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Can big data help the industry and regulators address problem gambling?

| By Joanne Christie | Reading Time: 5 minutes
The UK regulator feels the industry should be utilising the latest data analytics techniques not just to enhance its marketing but to detect and manage problem gambling, Scott Longley reports.

Data might not make for enthralling headlines but, if used appropriately, can help address one of the most important issues facing the sector.

A point emphasised by the UK Gambling Commission, which feels the industry should be utilising the latest data analytics techniques not just to enhance its marketing, but to detect and manage problem gambling.

Scott Longley 

Speaking during the Gambling Commission’s Raising Standards conference held in Birmingham in early November last year, chief executive Sarah Harrison took up a theme from the Conservative Party conference that was held in the same city the previous month.

The new government of Prime Minister Theresa May had, Harrison suggested, laid emphasis on the need for the industry to be mindful of its commitment to the consumer.

Citing how companies in financial services were encouraging initiatives aimed at providing help to the wider community – such as the programme to help people get online run by banking giant Barclays  – Harrison said across the economy “institutions are becoming increasingly focused on their wider responsibilities to their customer and regulators are helping to shape this”.

“Don’t wait for a crisis to happen that shakes the very foundation of customers’ trust in your industry,” Harrison warned. “Act now and demonstrate to consumers that your interest in their needs is genuine.”

The Commission believes operators can do more to, as Harrison stated, “put consumers at the heart of everything (they) do” and one area the regulator has focused on is in the application of big data.

Specifically, the Commission feels the industry should be putting as much effort into utilising the latest data analytics techniques in understanding issues around the detection of problem gambling as it does in terms of marketing its products.

“It’s an important issue for the sector,” says Nathan Rothschild, co-founder and partner at sports data and information provider iSport Genius, who spoke on the subject of data and problem gambling at the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR) conference in Sydney.

He points out he was invited to speak by Nick Tofiluk, the director of regulatory operations at the Commission who, according to Rothschild, made it clear the regulator was “very interested in seeing how big data offerings could mitigate against harmful behaviour”.

“Our product gives bettors more information to help guide them. It’s a commercial proposition, obviously, but what I think the Commission has picked up on is that via our data feeds, the consumer is making a more informed and considered decision.”

iSport Genius offers layering and 'tiering' of its data, through this it says it can provide an extra layer of personalisation, which Rothschild suggests is a major area of regulatory interest.

“Personalisation is a hot topic for regulators,” he says. “From the conversations I have had with them, they are looking at how data products can help in the understanding of player behaviour. This is right down to an individual level.”

Timely interventions
The potential is there via the application of big data techniques for operators to not only identify individuals that exhibit problem gambling traits – or show they have a susceptibility – but to see problems developing in real time, and automatically react.

The point was also made last week during an event hosted by law firm Olswang, which pointed that data regulation and issues around the topic would only keep increasing in the coming months.

And while problem gambling is one key issue the authorities want all stakeholders to get better at addressing, money laundering is another, and all believe well-utilised data analytics strategies can help in that regard.    

This is what real-time data personalisation provider deltaDNA believes. The company provides services that, in a marketing sense, can help operators know how to better engage with gaming customers when they are on the site.

But Mark Robinson, its chief executive, points out there are other uses for this type of real-time tracking. “The potential the regulators can see is that there are some very defined behaviours you might have if you have a gambling problem,” he says.

These include never leaving any credits in the account; making riskier decisions when losing; and paying no regard to the amount you can bet comfortably.

“They are all easily identifiable through behavioural data,” says Robinson. “You know how much someone has bet. You know how much they leave with at the end of the day. You can identify what is within normal parameters – there are studies on this.

“You can actually very easily look at the 2% or 3% likely to have a problem, who most frequently exhibit these behaviours, and then you can engage with them to mitigate their in-game play.”

NOSES for trouble
As it stands, the blunt instrument being used to deal with problem gambling is self-exclusion. The Commission recognised it as such in its draft paper in 2015 on the potential for the crafting of a national online self-exclusion scheme (NOSES), when it said self-exclusion was “to some extent a last resort”.

The numbers that have taken this last resort appear to be climbing, though the evidence is limited.

The data from the Commission’s annual figures for the year to March 2016 show that a total of 611,531 self-exclusions took place over the 12 months across all operators. This compares with 180,166 over the five-month period between November 2014 and March 2015.

Due to the issue of multiple accounts, we have no idea how many actual people are involved here. However, taking the absolute number and using that as a percentage of the similarly multiple-account affected overall accounts number, we can see that it does indeed correlate with Robinson’s 2-3% level.

The NOSES paper said the Commission was keen on laying just as much emphasis on “upstream” harm minimisation efforts, including the “improved provision of information to players”, gambling management tools made available to players and “effective customer interaction to identify players who are experiencing or are at risk of harm”.

John Hagan, gambling law expert at Harris Hagan, has been in charge of the gambling industry’s efforts with regard to NOSES as chairman of the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), and he says there is a lot more going on with regard to responsible gambling than the industry is often given credit for.

He adds, though, that engagement and participation are critical. “Industry participation is vital to obtaining information on current activities, establishing a vision for the future, testing messaging options, developing outcomes that are practical and workable and, crucially, implementing them.”

Just in terms of player messaging, Hagan goes on to suggest there is scope to improve the effectiveness of in-gaming information, which is bespoke to the player’s own gambling behaviour.

Robinson from deltaDNA agrees. “Real-time marketing can identify those most at risk. You can see the behaviours. You can send out warnings. You can build safeguards within the game that encourage problem gamblers to have a healthier approach to their gambling and that also protect them.

“Operators can get behind that and regulators are attracted to this approach. It’s about encouraging a healthier long-term relationship with these players against really just passing them over to someone else.”

Nathan Rothschild suggests that when it comes to big data and its potential utilisation in the gambling sector we are “only seeing the tip of the iceberg”.

“Look at how the advertising industry is employing retargeting, I think it gives us just a hint about how your past online activity will determine what front end you will see in the future,” he says. “It’s about clarity of offer, not just cramming information onto a screen. That is what the regulators are keen on.”

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