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It’s not always as simple as it seems

The amount of time I’ve spent in a process engineering world, focused on enhanced bottom-line contribution for large scale business, has forced me to take a real close look at some of the distribution processes involved in the gamban® product. The tonality and temperament of the Responsible Gambling world is counter intuitive to what I was taught in my younger years about winning over customers and ensuring you keep them. The lifetime value of a customer was often the mantra pushed to justify the cost of the first acquisition of that very same customer. Once you have them, it’s easier to push more of your products to them and increase the value of that customer.

Twice in my life I have encountered situations where that line of thinking is paradoxical in nature. The first instance I am reminded of was 5 years ago, in the US. For the business analyst sat across from me, the best way of enhancing the bottom line of a major health system that dominantly relied on Government payments, was to effectively streamline the treatment process so that the hospital’s resources could be quickly made available for the next patient. This way – in his view – the hospital could treat more people and because of that, they would receive more funding from the Government. Everybody wins.

While this strategy makes generic sense from an efficiency perspective – more treatments and more revenue with the same resources – it had two major flaws. First and more importantly, a high percentage of those patients would come back to the hospital within a few days or weeks because their treatment was not completed or was not effective, in the first visit. The second flaw was a consequence of the first one. That business analyst didn’t understand that roughly 70% of those patients had either no insurance at all or Government sponsored health insurance which meant they were part of a bundled or capitated reimbursement program that was directly linked to successfully treating patients the first time they came into the health system. If a patient returned to the health system within a set period of time after being treated, the hospital’s quality scores would depreciate. Consequently, the amount of funding that hospital would receive at the end of the year for treating patients in that population pool would go down.

That was a basic misunderstanding of population health methods coupled up with a lean manufacturing mindset misapplied to treating people – more efficiency clears the way for more patients to be serviced, which leads to more billing, etc. In a lot of cases, that’s an ok approach but when the system’s cash flow depends on treating people effectively, so they don’t present in the system with the same conditions again within a set period of time and you have a pool of patients that habitually abuse the system and drive down reimbursement rates, you’re not fixing the root of the problem. Your proposal is actually making the situation worse, long term.

Self-exclusion

The second example, I’m actually witnessing almost daily lately, and it comes in the form of Self-Exclusion models in the online gambling industry. These are run by gambling operators charged with the difficult task of trying to help someone pick up the shattered pieces of a life almost lost to gambling – a situation that these operators, arguably, contributed to creating in the first place.

Gamban® is a product that by nature is inherently good. It tries very hard, and successfully in most cases, to prevent an individual from going back to gambling if they wish to opt out of the online gambling experience. Once the software is installed on a player’s device, they can’t access gambling sites or apps. Sounds simple. It’s not. Especially trying to get gambling operators on board with effectively distributing it, and regulators to take it seriously as part of the overall solution to a very messy, ugly, bigger picture that is emerging of the malicious advertising and player journey practices that operators are deploying to capture as many players as possible, and increase profits to epic proportions as the online gambling industry continues to grow in a relatively, loosely, unregulated way in a lot of regions.

When we started seeking distribution partners, we thought teaming up with operators would be a great way to get the product into the hands of the players that need it most, in a much quicker fashion considering they have direct access to the players in need. We were wrong. Let me tell you how. Collectively, we currently have 40 distribution partners. 23 of those partners are therapy-based organisations, 17 of them are operators and we ourselves, have a direct purchase site.

We monitor the distribution of each of these clients and give them feedback regularly to help everyone better understand what is working and what is not. Though each distribution method has its own unique set of hurdles, there’s none more flagrant than the ones we encounter with the operators’ self-exclusion processes.

If you are familiar with bounce rates and conversions on web site traffic, you will know exactly what I am talking about. In a typical online environment the objective is to get a person to your website and keep them there for as long as possible, so they will purchase something or play something, and craft an experience whilst they are there that will make them want to return time and time again. You want to reduce the amount of people that leave before they execute your desired task and you want to increase the amount of conversions for paying customers. It makes sense. Bring more traffic to the site, make sure they are having a good time, convert them into customers.

Now, when it comes to self-exclusion, what we are witnessing is exactly the opposite, in a lot of cases. Not all, but over 60% of those we deal with on a day to day basis, have a self-exclusion process designed to make the player jump ship before they can complete it.

Roadblocks in the wrong place

We’ve been diving much deeper into the operator’s processes that drive their self-exclusion model and we are finding some disturbing inconsistencies from operator to operator. We are seeing poor communication tactics that result in the player giving up on the process before it can be completed because the process itself is made so inaccessible by the operator.

Hurdles are put in the players way, creating roadblocks between the player and the final step of the self-exclusion process. Some operators seem to hope that by exhausting the player in their self-exclusion process, they will inevitably give up and “bounce” during the final desired task of opting out of their gambling platform.

When the player has to scroll through 4 or 5 different pages on a site to find any language pertaining to the option of self-exclusion, that’s a problem; When the player finds some information and the information tells them to go to another site and then tells them to copy an email address (not a link so it automatically opens your email exchange) and send an email to that address, that’s leaving too many pages and taking too long, that is a problem; When the person sends an email and gets a response 17 hours later that they will send them a form to fill out during business hours sometime next week, that’s a problem; When that form finally does come and it’s seven hundred-line items long asking what your dog ate for breakfast three days ago, that’s a problem; When you send it back in and they tell you it will take a week to process, that’s a problem! Or, our favourite one to date, when you tell them you’ve run out of money and can’t pay your bills, so you want to stop, and they tell you, “here’s a little bonus to tie you over until next pay day”, that’s a problem. Lovely.

Different countries have different regulatory models and will enforce those regulations in different ways. Naturally, in some geographies these abusive self-exclusion processes are more common than in others where regulation (and penalties for non-compliance) have been seen growing in numbers and in strength. But make no mistake – even in regulated markets there are plenty of cases where self-exclusion models fall short of making it easy for the player to leave.

Think about it, it is not in the operator’s best interest for the player to leave for a million different reasons, but the biggest is lost revenue. An operator recently exposed at a Regulator event that 60% of their revenue comes from 15% of their players. What percentage of those players do they think are problem gamblers? Operators have also not been shy in showing their disdain for the fact that the bulk of self-exclusion models out there only opt a player out of their individual platform and will inevitably take money from the operators bottom line when the player decides they’ve taken a break for long enough then goes to a competitor’s site to play where they are not banned.

However, as above, so below. This outdated understanding of what sustainable practice looks like in the emergence of a flourishing online gambling industry, can lead to deployment of old strategies and misguided thinking that looks and sounds good on the surface, but doesn’t actually fix the root cause of the problem. In an industry that is constantly facing the onslaught of tougher regulation, increased fines and licensing revocation, the aim should be to successfully carry your critically wounded players off of the playing field and into recovery. Not to stitch them up on the field and milk them for more.

This is a small look into the window of what happens when a rule comes into play with no governance model to monitor effectiveness. Especially when the rule is imposed, and the expectation is that the business be responsible for self-monitoring their own interpretation of the rule and they are told to put successful systems in place to execute the rule with no general or basic understanding of measurable outcomes, nor a governing body capable of guiding them through best practice solutions.

We are getting more selective with who we work with and widening our array of tools to help ensure that self-exclusion models responsible for distributing our product are designed with effective, measurable outcomes in mind that help the people that need it most. We are taking our learnings from this first, very lucrative year, and building a stronger, more comprehensive solution for self-exclusion as a whole, with the technology that can empower every person struggling with an online gambling condition to take back control.

We look forward to 2019.

By Daniel Umfleet