Playing it safe: Challenges, opportunities and trends in Responsible Gambling
With changing demographics and evolving technology, the Canadian gaming industry is faced with ongoing challenges as well as opportunities for innvovation, creativity and advancements in customer service. As an important facet of the industry, Responsible Gambling and Corporate Social Responsibility programs are at the forefront of many of these industry changes. Canadian Gaming Business recently spoke with industry thought leaders about the challenges, trends and opportunities in both RG and CSR programs across the country.
Susan Dolinsky, Vice President, Social Responsibility & Communications, BCLC
Jon Kelly, Ph.D., Advisor and former CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council.
Bev Mehmel, Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries
Paul Pellizzari, Executive Director, Social Responsibility, OLG
Trudy Smit Quosai, CEO, Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO)
What are some of the biggest challenges in implementing and maintaining responsible gambling (RG) programs in Canadian gaming facilities and why are these challenges so important to address?
Susan Dolinsky: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is aligning all of the gaming supply chain — from the development and marketing of gambling products and gambling facilities to customer service — with the same responsible gambling goals. As the organization responsible for commercial gambling in the province of British Columbia, BCLC has a role to play in leading the conversation on responsible gambling. BCLC is committed to ensuring that gambling in B.C. is conducted with integrity and that gambling products are offered in a socially responsible manner.
Jon Kelly: RG programs have made a lot of very positive progress over the past two decades—largely on the risk-reduction side, i.e. in prevention. By and large, Canadian jurisdictions have gotten a solid handle on player information, on-site resource centres, staff training and the range of programs in the RG toolbox. And they have an understanding of what to look for as signs that someone might be experiencing problems (“red flags”). In my mind, the biggest challenge when it comes to RG programs is what to do when those red flags identify a patron who appears to be gambling excessively. Where the challenge comes—and it’s not a simple one—is what to do at that point. Knowing how and when to intervene in a way that respects the patron’s privacy but also meets the venue’s obligations as a responsible provider—that’s the biggest challenge I see.
Bev Mehmel: Responsible gambling programs have become embedded in how most provincial jurisdictions operate their gaming businesses over the past decade. A current challenge is that the increased focus on growing revenue from gaming has the potential to decrease the commitment and focus on responsible gaming as part of growing revenue sustainably.
Paul Pellezzari: For our industry to innovate product and marketing approaches, RG perspectives must be integrated into business strategy. For example, as we anticipate opportunities for emerging digital platforms, we need to sharpen how we assess and mitigate risks of new games’ structures, environments and channel delivery. I believe our ability to integrate RG is maturing, and will allow us to meet this challenge. OLG is modernizing how we deliver gaming in Ontario. We are engaging new private service providers across our business lines while still leading efforts for a “gold standard” in RG. Progress with our new partners is strong, but as the pace of change intensifies, we must continue to be focused and agile.
Trudy Smit Quosai: One big challenge is the regulation of online gambling. Jurisdictions around the world have tried different approaches with varying success. Recent research coming from Quebec suggested that a liberal licensing scheme combined with IP-blocking of unlicensed sites would be beneficial although not without controversy (plans to IP-block gambling sites were struck down). Such a scheme would mandate RG compliance on licensed sites, while also diverting revenue from unlicensed sites where RG may be lacking. In Canada, the provincially regulated nature of gambling makes it difficult to regulate online gambling at a federal level (as other, smaller jurisdictions do). There is very little known about best approaches to providing RG in charity/bingo venues and with horse racing.
What unexplored opportunities exist in terms of expanding or improving RG and Corporate Social Responsibility Programs (CSR) in Canada’s gaming industry and how can gaming operators best take advantage of these opportunities to help their customers better manage their gambling activities?
SD: Increasingly, we are viewing responsible gambling not as a stand-alone program but one that should be embedded into the customer service-scape. We are working to evolve our responsible gambling programs to embed them as part of the customer experience – a customer having the tools and the ability to more accurately understand and manage their spend supports the long-term health of the business. Another opportunity exists with developing a functional limit-setting device is a tool that hasn’t been fully figured out yet, here in Canada or elsewhere, but limit-setting holds a lot of potential to help players better manage the time and money they spend gambling as it is a key behavior in positive play. Recently we introduced a new RG feature (Voluntary Short Term Lockout) that lets our e-gaming players on PlayNow.com take temporary breaks anywhere from 24 hours to 14 days.
JK: We’d be hard-pressed to find opportunities that are truly unexplored; it’s my experience that jurisdictions in Canada are among the leaders in many aspects of RG. It seems likely that all of the foundational elements of RG are now in place. Now the main task is making them more effective. That is, for the most part, about refinement. Limit-setting is an example of an RG approach that continues to be explored, researched and piloted in various ways in Canada and elsewhere. The idea is simple: Reduce potential harm by setting time and/or money limits on play. he work comes in the how—and I am not sure that anyone has landed on the best approach yet.
