruitful relationship.

Peter White, Co-Owner of Ace Publishing, rounded off the session with a statement of his own, saying the RGA needs to do more to provide proactive education for the public and work with broadcasting channels to get the right message out there. He said more attention needs to be paid to online gambling and everyone in the room should be able to see problems will develop from it.

White compared online to land-based gaming and how bettors playing online can face bigger dangers, such as losing money at a quicker rate. Once this is taken into consideration, he said, the industry may soon look like it cares for its customers.

DI: Of all the people we spoke to, those who put boundaries in place, a lot of them consider online gambling to be a terrifying place. That’s not to say none of them did it, but there are a lot of people who did not gamble online, mainly because of perception they can lose a lot of money very quickly.

WH: I just want to address the education issue, and I completely agree. The first thing we are doing for our customers is supporting the Bet Regret campaign. The next is online. The world is moving online generationally. A lot of work with the IGRG code will address potential dangers online.

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