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PROBLEM GAMBLING


imagining that a random event is “due to happen” – for example, if the roulette ball hasn’t fallen on red in the previous four spins, that makes red “more likely” this time.) This education can be directed at children as well as adults, although there is controversy over whether kids should be helped to gamble responsibly – in the recognition that many of them will gamble – or instead urged to abstain altogether. Harm reduction measures involve the industry even more


closely, as they’re often specifically linked to game design. Among the many that have been proposed for gaming machines (though not all of them have been proven to work) are: • Modifying bill acceptors to take only small denominations. • Reducing game speeds. • Reducing stakes and payouts. • Removing features such as autoplay. • Minimising sensory cues associated with wins, such as bells and lights – and maximising cues associated with losses.


• Removing ATMs from gaming areas. • Forcing breaks in play, in order to prevent dissociation – the phenomenon where the player forgets about the world beyond the machine entirely.


• Pre-commitment, where a player must set a limit to their expenditure or losses before they play. None of these eliminate problem gambling, but instead they should mean fewer adverse effects (for example, lower total losses) for the individual problem gambler. Abstinence is a more radical solution for individuals, involving complete self-exclusion from all gambling for a period. It has the potential to be effective but is only useful if it is completely enforceable, and enforced – self-exclusion from some venues but not others is unlikely to deter the problem gambler. The sector is also involved in tackling problem gambling in other ways. Employee training to identify potential problem gamblers and offer them help has been identified as a key requirement. Technology can also assist, particularly where online gaming is concerned and also where players belong to loyalty or bonus schemes: patterns in their play can flag up potential problems.


Practical steps


How these solutions are put into practice varies substantially. Sweden and Norway have been pioneers in the use of pre- commitment, with Sweden requiring all players on any legal gambling platform to set daily and monthly monetary limits as well as a daily time limit for play. Australia has also extensively trialled pre-commitment, with Victoria becoming the first state to introduce a system throughout its jurisdiction – but unlike in Sweden, it is voluntary, and many question how effective that will be.


In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, however, a


pre-commitment system was launched in 2010 and later abandoned after it emerged that customers could play under multiple different identities with separate limits (among other design problems). In the UK, self-exclusion is a principal element in problem- gambling strategy. All gaming businesses must offer players the opportunity for self-exclusion, lasting for six months and starting immediately. As in other jurisdictions, the industry is also expected to help fund anti-problem-gambling measures including education and treatment, although the Gambling Commission recently noted that “the response overall by operators has been slow and insufficient”; it has threatened a compulsory levy. In the US, by contrast, problem gambling is normally


addressed at a state level, but that could change for sports betting at least following the recent introduction of proposed legislation (the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018) which would create a nationwide self-exclusion system, and allocate federal money for prevention and treatment as well as research. None of these measures will, alone, solve the issue of


problem gambling. But the fact that there are so many potential partial solutions reflects the reality that there are so many likely factors involved in making an individual’s recreational gambling a problem. The challenge that still remains for regulators and the gaming industry is to figure out which strategies will make the most difference, and which are ineffective distractions.


FEBRUARY 2019 55


adimas/Adobe Stock


Joshua Resnick/Adobe Stock


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