Much as the headlines last week concentrated on what the UK government’s triennial review had to say – or didn’t - about the maximum stakes on FOBTs, the detail regarding the current state of efforts to bolster responsible gambling measures gave a clear indication of the direction of travel.
In her introduction to the consultation document, Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport who also has responsibility for gambling, said that when it came to the online business, the government believes that more needs to be done to promote responsible play and protect consumers in this sector.
“The Gambling Commission is examining the online sector and encouraging operators to increase action to identify harmful play, design and pilot better interventions and put in place measures that work,” she wrote.
The report goes on to state that with online gambling being account based, it means operators know who their customers are, what they are spending their money on, and their patterns of gambling.
“This provides opportunities for operators to use customer data to identify and minimise gambling-related harm,” the report said, adding that while a number of operators are already developing and operating algorithm-based systems to identify harmful behaviours and activity, “very few operators were able to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their approach.”
“The Government welcomes steps taken by some operators to incorporate behavioural analytics into their responsible gambling systems and the Commission’s work to raise standards across the sector,” the report added.
Responding to the review document, Dan Waugh, partner at gambling consultancy Regulus Partners, said the review of social responsibility “indicates that it is prepared to give the industry one more chance to get its house in order - but that stricter regulation will follow if this fails.”
“For all parts of the industry the message appears clear – take harm seriously or face the consequences,” he added.
It is in the this that Playtech’s recent acquisition responsible gambling technology provider BetBuddy should perhaps be viewed.
Led by founder Simo Dragicevic, BetBuddy is a startup provider which has been working with City University’s artificial intelligence researchers on a number of responsible gambling initiatives including providing an early-warning system for potential problem gambling behaviours.
BetBuddy had already signed up lottery operators such as Ontario Lottery which is using the system as part of its responsible gambling suite of products for the Play OLG online offering.
It is the prophylactic aspect of the acquisition that perhaps is most interesting. Ian Ince, head of regulatory affairs and compliance at Playtech, said the strength of the BetBuddy product and the knowledge and experience that the team brings was unparalleled.
“Responsible Gambling is a cornerstone in all Playtech’s offerings,” he added. “This acquisition demonstrates our commitment to producing solutions and games that will enable Playtech and its customers to be the most responsive and responsible businesses in the industry.”
Playtech said it had trialled BetBuddy’s analytics software earlier this year, using its algorithms to detect at risk behaviours. It added that the addition of the BetBuddy team and methodologies to Playtech’s data-driven approach will allow it to take the next step in evolving its gambling content to ensure it is developed and deployed in a sustainable manner.
As Ince pointed out, BetBuddy now get access to the biggest online gaming data set in the world – a huge advance for the system. Showing the breadth of areas where BetBuddy can potentially play a part, Dragicevic added that BetBuddy would be working with the Playtech compliance, business intelligence, and game development teams to further the aim of raising standards in responsible gambling.
Given the greater focus of regulators around the world on promoting safer gambling environments, the BetBuddy acquisition is a significant move, particularly in the UK.
“Where harm minimisation is concerned, the rules of the game have now changed,” says Waugh at Regulus of the triennial review. “The public relations approach no longer seems to cut any ice with a Government that is looking to the industry to provide meaningful solutions to a lengthening list of problems,” he adds.
“Here, the industry has been given a golden opportunity to be on the front foot and demonstrate the efficacy of self-regulation. However, the opportunity is likely to be short lived and the scrutiny both intense and increasingly well informed. Now is not the time to spin, blame-shift or rely on other stakeholders: somewhat reducing the standard playbook.”
Responsible gambling has certainly moved up the agenda suggests Canaccord Genuity analyst Simon Davies who points out that the three-month added consultation period undoubtedly meant “the can was effectively kicked further down the road.” But he adds that with online gaming much more clearly in the sights of the government, it also looks like it has become a much bigger can.”