In recent years, some U.S. and European gaming regulators have required licensees to implement mandatory player tracking or customer interactions to identify potentially problematic online gambling and intervene to reduce the risk of harm.
Online gambling has been described as more accessible, affordable, anonymous, and convenient than brick-and-mortar casinos, with some researchers believing a 10 percent shift from land-based to online would increase the likelihood of being a problematic gambler by 8.8 percent to 12.6 percent.
Currently, ten states and the District of Columbia out of 27 states that offer both online and mobile sports betting require companies to intervene to reduce the risk of gambling harms to their customers, according to VIXIO research.
In Europe, 16 out of 40 countries have a customer interaction requirement, although the UK, Germany and other jurisdictions, including Ontario, oblige operators to deploy specific systems to detect potentially problematic play.
Dr. Michael Auer, a psychologist and statistician who studies gambling behaviors, said the biggest concern gambling operators face is the protection of their customers from the potential harms that are associated with online casino gaming.
“The operators have the capabilities to do so right now,” Auer said.
In a recent study, for example, Auer and fellow researchers asked players how much they deposited for online gambling and compared it with the actual amount based on player data.
What you see, Auer told VIXIO GamblingCompliance, is the average player has a pretty good idea of how much they gamble but the more they gamble online or in a casino the worse the estimation becomes.
He suggested a “very basic requirement” that operators inform players of the money in their account and how much they have spent each time they log in.
“This is not even a legal requirement, but it is so basic,” Auer said. “It should be introduced. It is so easy that someone can lose complete control of their environment.”
Any system could be modeled on the iPhone’s summary of activity report that is available every week, Auer suggested.
In a study published in the April 2023 edition of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Auer and co-author Mark Griffiths attempted to identify early patterns of gambling that are predictive of becoming high-risk in the future.
The study was based on player tracking data from an unidentified European online gambling operator and did not assess gambling-related harm using a self-report gambling screen.
Auer and Griffiths examined a gambler’s behavior during the first week after opening an account and high-risk gambling during their first 90 days.
Out of a total of 37,986 gamblers who registered at the operator between January 1 and April 30, 2022, the study found 2,764, or 7.3 percent, became high risk for at least one day in the 90 days after registration.
Those who were categorized as high risk averaged 38 years of age, with an average deposit per session of €160.28 and average loss per session of €124.33.
That compared with those considered to not be high risk for gambling problems whose average age was 30, with an average deposit per session of €10.37 and an average loss of €13.36.
Those considered high risk spent an average of 49.81 minutes online, while non-high-risk gamblers’ gambling sessions lasted on average 22.35 minutes.
Of the 35,222 gamblers categorized as not high risk, the total amount of money deposited within the first seven days of opening an online account was €32.55, with a loss of €23.10. That compared with €808.68 deposited on average by a high-risk gambler and a total amount of money lost of €352.96.
The study demonstrated that it is possible to predict a future classification of being a high-risk gambler based on the gambler’s transactions during the first week after registering on an online gambling site, wrote Auer and Griffiths.
Slightly more high-risk gamblers were female at 25 percent than non-high-risk gamblers at 23 percent.
Gamblers older than 56 years had a lower percentage of being high-risk gamblers compared with those aged between 39 and 55 years, the study found.
“If you look at this data, the loss of control is something very specific,” Auer said. “One thing they do is they can’t stop when they’ve lost. So, what they do is deposit, gamble, lose everything and then they deposit again and again and again.”
Also important, Auer told VIXIO, is to consider that “problem gambling is not gambling addiction.”
“These are two different things,” he said. “Every addict is a problem gambler but not every problem gambler is an addict. There must be certain [criteria] there for someone to be an addict.”
Among the criteria is tolerance, or an increase in consumption to achieve the same level of satisfaction, mood modification to possibly achieve excitement or suppress anxiety, and salience, which is a high level of consumption and thinking about it all the time.
Other addiction criteria include withdrawal symptoms and conflict, where the addict is in conflict with the habit, Auer said.
Auer said the psychological picture of a problem gamblers is the same worldwide, even if the products may be a little different with more land-based gambling relative to online gambling in the U.S.
“We know what happened in the brain of a gambling addict is the same as a cocaine or heroin addict,” he said.
Auer acknowledged that operators provide options to set spending limits, self-exclude and account statements, but he urged state gambling regulators to compare monthly statistics to get a better idea of any potential problems.
For example, he said regulators could ask for statistics on how many players gambled at least once last month, how many self-excluded or looked at their summary of activity.
“Then they could really tell what makes a difference,” he added. “Who does a good job promoting responsible gaming, who does a bad job.”