The government has announced a packet of measures to strengthen protections around online gambling this week, where it has called for operators to make better use of their customer data to identify harmful behaviours and those at greater risk.
Because of the nature of online gambling, which is all account based, operators know who their users are and have a wealth of data to exploit for the greater social good – but are not doing enough, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The government has said that it is clear that the gambling industry must play its part in limiting online harms and protecting consumers.
Gambling Minister Tracey Crouch said:
It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm.
We have seen online gambling grow rapidly and we need to protect players in this space, while also making sure those experiencing harm relating to gambling receive the help they need.
The government introduced the Gambling Act in 2014 to reduce the risks posed by off-shore online operators, to ensure that they play by the same rules as those based in-country in the UK. However, the report out today notes that whilst online operators are subject to the same requirement as land-based operators, there have been cases where those providing online services have “fallen short”.
Statistics published by the Gambling Commission in May 2017 show that the online sector generated £4.5bn in GGY (Gross Gaming Yield) and the Gambling Commission estimates there are around seven million individual consumers gambling online in Britain.
The Gambling Commission has recently introduced a revised enforcement strategy with higher penalties for those that breach licence conditions.
Identifying problem behaviours
Despite the new powers that have been introduced, the government believes that online operators could be doing more to identify problem gambling online.
The most recent statistics on gambling participation and problem gambling are taken from the report on Gambling Behaviour in Great Britain 2015, published in August 2017, which showed an increase in problem gambling rates and participation in online gambling. Among those who did participate in online gambling, problem gambling rates were 5.1% (4.2% in 2012).
But, unlike land-based gambling, all online gambling is account-based, which means operators know who their customers are, what they are spending their money on, and their patterns of gambling. The government report states:
This provides opportunities for operators to use customer data to identify and minimise gambling-related harm.
However, operators are not always taking advantage of this. The report adds:
The Commission has found that standards and approaches to identifying those at risk of gambling-related harm and making effective interventions vary widely across the industry in their approach and delivery of customer interactions. While a number of operators are already developing and operating algorithm-based systems to identify harmful behaviours and activity, very few operators were able to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their approach.
Responsible gambling trust, GambleAware, published some research in August of this year to explore the potential usefulness of industry-held data and behavioural analytics to identify harmful or risky behaviour. It found that the industry could accurately detect problem gamblers using the data held by operators today, which could then be used to inform tailored interventions based on different risk thresholds.
GambleAware is expected to provide a best practice model in 2019 that can be used by online gambling companies.
However, the government does not believe operators need to wait for this best practice model to be published to begin taking action and make use of the data available now. It said:
While we welcome the positive industry led initiatives…we also note concerns expressed by the Gambling Commission that the pace of change by the industry to enhance the measures currently in place to protect consumers and promote responsible gambling has not been fast enough.
We want to see a robust and consistent approach to harm minimisation and the prevention of gambling-related harm across the industry. We do not believe it is acceptable for operators to wait for the final outcome of the research to improve their processes when significant findings have already been published by GambleAware.
Actions to be taken
Given the data available, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) has advised the government that online operators should be taking action now. The report states:
While gambling on virtual games on gaming machines is subject to stakes and prize limits, there
We agree with the RGSB that it is vital that the online sector capitalises on the data it holds and demonstrates it is actively supporting its customers and helping to manage the risk of harm from gambling. We are clear that the risk of harm should not be affected by whether individuals are gambling online or in land-based venues.
The government has said that it expects the industry to accelerate its work wherever possible, and outlined the following areas it wants online operators to pay particular attention to:
- Ensure that implementation of a new multi-operator online self-exclusion scheme is completed at the earliest opportunity. Industry must promote awareness of the scheme, and other responsible gambling tools that are available, so that more customers who would benefit from them use them.
- Act on the findings of GambleAware’s existing research into harm minimisation in the online sector and trial a range of harm minimisation measures to strengthen their responsible gambling policies and processes;
- Evaluate the action they take and share outcomes among industry, to raise standards across the sector;
- Commit to adopt in full the final findings of the next phase of GambleAware’s research, expected to be completed in 2019.
Image credit - Images free for commercial use