At Thursday afternoon’s “State of Responsibility & Player Protection” webinar sponsored by the American Gaming Association, Mark Vander Linden, the director of research and responsible gaming for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, recalled hearing someone at a recent conference say, “Responsible gaming used to be easy.”
The flip side of this is that in the post-PASPA present, with the usage of mobile devices rapidly increasing for just about everything short of breathing (although that can’t be far off), responsible gambling is not easy. And during a showcase event connected to the AGA’s Responsible Gaming Education Month, Vander Linden and his two co-panelists went to great lengths to emphasize how critical advanced technology is when dealing with an increasingly technological problem.
When asked by moderator Cait DeBaun, the AGA’s vice president of strategic communications, what she felt was the biggest challenge the sector faced in today’s environment, Wondr Nation CEO Anika Howard replied, “How consumer behaviors and players are changing … consuming media and technology at a very different and growing rate.”
“By next year, about 35% of all media consumption is going to happen on mobile devices,” she warned, adding that “there’s definitely a need to shift how we communicate about responsible gaming.”
But there’s a significant upshot to all of this technology.
“The operators have the ability to leverage all the data they’re collecting,” said Afshien Lashkari, lead engineer for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s Technical Services Bureau. “Everything patrons do is being recorded. We want to take advantage of that and utilize information to develop an early warning system for these operators based on play activity or account activity, to help them identify potential at-risk patrons.”
Operators typically cooperative
Not long after New Jersey became the first state outside of Nevada to launch legal sports betting, the DGE hired Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies to research and make recommendations related to problem and responsible gambling — and Lashkari said the state’s many operators “have always implemented those changes.”
Similarly, in Massachusetts, where sports betting just became legal, the state’s three casinos voluntarily agreed to install PlayMyWay technology, which enables gamblers to track their play and results, on slot machines.
Lashkari praised Massachusetts’ GameSense program and the state’s commitment to crafting responsible gambling regulations before it launches sports wagering. But while expressing confidence that GameSense is “well-positioned” to be effective in the online space, Vander Linden brought up several potential potholes.
“I don’t believe the science and research is really keeping up on the issue,” he said. “We’ll write regulations that can address some piece of this, but what’s happening with the illegal market and how they’re trying to jump ahead? What’s happening at the national advertising level that escapes any state jurisdiction?”
Vander Linden added that he hopes “we can figure out where some of the ground rules are on advertising” at the national level.
To this end, Howard said, in effect, that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“We’re at this place where everyone is unified and wanting to do the same thing,” she said. “A big portion of what we’re focusing on is prevention education up front.”
Threat to individuals, not industry
In his work with New Jersey’s operators, Lakshari said, “Knowing the way that their technology staff is built and they’re recording all these different metrics — time of play, how long you’ve been online — we wanted to break it into two categories, play behavior and account activity. It gives the operator the opportunity to evaluate my session or play.”
Herein, an operator can see if a player’s bet amounts typically increase during a given session, or if they consistently drain their account of all money before calling it quits. A player might also be pegged as potentially having an issue if they voluntarily give themselves a period of time to cool off before returning to play, or visit self-restriction pages without actually enrolling in such a program.
Ideally, said Lakshari, all sportsbooks would “have an RG-dedicated team that would go through this data and, after their due diligence … they would be able to reach out.”
Despite the explosion of legal wagering and the attendant challenge of keeping gamblers’ appetites for risk within what Vander Linden called “safe levels of play,” he expressed optimism for the road ahead.
“Responsible gaming isn’t a threat to the industry,” he said. “The conversation has changed from one where it’s seen by the industry with a lot of skepticism to one where there’s a great benefit overall.”