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Dr Michael Auer, director at OpenBet’s Neccton, explains how scientific findings can further enhance responsible gaming capabilities.

There is a growing understanding among operators of the need to elevate responsible gaming tools and better protect players to create a safer, more sustainable gaming industry.

Their responsibility is to ensure that gambling remains a fun form of entertainment but not to the detriment of harming individual’s wellbeing and impacting their personal lives.

Academic research into problem gambling is already helping deliver actionable insights in more mature European markets, like the UK, and North America is now beginning to follow suit.

This September, the American Gaming Association (AGA) launches its 25th Responsible Gaming Education Month, educating players and operators on safer gaming and underlining science’s vital role in the development of effective RG policies and programs.

How exactly does academic research play a role within our industry? When scientists are working to develop a vaccine, they are testing what elements will be effective.

This is also the case for studies into problem gambling. Ultimately, academic research can lead to tangible results, where a cause and effect is established and hugely beneficial developments are made to advance the efficiency of tools.

Of course, it is vital that research has applications in the real world – currently vast amounts of gambling research is based on self-reported data which produces only hypothetical answers.

In a real-life setting, players who feel nervous, may have lost money already or have other external factors will see this affect their behaviour.

To draw the most reliable conclusions, researchers need to replicate lab results with real operators online.

Benefits and best practice

From our experience, there are three stages to conducting effective research into responsible gaming. The first is in a laboratory without an operator, where researchers recruit participants from the general population.

Secondly, research is then based on actual wagering and depositing data, which can be used to assess trends, but this is again largely hypothetical.

The third and highest standard of research is operator/player research, where operators manipulate the player base.

They can send players messages, analyse their reactions and correlate it with their gameplay. Only in this case can they draw cause and effect conclusions.

Neccton has been carrying out research into responsible gaming since 2008 and continues to use the insight and data gathered to trigger real changes in sports betting.

For instance, we looked at the effectiveness of cool-off periods and how long it took for players to gamble again after cool-off periods of 90 seconds, five minutes or 15 minutes.

After an imposed cool-off period of 15 minutes, players took a median period of seven minutes off, while any less had no effect. The conclusion was that if cool-offs were to be imposed, they must be over 15 minutes.

Conclusions about underlying problematic behavior should not be drawn based on data alone. Some regulators almost exclusively focus on measuring high levels of spending because this has the highest level of possible harm, and they want to make sure operators are running due diligence checks.

By doing this, a problem gambler wagering £200 or £300 a month, which is affordable for them, could go undetected. It is important to measure problem play based on behaviour, not just on how much money is spent, which is why operator/player research is key.

Opportunities for North America

In North America, specifically the United States, there is tremendous scope for further research in order to increase player protection protocols.

From recent discussions, it is evident that more operators of all types and sizes are actively taking forward steps to engage with their customer base about the responsible tools that are on offer.

Compared to European regulation, there is still a lot of potential in North America for the prevention of problem gambling using data alongside academic research.

The US has various programs, adverts and billboards telling people to gamble responsibly, and research has shown that 70% of online bettors find messages about high losses effective beneficial, which reveals the importance of real-time solutions.

We should now encourage sports betting operators to utilise academic findings and data to promote safer gambling.

Typically, the prevalence of problem gambling in any population is between 0.5% and 2% and while some in the industry perceive responsible gaming tools and processes to impact their performance, this is not necessarily the case.

Online players who set deposit limits are 18% more loyal and 90% of those prompted to self-exclude for short periods do return to play responsibly.

Crucially, success is not about blocking a player or them opting to self-exclude. It is about empowering players and promoting safer play – using the tech, psychology, and research available to protect, and hold on to, valued customers.

Dr Michael Auer is director of OpenBet’s Neccton, the responsible gambling, anti-money laundering (AML) and fraud detection technology specialist. An industry pioneer, Dr. Auer is a regular speaker at gambling conferences, collaborates with recognised scientists in the field, and has published numerous peer-reviewed papers on player tracking and Responsible Gaming. He also holds a PhD in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Statistics.

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