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Predictability of Player Behavior? “We’ve never known more than we do today”

We sat with Keith Whyte, the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, to break down what Responsible Gaming really means for the industry, regulators, operators, and how technology can help. We also talked about seatbelts

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Responsible gaming is more than just an industry buzzword or something to look out for; it’s a social responsibility – and not just the “corporate” kind.

With more and more countries and (U.S.) states legalizing gambling, it has become crucial for everyone involved – regulators, operators, and Martech companies like Optimove – to recognize when, where, and how the industry can help those who struggle with gambling.

To that end, we sat down with Keith Whyte, the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) in the United States. We discussed the regulations, what’s holding back the industry, the future of responsible gaming, and seatbelts. Naturally.

OP: Maybe the best place to start is to ask what constitutes a gambling problem. How would the NCPG define it?

Keith Whyte: we would say that a gambling problem is when a player is experiencing harm related to their gambling. Most people who experience some gambling-related harm can get back to a normal way of living. But for some people, the problem gets more and more severe; and in its most severe stages, it can be life-threatening, (as) people with severe gambling problems have a very high rate of suicidal behavior.

What is being done by the regulators in the U.S. to help these people? And what are the differences between the U.S. and U.K. regulations?

In the U.K., there’s a consensus that operators should use the data they collect for responsible gambling instead of just for promotion and profit. In the U.S., as far as I know, no regulator has formally said that a company has to use any data it collects for responsible gaming purposes. A number of our leading operators are working with folks like Optimvoe to collect and use data for responsible gambling, but I think we have a long way to go towards matching the U.K.

There are about 30 states in the U.S. where gambling is legal, and every state has its regulations. How is your organization dealing with it?

It’s incredibly difficult. There are almost 1,000 gambling regulatory agencies in the U.S. And we want to encourage voluntary harmonization for responsible gambling standards, but it’s been 50 years in the making for the national council, and it may take another 50 years. So in the U.S., responsible gambling depends on the operators, not on the regulator, and a little bit on NGOs like us.

We’ll get to the operators, but from your perspective, what needs to improve on the regulatory side regarding responsible gaming?

On the regulatory side, even things like the minimum age (for gambling) are not harmonized among the states. The good news is that we have harmonized some things; we have a national helpline, national text and chat, national awareness campaigns. And leaders in each sector of the industry have joined us to support these programs, including all the sports leagues. So there’s a lot of complexity, but there are a lot of opportunities to try and get to a better public health approach to responsible gambling.

And what needs to improve on the operators’ side?

Many of our traditional operators still don’t train all their employees (in responsible gaming), so there’s a lot of room to improve. But there are a lot of new companies coming in, and they’re bringing new ideas from the U.K., Australia, and Europe. So there’s a chance to innovate and get ahead of regulation, but it has to be seized by all the operators, not just a few.

How can companies like Optimove help operators, regulators, and organizations like the NCPG promote responsible gambling?

We’ve never known more about how and why people gamble than we do today. And we’re increasing that knowledge by terabytes every single day. The challenge will be to take all this information and use it for responsible gambling. The more data we have and the more partners we bring together, the more we can help players before they show signs of a problem. And that’s where tech comes in.

One of the most challenging issues regarding responsible gambling is VIP players vs. at-risk players. How do you find the right balance between them?

The National Council would say that there may be some players at higher risk, so it’s simply a matter of trying to mitigate that risk while still retaining VIP and loyalty schemes. The more time and energy you spend on marketing for your VIPs, the more time and energy you should spend on responsible marketing to them. That’s where the balance can come from.

How would you define an at-risk player? 

At risk is, frankly, anybody who gambles, because anyone who starts to gamble could develop a problem. It’s like how every driver or a passenger in a car is at risk of being involved in an accident. We know most of them never will (be in an accident or develop a gambling problem), but for the most part, we don’t have very good predictive models on who will be most at risk – at least for operators that did not adopt the right technology for it.

And, to continue the car analogy for one more second, just like car manufacturers see traffic lights and seatbelts as staples of their industry, to the point where there is no viable industry without them, similarly operators should embrace and innovate when it comes to saftey.

Back to the risk, so it’s why we gamble that makes us more at risk. And how we gamble is an expression of that risk. So why someone gambles is probably one of the most important risk factors, and that’s something that most operators will be blind to.

How do you see the industry developing with regard to responsible gambling in the next 5-10 years?

In 5-10 years, we will have meaningfully reduced the risk of gambling harm. You can never eliminate problem gambling, but working in partnership with the operators and technology, we will know hundreds of different things that may be predictive of a problem that we never knew before. So I think it will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our responsible gaming tools, if we work together and do it right.

Looking to be proactive in terms of responsible gaming? Download our eBook here.

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