Let’s put all available self-exclusion tools in place
Gambling addiction is a serious problem in many countries. Although this is something that many associate with casinos and high street betting shops, increased access to online betting caused the rate of addiction to explode in recent years. The increased access and less-tangible oversight of remote betting did not change any of the fundamental causes or contributing factors of addiction. It merely expanded upon a pre-existing social issue to which most countries are slow to react.
Currently, users are forced to rely primarily on self-control to manage their behaviour, doing their best to ignore aggressive advertising, emails from operators offering a huge bonus, the machines available at the local pub, and everything else that pushes them into some sort of gambling. That means hundreds of thousands of victims of addiction are fighting–and often losing–an uphill battle.
Managing problem gambling effectively demands supplementary assistance to provide a firm barrier between victims and opportunities to gamble.
Background & research
Online gambling represented approximately 35% of total market share in the UK betting industry in 2018. This demonstrates incredible growth in the last decade. Data published by the UK Government shows total online spending grew from £816.86 million annually in 2008 to £4.9 billion in 2018. Total revenue generated by gaming software increased 172% between 2015 and 2016 alone.
Unfortunately, rates of addiction have kept pace right alongside this fast-growing business sector. According to the UK Gambling Commission, more than 2 million people in the UK are either current problem gamblers or are at medium to high risk of addiction. Of that subset, roughly 430,000 people are already victims of a serious betting habit. But it could be even worse. Those who help treat problem gambling often tell us that in their experience, it is far worse than what these figures show.
The problem is also spreading to a wider range of individuals. Although according to the UK Gambling Commission, “men are 7.5 times more likely than women to be classed as problem gamblers,” the Gambling Commission’s data shows gambling on the rise across every demographic. The increase in gambling addiction is especially prominent among younger (16-24 year old) players, whose lack of experience and self-control can compound the problem. Additionally, while only 4% of the nation’s population gamble online, the percentage of at-risk gamblers who do is almost 35%. This places the overall rate of problem gambling in online betting at 10.6% of users
Clearly, something needs to be done.
What about gambling self-exclusion?
Self-exclusion is the key means of mitigating the impact of problem gambling. And, on a positive note, the number of gamblers choosing to exclude themselves from play is on the rise, as the most recent data from the UK Gambling Commission shows.
- Total number of self-exclusions in online gambling:
- Nov 2014 – Mar 2015: 179,142
- Apr 2015 – Mar 2016: 612,427
- Apr 2016 – Mar 2017: 1,117,322
- Oct 2016 – Sep 2017: 1,309,740
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. A growing number of cases has been reported where a breach of self-exclusion has happened. This can happen because the technology has failed, because the operator didn’t honor the self-exclusion request, or simply because the player found a way to circumvent the self-exclusion process.
- Total number of known breaches of self-exclusions in online gambling:
- Nov 2014 – Mar 2015: 12,576
- Apr 2015 – Mar 2016: 36,992
- Apr 2016 – Mar 2017: 73,715
- Oct 2016 – Sep 2017: 86,800
The key issue is clear: as interest in online gambling grows, so does problem gambling, as well as breaches of self-exclusion.
Gambling addiction is already a serious problem, but reliance on traditional self-exclusion alone is not a reliable solution. A more comprehensive solution is clearly required.
Effective self-exclusion for problem gambling
Problem gamblers need help, and operators are well-positioned to provide the necessary assistance. Operators have a moral responsibility to engage in harm-reduction best practices, and it’s often while on their websites, that players take the decision to reach out for help. Beyond that, though, operators also have a clear business interest to ensure safe play.
Preemptive action by businesses has long been seen as an alternative to enforced regulation. While this does involve some minor investments, the amounts are minimal when compared with the alternative.
For example, failing to act in the face of rising instances of problem gambling is likely to lead to greater scrutiny of the industry. Government regulatory bodies may enforce stricter control over the sector, leading to greater fines and penalties for operators. We are seeing this already in the UK, where the regulator issued several fines, and of record amounts, over the past months. This will damage further the reputation of the industry, creating a negative media and public impression of gambling in general, and ultimately, threatening the industry’s sustainability. As increased breaches of self-exclusion techniques underscore, there is a need for more than one approach.
A loose variety of different tools and strategies cannot guarantee greater protection. In fact, deploying technologies in an uncoordinated or haphazard manner may cause tools to overlap or interfere with one another, creating additional vulnerabilities that operators hadn’t anticipated. These tools need to work in a coordinated, targeted manner to have the greatest effect.
First, we should identify three key points at which the individual online gambler is at risk:
- The Person: The individual who gambles.
- The Device: The medium through which the individual plays.
- The Money: The funds used to fuel the gamble.
A working, comprehensive strategy for problem gambling will block users at each point of vulnerability. We recommend you deploy a unique exclusion tool at each of these points:
- The Person: Encourage users to enroll in GamStop. This nonprofit service allows users to exclude themselves from a growing number of UK gambling operators, based on user identity.
- The Device: Blocking the device itself from accessing gambling websites is what tools like gamban® do. A growing number of gambling operators and support organisations is distributing gamban® licences to their customers and service users. The software is also available for purchase online, directly at gamban’s website.
- The Money: Working with banks like Monzo and Starling can give users the power to block transactions to their players’ accounts. This way, they cannot fund their gambling account, preventing them from playing.
Comprehensive blocking is the most effective solution available offering immediate access by players and operators. The strategies recommended above showcase demonstrated, long-term effectiveness when deployed as part of a unified front against problem gambling.
There are many other necessary steps in the process to provide genuine consumer protection against problem gambling, including education as well as more dynamic and responsive regulation. However, providing customers with the ability to exclude themselves–and make that exclusion more reliable and difficult to trick–is a critical first step.