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Problem Gambling – Betting’s Dirty Big Secret

How behavioural tracking became a ‘must have’ for online and mobile gaming operators in their efforts to mitigate problem gambling

Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt was born in Jamaica on the 21st August 1986. A gifted sportsman at school, he excelled as a cricketer but it was his astounding speed that caught the attention of coach Pablo McNeil, a former Olympic sprinter. In 2001 aged just 14, Bolt won his first high school championship medal.

At the age of 15, Bolt made the leap to the world stage at the 2002 World Junior Championships where he won the 200 meters, making him the youngest junior gold medallist in history. Hampered by injury, he struggled in the 2004 Athens Olympics, but his reputation and potential was spotted by Glen Mills who became Bolt's coach and mentor as he progressed to the top of multiple podiums as the fastest man in the world.

As the fastest athlete in history and a multi-millionaire to boot, Bolt’s laid-back demeanour hides a serious competitive streak. He’s a World Champion eleven times over and still holds the World records in the 100 meters (9.58 seconds) and 200 meters (19.19 seconds) - both set at the 2009 Berlin World Athletics Championships.

With his natural ability, Bolt’s path to success was, to some extent, a foregone conclusion - however his dominance was guaranteed by the honing of his early talent. This is what happens with elite athletes - be they sprinters, footballers, tennis players or gymnasts, those with the most talent and potential are spotted, coached and often moved into specialist training programs and environments to give them the best chance of blossoming into world class competitors. It’s a positive trend that breeds champions – has done for decades.

This is what happens to the best of the best in sports. They are sought out, given the best coaching and guided to greatness.

Now flip that on its head and imagine if a tiny amount of that effort were invested in seeking out, supporting and treating problem gamblers…

The Gambling Commission reported in February of this year (citing 2018 Health Survey figures) that 2.7% of British adults were considered low-risk gamblers and a further 0.8% were classed as moderate-risk gamblers. The data showed that 0.5% of respondents were classified as problem gamblers. Meaning they gamble with negative consequences and a possible loss of control. Those who may be considered ‘at risk’ of problem gambling are largely responsible for self-identifying and self-excluding. However overall, only 5% of gamblers have ever self-excluded and only 42% of gamblers are aware of self-exclusion. If they were elite athletes, many would slip through the net and never be hear of again, so it’s clear that passive reliance on players, with identification of certain behaviours and psychological triggers, is simply not good enough.

There are more proactive devices available in the form of behavioural tracking software. In their fascinating 2013 paper on the subject, Michael Auer and Mark D. Griffiths identified seven opportunities for operators to significantly enhance the online gaming industry by actively identifying and mitigating problem gambling using behavioural tracking and analytics:-

1. The psychology behind gambling – Individual players have very differing motivations and triggers that lead them to bet. Behavioural tracking tools help to identify these patterns thus prompting gamblers to change their behaviour.

2. Motivational self-efficacy enhancement – In-play messages can act as harm minimization devices that mitigate problem gambling behaviour.

3. Recovery in the absence of abstinence: A significant percentage of recovering gamblers still bet occasionally. Behavioural tracking tools can help to keep gambling safe and fun, but as a priority should support and educate those most at risk.

4. Identification of high-risk sub-groups - Behavioural tracking can identify sub-groups and provide gamblers with the most useful and pragmatic information at the right time to ensure the best chance of effecting behavioural change.

5. Satisfied players - While for most players betting is a fun hobby, a small percentage of players can develop a problem so tracking tools should be employed to detect undesirable tendencies and prompt personalised communication from the operator’s responsible gaming team.

6. Increased loyalty - With casino CPAs costing up to £700 (maybe more) acquiring new players is incredibly expensive, so every churned or self-excluded customer impacts negatively on the commercial success of the operator. Behavioural tracking tools can help players to enjoy gambling within their affordable comfort zone, thus benefitting both players and operators in the long term.

7. Increased player trust - tracking tools are transparent and are, by definition, proactive and customer centric. This ‘player first’ approach will help to defend the online gaming industry against draconian and heavy-handed law making by regulators. Indeed, negative public perception generated by the press is a daily occurrence so it’s up to the industry to develop a more cooperative relationship with regulators, the media and the public moving forwards - with player needs as a foundation, not an afterthought.

As with games, platforms, payment processing, antifraud and digital acquisition tools, the technology of behavioural analytics tools available to gaming operators is moving incredibly fast. Recently, UK data business EQ Connect announced its revolutionary solution that in collaboration with the UKGC and BGC operators – could solve the critical challenge that it is almost impossible for single operators to really protect at-risk players when the player can so easily ‘go next door’ and start playing with another operator, or more likely, lots of other operators

EQ-Connect is a behavioural analytics and technology company focused exclusively on safer gambling. Launched in 2019, it aims to partner with the UK online gambling industry to develop a cross-operator view of a player’s risk of suffering gambling related harms. The founding team of industry veterans has developed a credible, GDPR compliant solution to allow operators to use real time analytics to better understand risk in a player's cross operator gambling activity.

Aggregating real time data would deliver clearer insights which in turn would also help operators understand the cross-operator activity of gamblers, This would enable earlier, more effective intervention when players are most at risk from problem gambling, no matter which gambling brand they place a bet with.

This fourth wall break, coming hot on the heels of the cross industry self-exclusion tool ‘Gamstop’, shows which way the wind is blowing.

For the online gaming industry to flourish, players and player protection must come first through proactive and innovative efforts of the industry. If we identify and nurture ‘at risk’ players as if they were elite athletes (rather than embarrassing secrets) only then will the legacy and long-term future of online betting and gaming be secure.

Harry is the founder of Brand Architects, a UK based brand and marketing consultancy specialising in digital brands, online gaming and esports.

You can contact him at or connect on Linked In


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