“Free apps — I got free apps!”
This line was first uttered by Stanley “Stinky” Womack, proprietor of the fictitious Johnson Inn in the 1996 coming-of-age (in one’s late twenties) film Beautiful Girls. Stinky, of course, was referring to small plates of pre-meal food on his bar’s menu, but his message — “free apps!” — has since been co-opted for modern times.
“Today, in the age of the internet, there’s like an app for everything,” said Jeff Ifrah, a D.C.-based attorney who specializes in sports betting.
But while the sports betting industry at large features free apps galore, that’s not the case when it comes to responsible gambling resources — which is what makes Gambless such a surprisingly revolutionary concept.
Gambless, which was a finalist for the annual Ifrah Pitch Competition (named after Jeff) at last month’s EGR North America East Coast Briefing in New York City, aims to provide an array of therapeutic tools to people who need — or think they might need — help with a gambling problem. The app includes diagnostic and risk-assessment tests to gauge how advanced a gambler’s problem might be, classes (free to those with serious issues) and articles on an array of gambling-related topics, coping exercises, an online diary, an AI-powered chatbot, and information about related conditions like depression and anxiety — all sourced from psychologists.
“Gambless is designed not only for individuals dealing with gambling addiction, but it’s also useful as a prevention tool — a proper mental health app that can help users with other struggles, which can in turn lead to the development of a gambling addiction,” said Gambless CEO Maurizio Savino, who’s based in Italy.
What the app isn’t set up to do, however, is quickly connect a gambler in crisis to a live person — ideally a professional therapist — with whom they can talk.
“There is currently no way to be connected to a live therapist via the app,” said Savino. “However, we have a contact module, and if users request this, we can signpost them to therapists in our network. The app is purely for self-help, and the chatbot serves a different purpose. It is built to guide users through some coping techniques in the event of strong anxiety or panic attacks.”
Number of U.S. users growing
Click “emergency” on the Gambless app and you’ll be connected to Savino’s cartoon visage, which is the chatbot’s avatar. You’re then given a few multiple choice questions that help hone in on the problem you’re experiencing before being given the freedom to type in what, exactly, is causing distress.
The chatbot is polite, soothing, and doesn’t say anything wrong. But in terms how effective it is for a gambler at the end of their rope, it leaves a lot to be desired.
“If someone’s really in crisis, it should be about getting someone help immediately,” observed responsible gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl. “I liked the mindfulness stuff, I liked the diary, but in my mind, apps are supposed to be conduits to important information and support, and I think this gets a little clunky. Why aren’t we connecting people to emergency help in a market? People in crisis aren’t really in a place to Google something.”
But as Savino said, Gambless is, at its core, “purely for self-help.” And given that primary objective and the app’s potential appeal to a younger generation of gamblers, it has considerable usefulness.
“I love that there is an app around this really important public health issue,” said Doura-Shawohl. “We spend a lot of time talking about how gambling is evolving, which is bringing a host of new, younger customers, and an app is a perfect way to reach them. These are not people who are calling helplines. This app should not be such the anomaly that it is. The industry embraces technology and innovation, and so too should problem gambling.”
About a quarter of the people who access Gambless hail from the United States, which is about the same number as the U.K. and Ireland combined. But Savino, whose company has yet to embark upon any customer acquisition campaigns, said the amount of Americans using the app has grown in recent months.
“Online gambling in the U.S is still at its early stages,” said Savino, “but I hope it will not repeat the same mistakes done in Europe and in the U.K.”
RG focus of gaming firms questioned
Gambless is currently in the process of seeking additional funding from investors and grant-making institutions, some government-based. But, to date, Savino has been frustrated by gaming companies’ reluctance to collaborate.
“Honestly, we thought that gambling companies would be more eager to partner with us, but unfortunately, that’s not the case,” he said. “We tried last year to connect with various companies in Europe and the U.K., but we soon realized that perhaps gambling companies were not the most interested stakeholders. This was by far the biggest disappointment. There is a lot of talk in the industry about responsible gambling, but it seems that companies are just interested in the visibility part.”