Can a so-called “seatbelt approach” be effective in helping promote responsible gaming?



What if there was an easy way that slot players could set responsible gambling limits, access information about their wins and losses, or even self-exclude right at the machine?

It’s not that far off. In fact, Nova Scotia is testing a system developed by Techlink Entertainment that does just that, and other gaming manufacturers are developing tools and technologies in this area as they are getting more and more requests to develop products or technologies that can serve as a “safety belt” of sorts for slot machines.

“The truth is that the problem has been around as long as gambling itself has been around. To a significant degree, and led in part by the gaming industry itself, we’ve seen sort of the dawn of a new day with regards to problem gambling,” said Bo Bernhard, director of gambling research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Bernhard participated in a panel discussion in March on responsible gaming during GLI’s annual North American Regulators Roundtable.

Connie Jones, director of responsible gaming for IGT, noted that interest first began in using the slot machine as a vehicle to deliver responsible gaming tools after a class action lawsuit was filed against Canadian gaming authorities in 2001, contending that the country’s duty of care statute within its criminal code was violated. That case, she said, is just now reaching the trial stage.

Jones noted “a dramatic increase in interest” in finding ways to use  technology on the machine to provide responsible gaming assistance.

The problem is how to do that effectively. Some previous efforts to institute clocks on slot machines, messages on the device, time limits or other measures haven’t shown much success and sometimes have had unintended consequences, such as causing problem gamblers to gamble faster or for higher stakes, Jones said during the panel discussion.

Asked about the trajectory of the issue, Jones said, “I would have to say that this is just the beginning, and I think it is very important for the gaming industry to embrace this issue because if we don’t work with researchers to determine what is going to be effective in helping vulnerable individuals, restrictions and regulations will be imposed on us that may not be in our best interest.”

Jones noted that, “curiously enough, safety features on a machine may end up do more to protect the industry than they will the consumer because there are allegations about deceptive gaming machines, predatory practices by the industry so it’s very important for the industry to be proactive in working with research community and problem gambling treatment community in providing tools.”

Bo Bernhard, director of gambling research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, demonstrates the Techlink responsible gaming device following a panel discussion in March at the Gaming Laboratories International’s annual North American Regulator Roundtable event in Las Vegas.  

Asked about the trajectory of the issue, Jones said, “I would have to say that this is just the beginning, and I think it is very important for the gaming industry to embrace this issue because if we don’t work with researchers to determine what is going to be effective in helping vulnerable individuals, restrictions and regulations will be imposed on us that may not be in our best interest.”

Jones noted that, “curiously enough, safety features on a machine may end up do more to protect the industry than they will the consumer because there are allegations about deceptive gaming machines, predatory practices by the industry so it’s very important for the industry to be proactive in working with research community and problem gambling treatment community in providing tools.”

Other even more stringent efforts are under way in countries such as Norway and Sweden, both with government-operated lotteries. In Norway, the government has instituted a global loss limit that and in Sweden, a complicated math algorithm will automatically kick a player deemed to be at risk off a machine, Bernhard said.

Bernard also discussed Nova Scotia’s effort to curb problem gambling using the Techlink product, on which UNLV has been hired by Techlink to conduct research.

The Sydney, Nova Scotia-based company develops responsible gaming solutions for video lottery terminals, slot machines, lottery terminals, the Internet and other gaming systems, according to an news article about Techlink and its president Sean Coyle.

“The responsible gaming market place is growing rapidly and we are well positioned as a leader with groundbreaking solutions. Our company is focused on building technologies that can help players play safely and within their limits which is also good for the operators and regulators in the industry.”

GAMEPLAN, is a card-based technology that empowers individuals to have more control and information when using gaming machines.

A panel of experts discussed responsible gaming efforts, including the use of technology on slot machines as tools for responsible gaming, during GLI’s annual North American Regulator Roundtable event. 

Players use their card to activate the gaming machine, and, if they choose, then have access to current information on their play. They can learn  exactly how much money they have won or lost on a machine; they can track how much they have spent over the past days, weeks, months, or year; and they can  limits on the amount of money they want to gamble over a period of time. The system also lets people exclude themselves from gambling on specific times or days, such as a Friday payday, or on Valentine’s Day, Bernhard said. “It’s a purely voluntary system,” Bernhard said.

“We’re getting about 50 percent of the players using some mechanism.” “It’s a purely voluntary system,” Bernhard said.

“We’re getting about 50 percent of the players using some mechanism,” he said. “The vast majority of the players are just accessing their account information.”

Jones said she likes the idea of informed choice as a way of empowering the consumer, while also taking the onus off the gaming industry to police the consumer. This strategy also involves technology that is a little less intrusive to the 95 percent of people who do not have a gaming problem, she said.

Responsible gaming is something Bally Technologies is paying close attention to and has developed tools to help casinos and jurisdictions with their needs, said Bruce Rowe, Bally senior vice president of strategy and business development.

“As a supplier it’s really not our responsibility to necessarily understand all the things may or may not work with responsible gaming, but it’s to make sure that our games and our systems embody whatever technology people think can make a difference.”

Bally offers several solutions, Rowe said.

“We have several different things we can do,” starting with using Bally’s Display Manager and Coolsign division to display responsible gaming messages, either before, during or after a gaming activity, he said.

Rowe

“We have the ability to allow people to set limits if they choose to throught the use of Display Manager, so they can set either financial limits or time limits or both, and then we have the ability to exclude, which we’ve had for a long time, players from direct mail and other marketing.”

Bally also has technology designed to help make self-exclusion more effective, he said.

“It seems logical that if a person asked to be helped and asks not to be allowed to play, that we should have technology that supports that,” he said.

“For about two years, we’ve been working on a product to use biometric recognition in a way to allow customers to self-exclude.. And the other thing we’ve done is obtain some patents that allow us to ensure that customer can actually remain anonymous to the casino,” he said.

Rowe noted that there’s potential for more people to choose to self-exclude if they didn’t have to disclose their identity. “If they could ask for help, but remain anonymous, they would then ask for help more often or maybe in the first instance,” he said.

The Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers and its 73 members have been active in supporting responsible gaming causes, according to Marcus Prater, AGEM executive director.

“It’s an industry issue. Whether you’re an operator, supplier or someone who has a vested interest, regionally, nationally or globally, everyone has an obligation to help out,” Prater said.

“In general AGEM supports a wide variety of problem gambling interests in the form of cash donations to fund their work. Our contributions touch a variety of different approaches, from research to education to hands-on treatment,” he said.

Among the organizations receiving support are The National Center for Responsible Gaming, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling and the Problem Gambling Treatment center. “All those things together, research, education and treatment, are important. What the ultimate goal is is to try to improve the situation.”

Prater noted that many AGEM member also make significant contributions on their own to these causes and also contribute their time and effort on the boards of directors for the various councils.