Days after the American Gaming Association revealed that 91% of sports bettors and 84% of all gamblers were aware of responsible gambling tools, the organization’s vice president for strategic communications and responsibility, Cait DeBaun, shared some less encouraging news.
“The research we came out with showed that gamblers find [the messaging] to be effective, but they are not engaging with the tools,” DeBaun said Thursday during an iGB-sponsored webinar titled “Elevating responsible gaming: How the industry can sharpen its player protection capabilities.”
She then added, “We need to find a way to engage customers. We need to make sure we’re doing it in a way that works. Sometimes things sound good, but we risk either pushing customers to the illegal marketplace or it has the opposite effect and encourages risky behavior.”
Over the last five years, the AGA has taken an active role in responsible gambling, rolling out its “Have a Game Plan” campaign and recently updating its Responsible Gaming Code of Conduct. Operators, regulators, suppliers, and vendors are now tasked with finding a way to make responsible gambling tools a seamless part of the experience. To accomplish that, the tools have to be effective, frictionless, and not too big-brotherish.
“People are very sensitive to certain things, and they don’t want to seem like they are being monitored for certain things,” panel moderator Jess Feil, vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance for Open Bet, told Sports Handle. “We want to find out how to engage them, to make it a comfortable part of the experience without them wanting to tune that out.”
How can industry make RG ‘cool?’
One of the most popular ways to make the concept of responsible gambling attractive has been the use of celebrities in advertising.
Caesars Sportsbook has a partnership with the Manning family to get the word out. TheScore Bet combines humor and celebrity on a responsible gambling hotline featuring Susie Essman of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, actor Rex Lee (Entourage and Young and Hungry), and Family Feud Canada host Gerry Dee. And FanDuel is leveraging its partnership with former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to include responsible gambling initiatives.
“If Rob Gronkowski is telling you to use responsible gaming, then it’s cool,” Feil said.
A game plan is key to responsible gaming.
— Caesars Sportsbook & Casino (@CaesarsSports) September 1, 2022
Using celebrities and athletes to promote certain sportsbooks has become a hot topic of late. Ontario’s latest proposed rule amendments would ban using celebrities in advertising and marketing except for responsible gambling purposes, while the Massachusetts regulator struggled with how and whether or not to completely ban celebrity advertising in wagering during its adoption process last year. Ontario’s theScore Bet responded by eliminating celebrities from its latest campaign.
Furthermore, there’s a bill in Congress that would ban sports wagering advertising completely. Advocates point out that advertising is a critical way to get the word out about responsible gambling tools, so totally banning it would shut down that avenue.
While the Mannings, Gronkowskis, and Tony Hawks (DraftKings) of the world continue to make bettors aware that tools exist, what’s next? The four participants in the iGB webinar essentially came to the same conclusion: “We’re not sure, but we’re going to keep trying new things.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges is overall customer literacy,” BetMGM‘s senior manager of responsible gaming, Richard L. Taylor, said. “How to be self-aware, how to use limits, and how to get customers to understand and use it. We use GameSense. We’re in a lot of markets that are brand new, so we want to make sure we’re starting with a lot of good information.”
The GameSense tool, used in multiple North American markets, including British Columbia and Massachusetts, is a platform that can help players set money or time limits, understand how certain games work, and explains concepts like myths, randomness, and odds. It’s one of many tools available, including push notifications suggesting players take a break, mandatory play breaks, or for those who want to stay away completely, self-exclusion lists.
Proof is in the testing
Behavioral scientist Michael Auer wasn’t so sure that asking online gamblers to take a 90-second play break after wagering for an hour was actually effective. But that was what operators were doing.
So he crafted a study which revealed that after a 90-second or five-minute break, bettors were typically back to playing in less than two minutes, while after a 15-minute break, those that went back to playing did so after six minutes. However, Auer said many of those 15-minute breakers “start to do something else, watch TV, or just forget about gambling.”
The break, called a “cool down” by operators or regulators, was a good idea in theory. But in practice, 90 seconds was ineffective. It was, Auer said, an example of a responsible gambling tool created based on a gut feeling that, at least initially, didn’t accomplish anything advocates desired.
A behavioral scientist and owner of Neccton, which uses AI, Big Data, and Date Science to study gambling trends, Auer said, “It’s usually 90 seconds, and I wondered why … you have to research to find out what works. Some other researchers argued cool downs might cause cravings … but we didn’t see that in the study. We didn’t see craving after the losses. We saw them more often after players were winning.”
Testing your knowledge
In September, which has been designated as Responsible Gaming Education Month by the AGA, at least two sportsbooks have made responsible gambling into, well, a game.
At DraftKings, consumers can take a free-play quiz about responsible gambling and potentially win cash prizes, while PENN Entertainment is offering a chance for customers to test their knowledge of responsible gambling and be entered for a chance to win a cruise.
September is Responsible Gaming Education Month. Test your knowledge about Responsible Gaming and enter for a chance to win a 7-day @CruiseNorwegian getaway for two. Click https://t.co/i6444lpTvg to take the quiz and you could be sailing soon! #RGEM2023 pic.twitter.com/gFxvnll5GM
— PENNEntertainment (@PENNEntertain) September 5, 2023
The free-to-play games will reinforce awareness as sportsbooks move into the busiest sports season of the year, but advocates are still left to sort out how to get gamblers to use the available tools. Auer said that results of a study he did earlier this year revealed that operators must get involved in identifying potential at-risk players almost immediately, because addictive behavior is apparent as early as the first week that someone gambles.
Beyond that, advocates say that flipping the narrative may be effective. Rather than looking at responsible gambling as a way to stop negative behavior, which is largely how it is marketed now, a goal could be to look at it as a way to enhance a player’s experience.
“How do we shift the narrative that RG tools are there to prevent you from doing something bad, when what we should be saying is RG tools will help you do something good and help you get a positive experience from your gambling?” Taylor said. “I would much rather reinforce and celebrate good behavior than try to deter and prevent bad behavior, because in the long run I think we’ll get people to buy in more. That’s going to be a challenging narrative to shift.
“How do we make tools more appealing? There is a lot of stigma out there among players, like if we have to use the tools, maybe I have a problem. And we want them to see it as a value-add.”
RG must be ‘normalized’
DeBaun said during the webinar that AGA focus groups in 2022 revealed that while players had positive reactions about the range and type of a tools available, most said, “It’s not for me; it’s for somebody who has problems.’
“But it’s just like any other part of your life, you have entertainment options,” she added. “You go to a sporting event and you can choose to buy a drink or you can choose to buy a jersey or you can choose to place a bet. I think normalizing it a little bit is needed.”
And that will take time. It’s been more than five years since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and in that time, the general focus has evolved from licensing, regulating, and launching gambling platforms to the more nuanced issues in the industry.
From incorporating diversity, equity, and equality programs to taking responsible gambling from a concept to a widely used tool, those involved say it’s a process.
“If I knew how long it will take before consumers incorporate RG tools into play, I’d be starting my own business to do that,” DeBaun quipped. “I know that we invest a lot of money, we know that there is awareness around this, that nine out of 10 sports bettors know there are tools, and three-quarters are aware of how they work, so it’s just getting them to connect the next dot.”