EU social responsibility and player protection measures in igaming
Responsible gambling regulations and issues related to igaming operators' corporate and social responsibility are highly topical across European markets. In this article, Michael Auer, Alan Littler and Mark Griffiths analyse the responsible gambling and player protection measures currently in place across Europe.
During the industry’s nascent years, online gambling was either prohibited in some Member States because there was no legal basis in national law for online gambling licences to be awarded, or exclusivity held by incumbent operators in the land-based sphere was replicated in the online sector.
Within the context of the European Union increasing numbers of Member States are turning to local licensing regimes for online gambling and responsible gambling (RG) and player protection have become important regulatory aspects.
Information about important aspects of gambling has become a cornerstone of RG that operators regularly offer. Gambling operators regularly display information about such things as the probability of winning or where to get help if the player thinks they may have a problem.
Other popular ‘information’ features include the use of self-diagnostic tests (in which players can assess whether they show any behavioural signs related to problematic gambling) and warning messages (highlighting potential dangers of gambling).
Warning signs have been researched in other areas such as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking but have shown limited effect in enabling behavioural change.
Gambling researchers have investigated the effects of RG messages. In these studies, players were able to freely recall warning signs attached to land-based gambling machines immediately after play.
The mode and content also appeared to play an important role as dynamic pop-up messages that forced a break in play were more effective in changing gambling-related thoughts compared to a static message attached to the land-based gambling machine.
A large number of online gambling sites have incorporated specific RG measures that are only possible to apply in gambling environments where players can be identified and/or tracked behaviourally.
Such personalised gambling environments are characterised by the fact that all of a person’s gambling behaviour can be recorded over time. Currently the use of player cards in land-based machine gambling is only mandatory in Norway, Sweden, and parts of Austria.
Among the most popular player-centric RG practices, which can be part of statutory regulations, are mandatory limits, voluntary limits, self-exclusion schemes and personalized feedback.
Mandatory (i.e., based on statutory regulations) limit-setting initiatives can comprise time and/or money spending thresholds, and whilst the operator imposes limits upon players’ behaviour in some jurisdictions, this is often the result of licensing conditions to which the operator is bound. Mandatory money limit setting is found in government-owned or operated online gambling sites such as Instaspill (Norsk Tipping, Norway), win2day (Austrian Lotteries, Austria), and Svenska Spel’s gaming platforms (Sweden). In the Netherlands, De Lotto is required to apply different weekly spending limits to those between the ages of 18-24 years (€100) than to those over 24 years (€1000) in relation to its sports-betting offer when provided via the internet.
Voluntary (player choice) limit setting
Voluntary spending limits in which players can choose the maximum amount of time and/or money they want to spend within a specific period of time are now found on a growing number of online gambling sites. Regulatory regimes in many EU Member States require licensed operators to provide players the opportunity to set limits as part of the player registration process for online gambling. Therefore it is a mandatory requirement, imposed by the regulatory regime on the operator, requiring the operator to provide the player the opportunity to set limits. A player must set a limit before being able to play, but the amount that the player can select is voluntary.
Long-term voluntary self-exclusion schemes provide problem gamblers (or those who think they might develop a problem) with an option to prevent further harm. In Austria, self-exclusion has been offered to casino-players since 1934. Licensed operators in Denmark are required to provide players with the opportunity to request temporary or permanent exclusion from gambling. Alongside exclusion at the level of the operator, the Danish Gambling Authority maintains a register of players who want to be excluded from all Danish licencees, on a temporary or permanent basis. Central exclusion systems are also on the horizon in Great Britain.
