Time out: Are voluntary self-exclusion services about responsible gambling or problem gambling?

Responsible gambling practices have now become the norm within the gaming industry. One of the first types of responsible gambling practice introduced by gaming companies was the introduction of self-exclusion schemes for problem gamblers, particularly in offline casinos. More recently, online gaming companies have begun to introduce self-exclusion schemes. This blog briefly examines the question of whether such schemes should be underpinned by concerns around problem gambling or whether they should be about responsible gambling more generally. This is a particularly important issue for accreditation agencies who typically recommend to online gaming companies very specific periods that online gamblers should be excluded for.

Self-exclusion initiatives are now very common and although these contracts have some value in containing the harms to established problem gamblers, they could certainly be a lot more effective. There is little research demonstrating whether they stop gambling in either the short-term or long-term as exclusion from one or more venues still leaves opportunities to gamble elsewhere. However, a small proportion of problem gamblers appreciate the opportunity to self-exclude and this is clearly a valuable service for them.

In a 2007 report by Dr. Robert Williams and his Canadian colleagues, they noted that the effectiveness of offline self-exclusion programs can be measured in three ways. These are the: (i) utilization rate, (ii) percentage of self-excluders who successfully refrain from entering the gaming venue during the self-exclusion period, and (iii) impact self-exclusion has on overall gambling behaviour. Utilization rates are typically very low across most jurisdictions (0.5% to 7%) although countries with a proactive self-exclusion program (e.g., Holland) are typically much higher.

There has been only a limited amount of research examining how many self-excluders refrain from gambling at a venue where they have excluded themselves. According to researchers like Dr. Robert Ladouceur, typical rates suggest around 20-25% of self-excluders attempt to re-gain access to the gambling venue they excluded themselves from, although higher compliance rates have been reported in Holland. There have been very few empirical reports of whether self-excluders curtail their gambling behaviour. Some studies report that when gamblers have self-excluded from one venue, they simply go and gamble elsewhere.

The most positive evaluation was a 2007 Canadian study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies led by Dr. Ladouceur and colleagues who examined 161 self-excluders. A year later, researchers from the same university (including Dr. Ladouceur) also reported in the Journal of Gambling Studies some success with an ‘improved’ self-exclusion program but the number of self-excluders in the data set (n=39) was very small. After two-year follow-up, most had significant reductions in urge to gamble, the intensity of negative consequences, and pathological gambling scores using the criteria of the American psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Research examining offline self-exclusion has almost exclusively viewed self-exclusion schemes as being about protecting problem gamblers. However, this is not the necessarily the case with online gambling.

Compared to offline self-exclusion, there has been even less research on online self-exclusion schemes. Here, most of the research has examined what online gamblers actually think about self-exclusion schemes and/or their use of them. The Global Online Gambler Survey (led by Dr. Jonathan Parke and published by my International Gaming Research Unit, 2007) collected data from 10,865 online gamblers. The survey specifically asked about the use of online social responsibility tools. Although no single feature stood out as critically important, 58% stated that they considered self-exclusion as ‘quite useful’ (with 23% saying it was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ useful).

In a 2009 survey of 2,348 online gamblers published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior that I and my colleagues carried out (all clientele of the Swedish gaming operator Svenska Spel) examining online social responsibility tools via the PlayScan behavioural tracking system, we reported that a quarter of our sample used PlayScan. Over one-third of respondents (42%) reported the self-exclusion features to be ‘quite useful’ or ‘very useful’. Just under one in five PlayScan users (17%) had actually used one of the self-exclusion features. In a 2010 study of online gamblers published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Dr. Tobias Hayer and Gerhard Meyer carried out a follow-up survey one year after the initiation of self-exclusion with a small sub-sample (n=20). They reported that the restriction of access to a single online gambling site had favourable psychosocial effects.

