In early March 2020, I attended the annual New Horizons Conference on Responsible Gambling. It’s a conference that always provides great insights and this year did not disappoint.
The theme was Future-Proofing the Gambling Industry, an aspirational goal where a gambling operator no longer makes money from those exhibiting problem gambling. This may seem like pie-in-the-sky, but several countries are taking steps through advancements in technology that enable them to better identify customers taking too many gambling risks and to engage them in conversations about risks and potential financial harm. We are seeing a subtle shift in the goals of responsible gambling from providing safeguards and prevention initiatives to supporting safer gambling for all, including reinforcing “ideal” consumer behaviors.
“Future-Proofing the Industry: Player Safeguards and Prevention” There was much discussion about a paper by Judith Glynn of Strategic Science titled, “Future Proofing the Industry: Player Safeguards and Prevention.” The paper sparked conversation about the role of responsible gambling tools, how to make those tools more efficient and effective, and determining ways in which the risks can be identified and addressed. The paper called for greater cooperation between regulators, operators and players, recognizing each has an important role in determining the best ways to minimize the harms associated with gambling.
Some highlights of the paper include:
Establish the objective as making gambling safer for all players through education and awareness resources. This includes limit-setting tools, self-assessment tools and revising policies for on-site access to personal credit (ATMs, credit cards and limits on house credit, which ensures that the operator has ownership in the process).
Operators must take a direct role in keeping their players safe. They see firsthand the risky behavior in their customers and have the ability to understand their players’ playing activities and payment practices.
Operators can respond to a customer exhibiting risky behavior through well-designed messages and personal intervention with trained staff on the floor intervening when a customer escalates their risk levels.
Success in “future-proofing” will require cooperative efforts from operators, regulators and customers.
The issue that remains with responsible gambling programs is evidence showing that reliable and effective changes ensue in a customer’s behavior. While there is some evidence showing that responsible gambling tools create positive changes in behavior and reduce risk, the adoption rate of such tools is still too low. More work needs to be done to provide messaging that stimulates self-evaluation and personal relevance. Players need to receive messaging that instills autonomy and assists the player in their decision making.
Additionally, self-assessment tools must provide immediate results with personalized and actionable feedback. It’s equally important to respond to the risk as much as just identifying it. While self-assessment tools provide a window to communicate with players, more research is needed to evaluate its effectiveness on actual behavioral change.
While much of the emphasis of problem gambling programs is on making sure that people with disordered gambling are able to find the help they need, it’s also important to understand the attitudes and beliefs of those who play responsibly.
Such insights can help inform policies and practices designed to prevent and reduce potential harms associated with gambling.
One of the ways to objectively identify and measure the extent of responsible play within a sample of players is through the positive play scale (PPS). The PPS looks at a gambler’s beliefs and behaviors and can be used by those in the gambling industry to assess the effectiveness of responsible gambling strategies, identify specific areas for future focus, and examine the potential value of new responsible gambling initiatives aimed at promoting healthy patterns of gambling.
With this in mind, NPGA commissioned Richard Wood, PhD, noted gambling researcher, to study the level of responsible gambling in Minnesota starting in September 2019. The study, which sampled 1,517 Minnesota players, will provide a benchmark so that future changes in responsible gambling behavior, as measured by the PPS, can be noted over time in response to prevention messaging targeted to players’ behaviors and beliefs.
BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS MEASURED The study measured two sets of beliefs: personal responsibility (the extent to which a player believes they should take ownership of their gambling behavior) and gambling literacy (the extent to which a player has an accurate understanding about the nature of gambling.) The survey also measured two sets of behaviors: honesty and control (extent to which players are honest with others about their gambling behavior and feel in control of their behavior) and pre-commitment (extent to which a player considers how much money and time they should spend gambling).
Most Minnesota players scored highest on personal responsibility, followed by honesty and control. However, more than half of all players scored medium or low on gambling literacy and pre-commitment. In fact, Minnesota’s pre-commitment scores were lower than those from three other states and Canada (which has invested more funds than the United States in responsible gambling initiatives over the last 10-plus years).
There were no significant differences in beliefs and behaviors based on gender. However, there were marked differences in PPS scores by age. While it’s not known why positive play increases systematically with age, it may have to do with overall exposure to responsible gambling messaging or that messaging is tailored to older people. The results show that the literacy rates are quite low among those aged 18-44, suggesting that better messaging can be developed for younger players.
As it relates to the various games people played, it was clear that those who limited themselves to lottery games had higher (better) PPS scores. Those who played a variety of games exhibited a lower PPS score, particularly for gambling literacy. It’s not clear if exposure to a range of games leads to decrements in positive play or whether those who do not hold positive play beliefs or engage in positive play behaviors are more apt to play multiple games more frequently.