BM: Two things are important to keep in mind — firstly, that responsible gambling and CSR programs need to be focused squarely on helping our businesses grow and retain customers who are playing at a sustainable level. The second aspect is that RG and CSR help manage organizational and consumer risks associated with gaming offerings to ensure customer and industry sustainability. Assessing all new product and marketing offers against CSR and RG considerations will help us grow and keep customers for life.
PP: Our industry needs to better understand the social impacts of gambling. We need to demonstrate RG programs’ value for players of all risk profiles, and quantify the benefits that accrue to local communities. We are advancing the exploration of data analytics to understand players’ actions and encourage healthy gambling habits. We need segmented strategies to target the appropriate education, play management tools, and behavioural feedback to players.
TSQ: Some of the areas of emerging research of RG and CSR opportunities that may hold promise include: (a) the use of behavior tracking and online algorithms to flag/warn gamblers beginning to display (or on a track to display) problematic gambling behavior; (b) strengthening self-exclusion approaches (self-exclusion 3.0) such as providing additional supports to self-excluders and breaches, as well as the development of a national (or centralized) self-exclusion registry; and (c) removing the perceived stigma of responsible gambling by providing transparent player education for all aspects of casino and online gaming (e.g., explaining house hold, randomization, odds, etc.) in an engaging manner.
What more can be done in terms of community outreach and promotion in order to increase awareness of RG and CSR programs and policies by Canadian gaming operators?
SD: Formalizing stakeholder engagement. For BCLC, this includes undertaking third-party Health Impact Assessments for communities we are proposing to expand gambling in, and hosting the annual New Horizons in Responsible Gambling conference to encourage new learning and understanding of responsible gambling practices and opportunities. Another area we can look at is funding research to better understand problem gambling behavior and potential learnings we can apply to current policies, programming and overall focus when it comes to protecting players. BCLC currently helps fund the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, which conducts independent research on the social and behavioral aspects of gambling to help improve responsible and problem gambling prevention and treatment programs in British Columbia and beyond.
JK: When it comes to community outreach, it is important to recognize that gaming providers are only part of the picture. For example, awareness programs reaching out to high schools or colleges and universities are likely best provided by other community organizations. It seems to me that the main target group for gaming providers is players. When a gaming provider reaches out with RG messaging to the broader community, there is a risk that the messages will be perceived as mixed, i.e. promoting gambling and gambling safety at the same time. That’s not to say that gaming providers don’t have a legitimate role in getting RG messages out. It just means that their RG messaging outside the gaming venue needs to be targeted, and carefully avoid any suggestion of gambling promotion. That, among other things, means producing RG messages that do not use gaming imagery (like cards and slot machines), or show players celebrating a win.
BM: Certainly letting customers and the public know that the Canadian gaming industry is among the most responsible in the world is important. Many Canadian provinces, including Manitoba, have attained the highest level of RG accreditation through the World Lottery Association RG framework. The challenge is always how to talk about this without the appearance of boasting — so using every opportunity to be transparent about what we do, why we do it and what the outcomes are can be useful in getting the message out.
PP: Our industry’s growth requires us to manage risks to players effectively, and demonstrate that we play our role as gaming providers to address harms. The work with communities needed to successfully advance new gaming opportunities must be ongoing. We need strong “proof-points” that we help players, and make RG a conspicuous part of customer service. For example, OLG is introducing our “PlaySmart Promises,” written with conversational and aspirational language to express our commitment with players.
TSQ: Initial success is being seen with rebranding of RG tools, sometimes as player-optimization tools, to avoid the stigma typically associated with tools for “problem gamblers.” RG and CSR programs could be marketed as valued-added to patrons – something that will add to their gambling experience. Lastly, gambling operators need to make sure their RG and CSR programs are front-and-centre in the venues, actively encourage and promoted, and fully integrated into the player experience (including all communications). Outreach should go beyond the education model to continue to identify and intervene with players who are exhibiting signs of harmful gambling and to support opportunities to access support and/or treatment.
How is technology affecting RG programs? How can operators make the best use of this technology to help customers manage their play and gamble responsibly?
SD: Anything that we use for marketing/customer relationship management purposes, we should also be using for responsible gambling purposes, because ultimately it’s all about changing customer behavior. It is imperative that operators and vendors look at the opportunity to embed responsible gambling features and programs in their operational and customer strategies so that we can effectively serve the player with one voice.
JK: Technology, particularly play analytics, has great potential to be a powerful tool in identifying patterns of play that are either problematic or an early warning sign. Many gaming providers around the world are working to refine those algorithms to make them more effective. That is a daunting task because human behaviour is complex and only partially understood, making progress slower than we might want. I have no doubt that in the years ahead there will be great progress in building better analytical models, and then linking player feedback and/or messaging to that analysis.
