The days when people could gamble without anyone else knowing are rapidly fading as the online industry expands and produces data crucial for tracking and preventing gambling addiction.
A laissez-faire approach is no longer just outdated but potentially ruinous for an industry which increasingly sees responsible gaming as a societal responsibility and unavoidable cost of doing business.
“I think the real key advantage to online is the fact that there is no anonymous play,” said Afshien Lashkari, lead engineer of the technical services bureau at the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“Now, the operators have the ability to say, ‘Wait a minute. We know who this is. We know what we have to do. We put the right tools in the right people’s hands, and they just need to do their due diligence.’”
Lashkari participated in an online seminar Thursday (September 15) sponsored by the American Gaming Association (AGA), which has made responsible gaming a top priority.
While traditional gambling at brick-and-mortar casinos remains more difficult to monitor than online games, that disparity is likely to vanish within two to three years, according to Cait DeBaun, AGA’s vice president of communications and responsibility.
“I think payments modernization is a key way that that happens because there are a lot of tools available when you have that kind of technology,” said DeBaun, who moderated the webinar.
Concerns about the privacy of gamblers in the industry’s transition to the digital era seem to be outweighed by gambling addiction which is widely perceived as an existential threat to the industry’s future.
For example, instead of sponsoring its traditional Responsible Gaming Education Week in September this year, the AGA decided to extend the week into an entire month.
With Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the largest gambling conference in North America scheduled to open October 10 in Las Vegas, the industry appears more determined than ever to prioritize responsible gambling to avoid the fate of the largely ostracized tobacco industry.
The other looming menace besides addiction - a massive sports betting scandal - also appears to be diminishing because professional athletes are so well paid and even college athletes are receiving lucrative contracts for the use of their name, image and likeness.
The biggest challenge facing the industry is keeping pace with changes in the preferences of consumers, according to Anika Howard, president and CEO of Wondr Nation, a digital gaming operation launched on May 17 by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut.
Howard said U.S. adults spend an average of four-and-a-half hours each day on their mobile devices, and mobile is where 35 percent of media consumption will occur next year.
“We see that there’s definitely a need to shift the way we communicate and talk about responsible gaming,” Howard said during the webinar.
Traditional methods like 1-800 numbers for problem gamblers should be supplemented with more modern alternatives, Howard said.
“And because customer behaviors are changing, I think some of the things that we need to do is really align the messaging and the tools that we give players.”
Research, specifically on advertising, must continue to bolster responsible gaming, according to Mark Vander Linden who is director of research and responsible gaming for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
“We’re flying in the dark to some degree here,” Vander Linden said during the webinar.
“We have some research, and we can paint it with rose-colored glasses that we have information, and we are advancing responsible gaming, but it moves quickly, and we don’t necessarily have the… resources for research (that we need).”
Funding to continue research on responsible gaming should come from not only the industry but state and federal governments as well, according to Vander Linden.
“I think the federal government, quite honestly, has dropped the ball on it and needs to step up,” he said.