Affordability checks have long been touted as an effective method for operators to counter gambling related harm, and the prospect of a mandatory enhancement of such measures still remains in the UK.
Speaking to SBC in this two part interview, EPIC Risk Management’s Head of Safer Gambling, Dan Spencer; Vice President of Prevention US Dan Trolaro and Head of Delivery US Mark Potter discussed the betting industry’s emergence from the global pandemic and hesitancy around affordability checks.
SBC: As bettors return to bricks-and-mortar venues such as casinos and high-street betting shops, why is it so important for strict affordability measures to remain in place?
Dan Trolaro: Gambling is a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed without harm for over 90% of the population in general. As such, keeping that perspective helps to minimise and reduce harms across the spectrum which include – but is not limited to – mental health, financial, relational and emotional well-being for citizens.
Operators want ‘sticky’ customer relationships – ones where the customer returns and refers so nobody wins when the view is short sighted and transactional in nature. Long-term, healthy and safe relationships help to reduce (not eliminate) gambling related harms.
Dan Spencer: On the whole, gambling behaviour has changed throughout the pandemic. We have seen players increase stakes and move play to more volatile methods such as online slot machines and instant win games. As customers return in person, we may be seeing those who have changed the way they gamble and potentially have increased risk levels.
The secondary risk is that many establishments have had extremely high turnover throughout lockdown and may be staffed with employees who are yet to build up a working relationship with regular customers and it won’t be so easy to spot behaviour which is abnormal for these customers.
SBC: Statistics from the UKGC have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns resulted in a rise in online gambling.
Following the easing of lockdowns earlier this year – albeit with the possibility of future restrictions with the new Omicron variant – what can betting companies do to ensure that they’re best protecting bettors?
Dan Trolaro: Across the globe, the ease, accessibility and availability of gambling during the pandemic became evident. Betting companies need to work together and with industry stakeholders to take data and metrics from the past 15 months to study and analyse player behaviour, compare to pre-COVID, and work toward developing tools that are more predictive in nature.
Whether through speed and velocity of play, cancelled withdrawals, failed deposits, or number of cards on file to name a handful, the operator has the data, now they need to use it for the betterment and in furtherance of player protection and to reduce gambling related harms.
Dan Spencer: A rise in online gambling was inevitable considering the lack of options for many around the world to gamble in the ways they are used to. What’s concerning is the switch in behaviour. We are seeing longer play sessions with an increase in slot play (up 5%) and eSports betting (up 5%) in comparison to a drop in regular sports wagering (down 11%) according to the commission’s latest data over lockdown.
We need to be mindful that we continue on the journey to improve safer gambling practices so that the player base is protected and this sort of increased risk does not continue to rise now that we transition out of pandemic restrictions.
SBC: Some have argued that strict affordability checks can unfairly impact bettors which have not been affected by problem gambling. What is your response to this claim? Should these checks be in place for everyone?
Mark Potter: I think in general, strict affordability checks are a good thing, as it stops potentially vulnerable players losing beyond what they can afford, especially early in a customer journey before the operator knows enough about the individual.
The obvious benefit is that those who can afford to spend or stake more are then encouraged to provide a source of wealth before any increases in limits are agreed, which again shows good harm minimisation measures. If somebody can afford to spend more, then they should have no issue proving so; for the ones that can’t, it is a preventative measure.
Dan Trolaro: I believe that customising limits and affordability based on several factors helps to best individualise and tailor the experience. It should be noted that gambling, for some, can be progressive in nature, so what is affordable and manageable is a moving and sliding scale over the lifecycle of the gambler.
Based on a series of checks and data points, limit setting and availability should be a moving scale, both up and down. Similar to how creditworthiness is determined, several factors should be in play and periodic review checks should be done in an attempt to minimise the potential for harm.
Dan Spencer: Affordability checks level the playing field; it’s indiscriminatory and places the onus on customers to prove they can afford their losses. Bettors that have not been affected by problem gambling are still at risk like anyone who gambles, but what these checks do is make sure that we do not allow players to continue to cause harm once they have started to do so. Knowing your customer is a key ingredient to a safer gambling landscape. Of course, we need to have thresholds and ensure that these levels are right across the board.
Many operators are ahead of the game with thresholds in place and conducting checks on new customers as a matter of course. The key to success here is in the education of players, if they understand why we have to do these checks and how to go about it then they are more willing to cooperate, but this must happen across the entire industry, not just the big names.