Another key measurement was the relationship between positive play and satisfaction with gambling. Players were more satisfied with the gambling experience when they accepted personal responsibility for their gambling, were honest and in control about their gambling, and set limits on time and money spent. Surprisingly, gambling literacy did not correlate with player satisfaction. This was an unexpected finding and is something to be explored as we develop strategies. The results also suggest that segmentation is critical to understanding the responsible gambling needs of different players.
SURVEY IMPLICATIONS The insights provided by this study will help us design and target prevention messaging to specific kinds of players, including by age or type of play. If we are to succeed in reducing the overall harm that gambling can have on individuals and families, it makes sense to develop multiple strategies that help build knowledge around the risks involved.
In response to the Supreme Court’s legalization of sports gambling in May 2018, more and more states are now introducing sports wagering. Iowa began offering sports betting in August 2019. To get a sense of how things are going for our neighbor to the south — both for sports gambling and the state’s gambling treatment and prevention program in general — Northern Light talked with Eric Preuss, MA, IAADC, CCS, program manager for the Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention at the Iowa Department of Public Health.
NL: Do you know how much money has been wagered on sports in Iowa since sports gambling has been offered?
EP: The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has indicated that $212 million has been wagered from August 15, 2019 through December 2019.
NL: How does this compare to expectations?
EP: I don’t think anybody had a really good idea of expectations, but it appears to be doing well. I am hearing there are a lot of new players. Some casinos are reporting that up to eighty percent of wagering is happening online — and that’s without every casino having an online app.
NL: Do you have any idea how many Minnesotans have crossed the state line to place sports wagers?
EP: The Iowa Racing and Gambling Commission and/or Iowa Gaming Association would have a better idea of that number, but in general the Iowa Gaming Association reports that about 60% of those visiting Iowa casinos are from out of state. Diamond Jo Casino in Worth County is one of the Iowa casinos near the Iowa Minnesota border.
NL: Have you learned anything specific about sports gambling and related problem gambling at this early juncture?
EP: We have been very intentional about gathering baseline data about the percentage of Iowans participating in sports betting of all kinds — from legal sports betting of all kinds, to illegal-bookmaking, fantasy sports, and March Madness — so that we can compare behavior before and after the legalization of sports betting. We know that 99% of Iowans who gamble on sports also participate in other gambling activities (lottery, casino and social/ charitable gaming). I suspect that first-time gamblers are coming in who have never made sports bets or even been in a casino before. Our challenge is to make sure that our partners (casinos) make available the materials we provide that are targeted to sports gamblers about responsible gambling , positive play, etc.
The recent Gambling Attitudes and Behavior Sur vey we completed in late 2018 shows that about 14% of Iowans (315,141) have experienced at least one problem related to their gambling and would be considered “at-risk” for developing a gambling disorder. Approximately 18,500 adults Iowa meet the criteria for a gambling disorder, which is about 1% of the adult population. When looking at sports gamblers in Iowa, 23% are considered “at-risk” for problem gambling. So it’s a concern and the challenge is to mitigate the harm to these gamblers, particularly those who are new players.
NL: Do Iowans accept gambling disorder as a public health issue?
EP: That’s a good question. It’s part of a larger series of questions, such as whether Iowans accept tobacco or alcohol use as a public health issue. One in four Iowans knows someone who has been impacted by gambling and one in five has been personally impacted. So there’s good data that suggests
Iowans have been impacted by problem gambling. But there may not be a good understanding about what to do next and the knowledge that treatment is available and helpful. We still have people whose lives are being destroyed and who don’t have a sense of hope that it can be better.
NL: In Minnesota, the problem gambling program resides in human services while it’s in the health department in Iowa. Do you have any insights on that?
EP: Substance use disorder and problem gambling ser vices are housed in the Iowa Department of Public Health while mental health services are within the Department of Human Services. However there is a good working relationship between departments, as well as at the legislative level, to ensure that effective, collaborative, efficient co-occurring ser vices are available and accessible for Iowans. Once such product is yourlifeiowa.org and the Your Life Iowa system, which is an integrated network of services (website, phone, text and chat) offering information and resources for problem gambling, substance use, suicide and mental health. As of July 1, 2019, Your Life Iowa became the statewide crisis line for mental health ser vices and referral. There is continued work as to how to enhance Your Life Iowa to help reduce barriers to care and support those in care.
NL: Did Iowa increase funding for treatment and prevention as part of sports gambling expansion? Where does your existing funding come from and how is it used?