BM: Like most industries, the gaming industry is evolving with new technology. The new technology can provide benefits to RG and to our customers because of what account based gaming can offer customers, i.e., giving customers the opportunity to set limits, get information and reminders, and monitor their spending — all things that are not available in an anonymous, unlinked environment. Of course, any new gaming technology needs to be assessed for RG considerations to make sure we are reducing the risks for our players with the goal of retaining lifetime customers.
PP: RG supports are most effective when they are personalized, relevant, enable healthy play, and leave gamblers feeling satisfied. Players must be in charge of their choices, and our technology can provide individual play feedback, data risk analysis, and voluntary play management tools. This technology helps us manage environments where gaming’s availability, accessibility, and direct marketing capability increase risk for players. Social media can effectively reach players, but is only as good as the content. Messages need to appeal to curiosity and speak players’ language. OLG’s PlaySmart platform is generating millions of video views, and thousands of engagements. We no longer say “RG” directly to players, because we only use language that proves to be engaging.
TSQ: There has never been a greater opportunity for operators to talk directly to their patrons through the use of social media but there is very little evidence about how effective this approach might be to minimize harms. At the same time, there are now ample opportunities to collect data from players in real time using various technologies. Areas of exploration include bringing together these technologies to help inform gamblers (in real time) when and if their gambling becomes problematic.
How are demographic shifts having an effect on RG and CSR programs and what can organizations do to ensure that they are reaching all demographic segments with their programs?
SD: This question really comes down to the demographics, and not the shifts. We’re taking GameSense, our made-in-B.C responsible gambling program, and tailoring it to better suit special populations including, for example, seniors. The cornerstone of GameSense programming is to talk to players with an authentic voice about healthy choices, and how to keep gambling fun. In order to keep our messaging relevant, BCLC’s Responsible Gambling department continues to develop customized messaging for players with unique needs when it comes to responsible gambling.
JK: Demographic shifts present less of a challenge to RG than we might expect—or at least the challenges are not specific to RG. The principles of communication, persuasion and influencing behaviour are the same for any segment whether that be seniors, Boomers, high-income earners or any other group. It is a matter of examining the particular segment, determining their preferences, media habits and so forth, and then building a program that speaks to them.
BM: Different demographic segments like to receive and interact with information differently and this has become a focus for RG professionals in Canada. How do we use solid social marketing principles to first of all get the attention of Millennials, for example, when we are competing with so much other information out there that’s constantly available and changing, and in some ways more relevant and attention-grabbing? For Millennials particularly we will have to move away from broad-based information campaigns and target our messages to them in an interactive way.
PP: RG program pieces succeed when well directed to the right player at the right place and time. We can successfully motivate people to learn facts, receive “get-help” messages, or use play management tools, but first we must understand them. While important, generational profiles are but one piece of this analysis. Opportunities exist to reach different demographics, but we must consistently work to win confidence that our industry’s actions on social responsibility live up to our words. If we build RG into new product and marketing approaches, we can grow trust and effectively reach players of the future.
TSQ: Younger generations are not engaging with traditional forms of gambling in the same way as past generations and new styles of gambling are being marketed to this segmentation. We need to ensure that any new marketing is balanced with proportional RG efforts – especially when dealing with new styles of gambling (e.g., skill-based slot machines). Additionally, very little is known about the motivations of younger generations to play and to play responsibility. Therefore, additional research is needed on this segment in order to determine why they play, and how best to assist/encourage them to play responsibly.
Sidebar for Industry Q&A
Reshaping Customer Experience with PlaySmart
By Paul Pellizzari
To help players build gambling knowledge, positive play habits, and the ability to obtain help, gaming providers need to speak their language.
In February 2016, OLG launched PlaySmart, an approach to gambling education designed to engage players over their entire life-cycles, no matter who they are: new gamblers, casual, serious, or those experiencing problems.
Across lottery, land-based gaming, charitable bingo, and internet gaming experiences, OLG seeks to appeal to peoples’ curiosity about games and play preferences. To increase the appeal and relevance of information, resources and choices, PlaySmart uses consistent, engaging language and visual approaches, and a tone that is positive, helpful, and non-judgmental.
With an ever-expanding suite of tools and interactive resources, PlaySmart is designed to optimize all touch-points, including web, mobile devices, and physical gaming spaces.
Whether someone visits a PlaySmart centres at a gaming or charitable gaming site, checks out our budgeting tools on PlayOLG.ca, our new labels on slot machines, or seeks voluntary self-exclusion, customers encounter information and choices that speak to them. Employees are an essential to PlaySmart’s ability to talk to and support players in consistent ways.
Our first year’ objectives were to establish the brand and prove its relevance, and the outcomes exceeded our targets. Our digital videos have received more than 2.3 million views, while PlaySmart.ca has seen 434,243 page views, with people spending an average of 1:10 minute on content. Our social media campaigns have generated 36 million-plus impressions, with strong response from users who “like” and forward content to others. Engagement rates have exceeded industry benchmarks by three-fold.
We want to build playing smart into our relationships with players, because informed players who control their gambling will be safer, happier, and better able to enjoy gambling over the long term.
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