Personalised feedback provides information to players that incorporates the players’ individual behaviour. At present, several RG accreditation organisations (such as GamCare based in the UK) mandatorily require pop-ups for gaming operators to receive gambling social responsibility certification. Within-session pop-ups are used in both online and offline gaming environments that utilise gaming screens (e.g., slot machines, games played via laptops and tablets). Very few online gambling operators appear to offer their players normative feedback. However, the RG tool mentor (used by the online gambling websites win2day, cashpoint.com and tipp3.de) incorporates normative feedback on money as well as time spent by players. Current legislative proposals in the Netherlands, so as to introduce a licensing regime for remote gaming, point to the fact that secondary legislation (which has not been published at the time of writing) will require operators to provide feedback to their players on a case-by-case basis. Trained staff members are foreseen as providing feedback via email, pop-ups, online chat or via the telephone.
Player behaviour analysis
Some researchers argue that early warning signs of problem gambling can be detected in online gambling environments via analysing player behaviour (e.g., Haefeli et al., 2011). In a real-world study of online gamblers, Braverman et al found several risk factors to be highly associated with future problem gambling.
Among players who engaged in more than two different gambling activities in their first month of gambling, and who also demonstrated high variability in their casino wager amounts, the authors reported that these players were eight times more likely to exhibit gambling-related problems.
The possibility of the detection of early signs related to future gambling related problems naturally raises the question of possible interventions such as appropriate player messages.
Such messages could potentially address players who are predicted to develop gambling-related problems and provide helpful advice and assistance. Such messages act in a preventive way.
If future problem gambling can be predicted, then the question arises as to whether operators are obligated to take action beyond messaging (e.g., excluding players as part of a ‘duty of care’).
However, it must be noted that such predictive systems are statistical in nature and can never achieve 100% accuracy. Players who do not develop problems in the future will always partly be predicted to do so and vice versa.
Consequently such algorithms should not be used as the sole source in leading operators to actively exclude or inhibit players from gambling. Personalised messages have shown to change behaviour in several areas such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, and fitness activity.
Personalised messages that address players who exhibit playing patterns presumed to be indicative of future gambling-related problems are exceptionally rare among online gambling operators.
This might be due to the fact that research in this area is limited and on the other hand sophisticated behavioural tracking systems have to be deployed (which can be very expensive).
On the other hand, the same technologies are being used to attract players to gamble and increase profit. To the authors knowledge only two commercially available RG systems (i.e., PlayScan and mentor) provide such messages and are being used by several European operators.
Several jurisdictions in and around the EU and further afield established regulatory and licensing regimes for online gambling. Operators established and licensed within the EU sought to rely upon the free movement of services, as one of the principles underpinning the internal market, to offer services licensed in Gibraltar and Malta to those residing in other Member States.
Following preliminary references to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), case law emerged which denied the application of the principle of mutual recognition to gambling services.
Therefore, national prohibitions or monopolies could remain so long as the resulting restriction on the free movement of services was justifiable.
Regulatory amendments could be introduced to bring the regulatory regime and behaviour of the monopolist within the boundaries of behaviour that would be a justifiable restriction.
Conditions defining license eligibility and a whole swathe of licensing conditions are means by which Member States can express national regulatory preferences in line with their ‘margin of discretion’ under EU law when regulating gambling.
Such national licensing regimes must be compliant with the free movement case law too, just as their more free movement restrictive predecessors (prohibitions and monopolies).
Through such national licensing regimes, Member States are able to give effect to national policy preferences and the prevention of problem gambling and gambling addiction is one such field, alongside more general consumer protection measures designed to protect (potential) players.
National licensing regimes thus enable Member States to impose RG and player protection requirements on licensed operators, on pain of enforcement measures.
Consequently, whilst RG measures have emerged from within the industry itself, the emergence and development of national regulatory regimes has increased the plethora of RG measures found within the European gambling market.
This has given rise to initiatives at the European level despite the fact that no gambling-specific legislation will be proposed for the foreseeable future.
Michael Auer is Business manager responsible gaming for Neccton. He is also completing his PhD at Nottingham Trent University with Mark Griffiths.
Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University (UK), and has published over 1,500 articles on gambling.
Alan Littler is a gaming lawyer at Kalff Katz & Franssen Attorneys at Law.
Picture courtesy of Gamcare.