Monday, March 4, 2024

Destigmatizing problem gambling is crucial for ‘safer’ industry, says expert

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According to a report from January 2023, approximately 0.5% of the adult population in the UK has a problem with gambling, 3.8% are gambling at at-risk levels, and 7% are affected negatively by other people’s gambling.

The United Kingdom has arguably one of the biggest gambling markets in the world with a profit of £14.2 billion in 2020. However, it is arguably also the most developed gambling market in terms of regulations and player protection, thanks to a long history of gambling and thorough regulations and oversight from the Gambling Commission.

To add to that, initiatives like the Safer Gambling Week 2023, which is in progress from 13th to 19th November, promote safer gambling in widespread campaigns designed to decrease gambling harm across the country.

For Šimon Vincze of Casino Guru, a leading platform with information on online gambling, the Safer Gambling Week 2023 is yet another opportunity to include in ongoing efforts to improve the safety of players not only in the UK, but all around the world.

In this exclusive interview, Vincze talks about why there is no such thing as fully “safe gambling,” and what Casino Guru is doing to help make it as safe as possible.

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What is ‘safe online gambling’ for you?

There is no such thing as 100% safe gambling, as there is always a set of various risks that go along with the activity. Being aware of the risks and taking them into account is fundamental for safer play. Spending more money than one can afford, neglecting work or family commitments or allocating too much time to gambling all count as the harm that can come from gambling.

The goal is to minimize this harm by combining several factors, including the responsibilities of multiple parties. This combines players’ awareness and self-management, a duty of care from casinos to interact with and protect those exhibiting signs of problem gambling, and regulators setting up functional environments and safeguarding rules.

Most people engaging in gambling do it within their financial and time-related limits. Still, we know that gambling can be highly addictive, and too many people easily slip into the state when they cannot control themselves. They get into a vicious cycle of debts and lying that can cause a lifetime of harm to them and their loved ones. The ideal situation is to avoid this path through prevention or abstinence, which is not very popular among gamblers, as the thrill of the game comes first. For those who appear in a situation where they are unable to control their gambling, one of the things that they can do is to self-exclude from online gambling.

What services do you offer to promote a safer gambling environment online and to make it safer for gamblers?

Self-exclusion is a peculiar responsible gambling tool that is supposed to prevent individuals from gambling by building a barrier between them and the activity, especially for those unable to control themselves. It sounds simple, but the reason why I am so distinctive here is that self-exclusion is an imperfect concept.

One of the main areas is the limited scope of self-exclusion schemes that apply either to a single casino or, in some countries, to all casinos with the local license. However, everyone with an internet connection can access thousands of other casinos, as online gambling does not always respect national borders. We at Casino Guru are determined to change that by running an initiative for a Global Self-Exclusion System, which aims to create a system that will allow vulnerable players to self-exclude from playing at virtually all online casinos on a global level.

The issue with the scope is just the tip of the iceberg, as self-exclusion struggles with effectivity. Besides sensitive factors like verification of self-excluded players, false negatives, or data sharing, comes the lack of alignment across different jurisdictions. As a matter of fact, there is currently no international best practice on the self-exclusion process, leaving struggling players reliant on vague methods of various kinds.

To change that, Casino Guru has teamed up with City, University of London to develop recommendations on self-exclusion best practices. The Self-Exclusion Standards project combines research with a series of workshops of industry experts with different backgrounds, as well as consultations with broader stakeholders, to ensure transparency and accountability. Besides City, the project unites representatives from three continents and seven countries. The final recommendations will be publicly available, and further research is anticipated. My personal hope is that it will contribute to the further alignment of safer gambling policies across the globe.

What would you say are the biggest issues that many gamblers face when they gamble online?

The biggest issue that players face is, in my opinion, the lack of understanding of how gambling works, the image of gambling, and deception from the side of companies. How can one start gambling without knowing what happens in the background of slot or roulette spins and remain entertained within their limits? I often encounter players thinking that new slot games will have higher payout ratio because their authors want to make them popular, having no idea about the RTP. It is impossible to approach one’s gambling habits responsively and reflect the risks of losing control without sufficient information.

Unfortunately, the conscious attitude of players does not always solve the issue, as gambling companies are still highly tempted to treat players unfairly and create misleading rules, leading to dissatisfaction or harm. Even though many operators understand that safeguarding and educating players leads to more sustainable earnings and less harm, there are still those that go after vulnerable players and short-term gains.

The way players and the public see the gambling industry influences the approach towards prevention of problem gambling and its treatment. Looking for help because of gambling-related harm is often seen negatively, so people would rather avoid it than be labelled as problem gamblers. Destigmatizing the issue is an important step towards a safer gambling industry.

To tackle the issue, we have launched Casino Guru Academy, a platform with free educational courses primarily for online casino employees to improve their knowledge and player experience. The course themes span from customer support, through player verification and safer gambling, to successful and effective handling of player complaints.

Handling player complaints about online casinos is our specialty, as we operate the largest casino complaints resolution service on the internet, in which we help players mistreated by online casinos. Our experience from handling thousands of complaints is the main source of knowledge we put in our courses. Naturally, we are not able to cover all aspects of different topics, so for many of them, we collaborate with other specialized organizations that help us provide even more value to the Academy’s students.

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