Despite the limited empirical evidence showing whether self-exclusion schemes are effective, gamblers (particularly those online) appear to appreciate short-term self-exclusion facilities even if they do not have a problem with gambling. For instance, in the 2009 study we carried out, online gamblers reported that the most useful self-exclusion feature was the 7-day self-exclusion rated as ‘quite/very useful’ by just under half of respondents (46%). This was followed by 1-month self-exclusion (24%), 24-hour self-exclusion (24%), and permanent self-exclusion (16%). These types of self-exclusion are likely to be associated with non-problem gamblers who may want to restrict their gambling behaviour to a very specific instance.

Given the (presumed) unproblematic nature of internet gambling among respondents, it was unsurprising that only 16% thought permanent self-exclusion would be useful to them personally. If anything, this might appear to be a slightly higher figure than might have been predicted as it could be argued that non-problem gamblers would be unlikely to make use of a permanent self-exclusion.

As noted above, the seven-day exclusion period was the most useful with almost a half of participants endorsing this as their most favoured. This may have been especially useful for those who do not want to gamble for a particular period such as the week before a monthly ‘pay day’. One-month and one-day self-exclusion periods were most popular for around half the participants (approximately 25% each). These types of self-exclusion are more likely to be associated with non-problem gamblers who may want to restrict their gambling behaviour to a very specific instance such as preceding a night of heavy drinking (e.g., 24-hour self-exclusion) or a particular time of the year like the run up to Christmas (e.g., one-month self-exclusion).

Overall, these results suggest that self-exclusion is not a tool for problem gamblers but more generally a tool for responsible gambling This is particularly important point to bear in mind for those agencies that currently accredit online gaming companies in relation to socially responsible practices and procedures. For instance, GamCare will not accredit online gaming companies unless there is a minimum 6-month online exclusion facility. The empirical evidence outlined above clearly shows that short-term self-exclusion options of less than six months are beneficial to online gamblers. Therefore, accreditation agencies need to base their recommendations about self-exclusion on empirical evidence and what is most useful to online gamblers.

Any online gaming company should allow gamblers the opportunity to self-exclude themselves from their gambling site for any period whether it is one day, one week, one month or one year. Compared to offline schemes, online self-exclusion is relatively easy to introduce, and should run for the period requested by the gambler and not an arbitrary limit set by an accreditation agency.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Hayer, T. & Meyer, G. (2010). Internet self-exclusion: Characteristics of self-excluded gamblers and preliminary evidence for its effectiveness. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 296-307

International Gaming Research Unit (2007). The global online gambling report: An exploratory investigation into the attitudes and behaviours of internet casino and poker players. Report for eCOGRA (e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance).

Ladouceur, R., Jacques, C., Girous, I., Ferland, F., & LeBlond, J. (2000). Analysis of a casino’s self-exclusion program. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 453-460.

Ladouceur, R., Sylvain, C., Gosselin, P. (2007). Self-exclusion program: A longitudinal evaluation study. Journal of Gambling Studies, 23, 85-94.

O’Neil, M., Whetton, S., Doman, B., Herbert, M., Giannopolous, V., OíNeil, D., & Wordley, J. (2003). Part A – Evaluation of self-exclusion programs in Victoria and Part B – Summary of self-exclusion programs in Australian States and Territories. Melbourne: Gambling Research Panel.

Steinberg, M., & Velardo, W. (2002). Preliminary evaluation of a casino self-exclusion program. Paper presented at the Responsible Gambling Council of Ontarioís Discovery 2002 Conference, April 2002, Niagara Falls, Canada.

Tremblay, N., Boutin C. & Ladouceur, R. (2008). Improved self-exclusion program: Preliminary results. Journal of Gambling Studies, 24, 505–518

Williams, R.J., Simpson, R.I. and West, B.L. (2007). Prevention of problem gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.399-435. New York: Elsevier.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on January 13, 2014, in Addiction, Compulsion, Gambling, Gambling addiction, I.T., Internet gambling, Obsession, Online addictions, Online gambling, Problem gamblng, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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