With the 20th annual Problem Gambling Awareness Month well underway in the United States, OnlineGamblers.com spoke to Dr. Edmond Mitchell, Head of Data at Future Anthem, about responsible gambling, the company’s data-driven approach to keeping players safe, and what operators must do to maintain the status quo in this newly regulated landscape.
Dr. Edmond Mitchell is a Data Scientist and renowned industry expert in Machine Learning, having spent the last few years utilizing state-of-the-art cloud technology to solve complex data problems. He has also developed some of the world’s first real-time Responsible Gambling models at Future Anthem.
OG: Edmond, thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with us. Firstly, can you start by giving us a rundown of the current state of Responsible Gambling (RG) in the United States and how it differs from other jurisdictions?
Dr. Mitchell: There is no single application of gambling regulation in the United States, never mind a single application of RG regulations, as individual states currently have complete autonomy in how to regulate gaming inside its borders. Only 21 states require a responsible gaming plan for land and online gaming operators; 34 require a self-exclusion program; 25 have wager/time limits for online betting; 17 ban the use of credit cards, and 20 require that employees who interact with customers must receive responsible gaming training. It’s clear that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation when there are so many different operating environments. While individual states can learn from outside jurisdictions, the prevailing thought should be to raise the responsible gaming states in the US as a whole first.
OG: Can you tell us how operators in the US can ensure protection for vulnerable players from the get-go, rather than having to quickly react when adequate protection isn’t provided?
Dr. Mitchell: There is a multitude of ways that operators can ensure protection for vulnerable players. First and foremost, I think they should be looking at how European markets have approached responsible gaming, especially those that have a liberal approach to gambling but rigid regulations.
Safer Gambling Tools implemented by operators in the United Kingdom have been instrumental in helping vulnerable players curb harmful gameplay habits. That said, operators should be looking at markers of harm much more closely than they have been, as more often than not, their models are based on behavior over a set period of time, and it’s simply not enough.
Markers of harm can be used to identify risky or harmful gambling activities by monitoring key aspects of a player’s behavior. By observing certain indicators – such as the speed, time, or duration of play – intervention can occur at earlier times than it would have otherwise.
Since this harm can occur from the very first betting session, waiting for a number of sessions or play days to occur isn’t an adequate solution for operators in this day and age. Future Anthem has developed a data-led approach to identifying problem gambling at the source, in real-time, by utilizing specialist machine learning models – identifying risky behavior as early as the very first betting session. These advanced models are one part in ensuring that players of all types are protected from gambling harm and pave the way for a future of sustainable play.
We’re, in fact, seeing more and more operators really value player protection and sustainability, and it’s a huge focus that we’re seeing in iGaming in particular, with large operators shifting to focus only on nationally regulated markets (e.g., recently Entain announced they’re exiting all unregulated markets).
OG: What methods have proven effective in Europe, and how can they be replicated (and potentially improved on) in the US?
Dr. Mitchell: Consistently evaluating the effectiveness of player interactions is key to understanding which responsible gambling tools should be recommended to players in different scenarios. Our system recognizes when responsible gambling messages such as “take a break” and “set deposit limits” should be communicated to players to limit any potential harm. Another effective method is monitoring how players’ play changes after a specific interaction. This allows operators to improve communication and messaging going forward. Better communication means players utilize certain tools that avert harmful play.
OG: What issues does the US’ state-by-state regulation approach present when considering responsible gambling tools?
Dr. Mitchell: Obviously, having different regulations across different states isn’t an ideal situation, not only for operators but players too. I’d hope that the same responsible gambling tools are available across the United States; this way, there’s no confusion for consumers experiencing gambling harm. Another hope is that each state encourages operators to utilize state-of-the-art technology they’d normally use for commercial purposes for player protection purposes as well, such as using real-time data technology to identify problematic gambling behavior immediately.
OG: Ultimately, are responsible gaming measures the responsibility of the operator or the supplier?
Dr. Mitchell: This is a good question. Historically, all responsible gaming measures were the sole responsibility of the operator. However, suppliers host the games and store granular transactional information before transmitting it back to operators, often at an aggregated level. Suppliers have the ability to use this data to identify problematic behavior such as loss chasing or erratic play and intervene immediately. They should also be risk scoring sessions on their games to understand which of their games are more likely to have risky behavior occur on them. They could use this knowledge to design safer and more sustainable games. Operators will always have a large part as they can see how the player is playing across all the games on their website.
OG: How much involvement should regulatory bodies have when it comes to maintaining responsible gambling amongst operators and suppliers?
Dr. Mitchell: State regulatory bodies have a role in ensuring that players can gamble in a safe, fair, and transparent environment. Additionally, they must enforce that operators do not allow players to come to harm as a result of their gambling activities to the best of their ability.
However, if regulations are too onerous, some of the most at-risk players will be tempted to venture into unregulated gambling markets. This can be seen with the quick growth of online crypto-gambling markets. There is no easy answer or solution, but it’s a delicate balancing act. The good news is that with the advent of highly sophisticated ML models and AI, it’s far easier to now detect and intervene at the right time and with the right methods to pave the way for positive play. Additionally, we’ve found that our research and models can be applied to unearth the behaviors and interventions necessary to help protect players. This can, in turn, be used to help design the appropriate regulations that will genuinely make a real impact, which is validated by the data.
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