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Kindred spirits: A brief look at responsible gambling

Anyone that has read my research on gambling will know that I am committed to player protection, harm-minimization, social responsibility, and responsible gambling. I was recently interviewed by Kindred Gaming for an article on their website. This blog contains the full unedited transcript of that interview.

Kindred: You have worked in the field for several years now, what are the biggest changes you have seen to the industry when it comes to responsible gambling and player protection?

MG: I’ve been working in the gambling studies field for 33 years and it was around 1996 that I first began to think about my research in terms of social responsibility issues. It was in the early 2000s that some of the more forward thinking gaming operators started to bring in socially responsible gambling features (particularly in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Canada and Australia although that might be more reflective of the clients who I had consultancy with at the time). It is over the past decade that responsible gambling has really come to the fore, and many gambling regulators around the world will not grant operating licences unless the gaming operators can demonstrate what they are doing in terms of player protection and harm-minimization. The biggest changes are arguably in the online medium because there are so many protective measures that can be initiated online such as various limit-setting features, temporary self-exclusions and cool-off periods, pop-up messaging, bespoke personalized feedback, mandatory play breaks, and the use of behavioural tracking tools.

Kindred: Focusing on your study “An Empirical Study of the Effect of Voluntary Limit-Setting on Gamblers’ Loyalty Using Behavioural Tracking Data” can you tell us a bit about the key findings, and how you view voluntary vs mandatory limits and other control tools?

MG: Kindred kindly gave us access to a dataset of 175,818 players who had placed at least one bet or gambled at least once during January 2016 to May 2017. In a nutshell we looked at active players over a one-year period and found that the percentage of active players in the first quarter of 2017 was significantly higher in the group of players who had set voluntary money limits in the first quarter of 2016 compared to players that did not. This suggests that players who set voluntary spending limits were more loyal to Kindred compared to those who do not. On the assumption that voluntary limit-setting should be part of a gaming operator’s corporate social responsibility strategy, our findings appear to underline the fact that CSR has a positive effect on business outcomes. With regards to the issue of voluntary vs. mandatory limit-setting, I’m personally in favour of it being mandatory for players to set their own time and money limits if they want to gamble. Many players don’t set their own limits but I think making it mandatory would help players in terms of managing their budgets. Some companies have default global monthly limits on how much money players can lose but that can become restrictive for those who can afford to gamble with larger amounts of money and can also be restrictive for some kinds of gambling (sports betting being the type of gambling most affected).

Kindred: How do you think operators and the academic world can work together for a safer and more sustainable gambling industry in the coming years?

MG: If both academics and the gambling industry have a shared goal of preventing and reducing problem gambling, I think there are good pragmatic reasons to work collaboratively. Personally, I think some of the best gambling research that I have done is working with gambling companies (and I would stress that I am working with gambling companies and not for them) simply because of the high quality data that gambling operators have. Obviously there are many academics who have criticized myself (and my colleagues) for such collaborations but I think the positives of working together outweighs the negatives. As long as we have complete independence to publish the results of what we find without interference from the operators, I do not have a problem in working together. My main area in this field is the evaluation of responsible gambling tools and whether the measures introduced by operators to help their players gamble more responsibly and/or can help prevent/reduce problem gambling. Over the past eight years, Dr. Michael Auer and myself have evaluated the efficacy of limit-setting, mandatory play breaks, pop-up messaging, personalized feedback, loss-limit reminders, and other gambling operator initiatives. Some of these appear to work and others less so. To move the field forward and to help maintain safe and sustainable gambling, collaborative research needs to continue. I have worked with and carried out consultancy with over 30 gambling companies around the world and am very proud of companies changing their practices and policies in relation to the findings of our research. If research findings cannot be applied to help the greater good, then what is the point of doing research if it has little practical benefit? For me, it’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

Kindred: Kindred has set an ambition to reach zero percent revenue from harmful gambling, what do you see as the key steps towards 100% enjoyable gambling?

MG: The aim is laudable but going to be difficult to achieve because harmful gambling (including problem gambling) can never be totally eliminated – although I do believe it can be kept to a minimum. I’ve always argued that problem gamblers have a relatively short customer life for gambling companies and that what sustainable companies need is long-term customer retention. Problem gamblers cannot give companies that and gambling operators need to think about lifetime customer value with decades of repeat business from those who gamble within their limits over a long period of time rather than relatively high spending from a minority of customers who may only gamble with the company for a few years. Customers will keep coming back to gambling operators if they have a product or products that customers feel is value for money and provides enjoyment – even if they lose money. There are a number of key steps that all gambling companies should take if they want sustainable and safe gambling including informed choice. These include (but are not limited to) (i) providing customers with all the information they need so that they can make an informed choice about whether they want to gamble, (ii) responsible marketing and advertising, (iii) robust age verification checks of customers, (iv) robust financial checks of customers, (v) mandatory limit-setting for customers, (v) using customer data to intervene and help high-risk gamblers via bespoke pop-up messaging and personalized messaging, (vi) partnering with gambling prevention and treatment agencies, and (vii) robust voluntary self-exclusion schemes.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: A real world empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1875.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). The use of personalized messages on wagering behavior of Swedish online gamblers: An empirical study. Computers in Human Behavior, 110, 106402.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). Predicting limit-setting behavior of gamblers using machine learning algorithms: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers using account data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-00166-2

Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). The effect of loss-limit reminders on gambling behavior: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers. Journal of Behavioral Addictions,7(4), 1056-1067.

Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). The effect of loss-limit reminders on gambling behavior: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers. Journal of Behavioral Addictions,7(4), 1056-1067.

Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). The effects of voluntary deposit limit-setting on long-term online gambling behavior. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 23, 113-118.

Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020).  An empirical study of the effect of voluntary limit setting on gamblers’ loyalty using behavioral tracking data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-00084-3.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Ukhov, I., Bjurgert, J., Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). Online problem gambling: A comparison of casino players and sports bettors via predictive modeling using behavioral tracking data. Journal of Gambling Studies. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-020-09964-z