What role can technology play in responsible gaming? Suren Azatyan assesses whether artificial intelligence and machine learning can help protect vulnerable players
Gaming and gambling are branches of entertainment industry. They offer fun, improve the mood, relax the brain and allow an escape from the stresses of everyday life.
In theory. In reality, for some, gambling can be a double-edged sword, which is why responsible gaming has become such a key focus for the industry, one in which technology is beginning to play a significant role.
But to what extent will technology ensure a safer and fairer environment for both consumers and service providers? Most gaming regulations around the world now demand that online operators offer their services in a respectful, responsible manner, based on predetermined standards. Protecting vulnerable players, preventing underage gambling, guarding against fraudulent and criminal behaviour, safeguarding information, and advertising in a responsible and ethical manner are the holy grails.
Traditionally, the protection of vulnerable players – one of the most important components of responsible gambling – has been left to the players themselves. At best, the tools to help players, such as spending limits, are provided to them as a ‘suggestion’ from the operator’s side (where this has also been human controlled).
So, what can technology offer us to improve the responsible gambling processes and make them safer, faster and more intelligent?
Mobile and tablet usage has already surpassed laptops and PCs in some gambling markets. In some territories, more than 50% of players use mobile devices to gamble and many operators have prioritised mobile platforms, developing gambling portals that are user-friendly and intuitive.
Biometric data, including fingerprints and facial recognition will bring ID and verification processes to a new level, improving and smoothing a player’s onboarding process, identification and verification, thereby enhancing KYC. Similarly, biometrics will hugely improve the prevention of underage gambling.
Stopping underage gambling, in particular, can be improved by a technological verification process. Smartphones and tablets are already using biometric data to ensure unprecedented security for personal data stored on mobile devices, and it’s only a matter of time before this technology is used in online gambling.
Rise of the machines
Most responsible gambling controls are based on user behaviour. These controls allow operators to analyse players’ habits and offer unique opportunities inside their gaming portals. Now, imagine that all this is controlled by smart machines rather than humans.
2019 is a critical year for machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).
These rapidly developing technologies are increasingly being used in the real world, including in the online gambling industry. In dealing with a large amount of data generated by millions of players, gaming presents an ideal platform to implement ML/AI- based tools and controls. By helping to streamline processes and procedures, they will significantly improve the industry.
Coupled with the IoT (internet of things), ML and AI will make it possible to collect, analyse and process vast amounts of data, at speed. ML/AI-powered portals will be able to analyse user data and adapt portals, basing them on distinct parameters to create a different look and feel, as well as creating individual content, activities and promotions for each user.
Imagine this ML/AI-based portal being able to analyse player behaviour, segment users, then continuously monitor their behaviour. The results of this monitoring could then be applied to create special user groups, or to identify high rollers or suspicious players.
More importantly, these portals could one day identify and monitor potential vulnerable players. They could help prevent problems from developing by applying automated restrictions and limits, or even excluding customers that don’t heed warnings. All automated, almost without a human touch.
The same could be applied to customer satisfaction tools and measures. The use of ML-powered chatbots and support agents could minimise response times, maximise efficiency and increase customer satisfaction scores.
AI/ML technologies can also be used to help improve gambling environments. They can make portals secure and fair, applying random automated scans to identify faults in the system or website. Other integrated internal and third-party software modules can be used to run the operation and ensure proper service availability for consumers.
While the dream may be to automate the whole process of responsible gambling, this is not as simple as it seems. Machine learning is not yet at the point where it can be trusted entirely without human input. You can’t hand it all over to a machine just yet – humans still need to program the algorithms.
Monitoring individuals for unusual behaviour could help stop fraud and theft on accounts. But it is unlikely to identify addicted gamblers, as their habits will be those of a problem player from the start. Normal patterns, gathered from large numbers of users, could be used as the benchmark, but this could run into ethical difficulties.
Where should the industry go with all this?
The use of technology can go some way towards addressing responsible gaming, as it has more ability to monitor at scale and implement controls established by regulations. But regulation alone is not enough – you are hitting a fairly low bar if all you are doing is ticking the regulatory boxes.
Regulators put boundaries in place, but if you have to rely on these, you’re not really doing enough. This leaves the gaming industry to set their own goals and to use a combination of technology and human input to ensure high standards.
Though the industry has already started to integrate technologies to support responsible gaming, there is more to be done. Technology will never be able to solve the entire issue, but it can go a long way towards helping the industry to address the problem and to ensure it continues to serve those who simply want to have some fun.
Suren Azatyan is in charge of business development for DataArt’s betting and gaming practice. Prior to joining DataArt, Suren held managerial roles in a number of technology firms, from start- ups to leading conglomerates. He has a strong technical background and a deep understanding of the betting and gaming industry, gained through being involved in sales and marketing at several leading igaming companies, including BetConstruct, EveryMatrix and Cherry AB.