EP: Yes. As part of the introduction of sports betting, our program received an additional $300,000, increasing our overall budget to $2.9 million. These new funds will be used in two ways: 1. Awareness efforts focused on students (primarily 9th grade through 12th grade), and 2. A targeted message media plan. From 1985 through about 2008, our funding was .5% of casino tax revenue, which generated between $6 to $10 million for the Iowa Gambling Treatment Fund. However, since then, due to legislative action, the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program fund was disbanded, and funding has been part of the addiction service appropriation from the state legislature.
NL: Does Iowa pay for gambling treatment? If so, is it for both the gambler and affected others?
EP: Gambling treatment in Iowa is paid for through third-party insurance (Medicaid and other insurers). For those who don’t have insurance, or don’t have insurance that pays for gambling treatment, the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program can assist through our Integrated Provider Network (IPN). IPN-funded providers offer assistance and treatment to the problem gambler, as well as their family members and concerned persons. Additionally, we fund 1-800-BETSOFF through our Your Life Iowa project to assist Iowans in accessing information, resources and locating help/ treatment locations in their county. For more gambling-specific information on Iowans, refer to their reports.
Gambling may have benefits but also has well documented negative consequences. Internet gambling is no exception. It is clear that some who gamble online will develop problems and that these problems are serious. The most ethical and cost-effective response to gambling addiction issues is a comprehensive public health strategy that includes prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, responsible gambling, research and recovery services. Responsible gambling standards are an important aspect of this approach. The National Council on Problem Gambling has developed these standards to help guide discussions among all stakeholders on internet gambling, including operators, regulators, advocates and the public.
In 2012 NCPG reviewed internet responsible gaming codes and regulations from around the world to guide the development of this standard. The Standards were revised in 2019. The final recommendations in this document come from our experience in problem gambling issues, empirical evidence, existing international codes and feedback from experts in the field including operators, vendors, regulators, researchers, clinicians and advocates. The NCPG standards are continually evolving, as internet gambling-related legislation, regulation and technology are rapidly being introduced. It is intended to apply across all platforms (including web, desktop, mobile, app and any other device that can be used for internet gambling). . . . Read the full article.
Traditionally, the approach to educating people about problem gambling has been a punitive one — i.e., if you don’t play responsibly you will experience problems. But new insights into the gambling education process, including those shared at the annual New Horizons Conference on Responsible Gambling, suggest a better approach involves the concept of positive play.
Positive messaging emphasizes how players can maximize positive experiences with gambling. This approach seems to resonate well with players and encourages them to adopt responsible gambling strategies.
Adopting positive play strategies could potentially act as a prevention mechanism for the majority of people who gamble without experiencing negative consequences. This could include responsible gambling strategies such as keeping ATM cards at home, setting time and money limits, understanding the odds for each particular game, and knowing how to play the games.
Positive, educational messaging may also help young adults, who have a greater tendency to underestimate the risks of gambling. The inclusion of responsible gambling strategies early on—in teen years when gambling begins—could potentially minimize the numbers of new gamblers landing in the continuum of problem gambling.
A Positive Approach in Helplines Another conference presentation focused on how a positive approach to branding a helpline can help decrease the stigma often associated with having to admit a problem or seek help. In British Columbia and other Canadian provinces, helplines have been renamed Gam Info. The helpline promotes free information and support for gambling and video gaming.
When individuals call in they are asked if they would prefer to talk to someone who is a resources representative rather than a counselor. The rep connects with the individual over the phone or at a coffee shop with the goal of beginning a conversation about the individual’s gambling and what resources they might want to try.
In the two years since launching this program, British Columbia has seen a 92 percent increase in new participants accessing their support and counseling services. Available resources include online self-help, voluntary self-exclusion, social and financial services, counseling and support groups. It’s reasonable to expect that a similar, positive approach could help destigmatize problem gambling in Minnesota and encourage more people to seek available resources.
For those who struggle with a gambling addiction, the day of the Big Game can be especially problematic, bringing back memories and urges to gamble. We suggest the following tips to help problem gamblers and their families get past this Sunday.
Should you have the urge to gamble, call 1-800-333-HOPE (4673) for assistance
Do something positive for yourself or another instead of betting on the Big Game
Do not watch the game
Go to the movies, a play, or go out dining; participate in any type of activity where the game will not be shown
Avoid social settings such as parties on the day of the Big Game
Go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting; some meetings host a pizza party or special event on the day of the game
Should you wager on the game, know your limits; bet with your head and not over it
Do not consume alcohol and/or take drugs if you have wagered on the game and/or will be watching the game
Be mindful that physical and/or emotional abuse toward family or loved ones is not acceptable
If you are a family member of a problem gambler, attend a Gam-Anon meeting this weekend
Family members need to be mindful of the potential volatility on Sunday and their need for safety