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“Players Who Feel Safe Are More Likely to Stay With A Sole Operator For Longer”

Sally Gainsbury, Director of the University of Sydney Gambling Treatment & Research Clinic, told us what the efforts to promote responsible gaming look like form the inside

The interactions that gaming operators have with their players have a tremendous effect on the players’ likelihood of either adopting healthy habits or developing problematic behaviors. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the player is headed.

This is what Sally Gainsbury, Director of the University of Sydney Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Associate Professor in the School of Psychology, is working on solving. As the clinic director at Australia’s only university-affiliated gambling treatment and research center, and an associate professor, she knows a thing or two on how to tackle this major issue. Especially since in Australia gambling is highly accessible and is recognized as a public health issue.

“We got some of the world’s biggest gamblers in terms of per capita,” she told us on a cross-hemisphere zoom call, where she described how this effort looks like from the inside.

“At our clinic, we work with clients and family members who are affected by gambling. Coming from a psychology background, I am trying to understand what a seemingly rational decision might be to continue gambling when it’s unaffordable – easy to spend more money, chasing losses, and being likely to lose,” she explains.

Q: And what do you have so far?

A: “From my study and understanding these pathways, it seems that the need for entertainment and escapism leads them or, in some cases, they’re driven by more impulsivity issues and a lack of ability to control one’s behavior.

“This doesn’t only affect the individual themself, but also 6-10 people around them. That’s why it’s important to prevent harm before they reach this critical level.”

Q: How do you see operators balance running promotional CRM activities and RG campaigns?

A: “There is a lot of focus on regulatory responses on consumer harm protection, and there’s been a huge shift towards it being not only a requirement for operators but also a best practice from a business standpoint.

“Obviously, operators must compete to make sure that they’re offering a unique environment for customers that puts the customer’s safety and wellbeing at the heart of what they’re offering.

“What I look to do is find principals and theories from behavioral economics in how we can allow customers to have fun, negotiate the tension between the fact that the majority of customers gamble without experiencing harm, but always keep in mind that there are a subset of customers who experience very extreme harm and be proactive about stopping that harm.

“This is because disordered gambling is defined as losing control – and is classified as a behavioral addiction. Our goal is to identify problems before they develop. We noticed from our treatment that people only seek help when they’ve reached a crisis point, often 5+ years after such problems have already developed.

“So, what operators can do is use the technology that they use for marketing, segmenting, CRM and even anti-money laundering for detecting and finding out how to identify players who demonstrate risky gambling behavior. Then, put intervention in place to interact with them – personally.

“Also, to make systemic changes – the game itself, the payment process, etc. should all be geared towards making sure players make choices with their wellbeing in mind. All while allowing them to have fun and engage with the product – but never leading it to be excessive and/or risky for them.

“In past research, we’ve looked at large datasets provided to us by the gambling industry and conducted research independently to provide the findings to the industry. We also publish the findings so that they’re broadly available to all.

“And so, our work affects both operators and regulators as one. I provide policy expertise to operators, regulators, and internationally as well as to lots of jurisdictions.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest issue that both the operators and the regulators face when it comes to RG?

A: “It depends, though, if we’re talking about online gaming or in-person (land-casinos). Online gaming has the advantage of being account-based, so in terms of consumer protection from a wagering operator’s POV – you can track your customers and have a lot more visibility of players’ behavior over time.

“Compared to a land-based venue, which is primarily cash-based, it’s challenging to track ongoing metrics. You have to rely on observation instead of an algorithm to identify harm.

Q: What do you think is the biggest hurdle for online operators to get them to where we want them to be?

A: “From my experience working with operators in the online space, the biggest hurdle is the lack of understanding of the appropriate KPIs and required actions brought down by regulators to work best towards minimizing gambling harm.

“That’s why we encourage operators to look at the research we publish and engage with independent experts to guide them in terms of best practices and harm minimization strategies.

“For example, we look at how to best encourage customers to set deposit limits. We just conducted a trial of over 30,000 customers over six operators in Australia – where we tested messages that were sent directly to customers encouraging them to set deposit limits, which resulted in a significant increase in players actually setting such limitations to their account.

“Ultimately, through research, we aim to understand the practicalities of harm reduction.”

Q: Do you feel that operators are concerned about hurting their bottom line by implementing all of the required RG measures, or do they believe this would help position them as a safe place to play in the long run?

A: “There has been a real shift in the industry where operators recognize that people with gambling problems are not great customers to have and can damage the business model. “There’s research supporting the finding that customers who feel safe and protected are more likely to stay with a sole operator for a longer period.”


Sally Gainsbury is Director of the University of Sydney Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Associate Professor in the School of Psychology. With 15+ years’ experience conducting gambling research, she focuses on understanding gambling and the impact of technology on gambling to inform the development of consumer protection strategies and harm minimization policies.

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