Today’s government gaming regulators are being asked to manage a difficult and often contradictory set of priorities. On one hand, the rapid growth of online wagering opportunities is creating an unprecedented scope of new licensing and revenue opportunities contributing to a massive taxation largesse. On the other hand, the ready convenience of online betting apps and the current ubiquity of gambling advertising presents significant challenges in protecting citizens ‘at risk’ from gambling addiction related behaviors.
To navigate this oft conflicting agenda to maximize tax revenues while simultaneously providing a secure and safe gaming environment for citizens, today’s government gaming regulators are increasingly reliant on providing ‘problem’ gamblers with an available environment for temporary or permanent self-exclusion. In contrast to the Responsible Gaming Model which is intended to protect all citizens by establishing and publicizing key betting limits and wagering ‘guard rails,’ self-exclusion is the nuclear option that willingly sacrifices government gaming revenues by prohibiting at risk gamblers from transacting. Proven effective as a tactic for both protecting and rehabilitating problem gamblers, self-exclusion models typically fall into one of two categories:
- Supply-Side Self-Exclusion puts the onus on Gaming Operators to curb problematic betting behavior by monitoring and mitigating their service offerings to enforce wagering limits and access restrictions in reaction to transactional betting patterns consistent with ‘at risk’ individuals.
- Individual Self-Exclusion puts the onus on the bettors themselves to request self-exclusion, either temporarily or permanently, from one or more wagering services, with the scope of the excluded services typically defined by a jurisdiction’s regulatory regime and rules.
Given the inherent limitations of any governance model designed to curb self-destructive behaviors, the efficacy of self-exclusion tactics often boils down to how invasive a jurisdiction chooses to be in the application of such prohibitions. Interestingly, given the history of gambling regulation, the most stringent self-exclusion models are often found in the most mature gaming markets like Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom, where a long history of legal gambling has informed regulators with a wealth of longitudinal data on the benefits of consistent and stringent self-exclusion options for at risk individuals. Compared to relatively newer gambling markets like the United States and Canada where regulation typically (albeit not always) assumes more of a business-friendly, laissez faire approach, punitive tactics that can fine both operators and individuals alike for contravening self-exclusion barriers—while effective—are often seen as too heavy handed for North American gaming regulators to consider as feasible enforcement tactics.
The Hurdles That Block Sustainable Self-Exclusion
Establishing how to manage the self-exclusion balancing act is one of the most crucial decisions a gaming regulatory agency can make. To avoid potential hurdles to effective enforcement, it is beneficial to consider both the potential and inherent weaknesses of the various self-exclusion models that exist today:
- Low Program Uptake
- Self-Exclusion Loopholes
- Inconsistent Rehabilitation Response
- The most common issue associated with self-exclusion is the relatively low uptake of such programs compared to the actual percentage of gamblers identifying as ‘at risk’ for compulsive or addictive behaviors. The key factors contributing to this issue are:
- The perceived stigma of citizens requesting self-exclusion.
- Inadequate resources to publicize self-exclusion opportunities to all citizens.
- Lack of consistency in self-exclusion policies and enforcement across jurisdictions creating confusion for potential applicants on the expected process and ramifications.
- Poor staff training to ensure self-exclusion requests are administered immediately and effectively.
- Inadequate follow-up measures to ensure program compliance and to facilitate rehabilitation support.
- Inconsistent analysis of self-exclusion models to inform program modifications to increase uptake and compliance.
Assuming a jurisdiction is successful in clearing this first key hurdle to engender sufficient uptake within their self-exclusion model, further hurdles lay in wait:
- The lack of a licensed monopoly in most jurisdictions make it untenable for government agencies to prohibit at risk individuals from all potential avenues to transact. This creates loopholes for potential ‘problem’ gamblers to transact outside the operational footprint wherein government agencies can feasibly enforce robust self-exclusion. Such loopholes included the following:
- Self-exclusion models that prohibit ‘bricks and mortar’ access only.
- Unregulated online operators that knowingly transact in the jurisdiction.
- Licensed third party operators that administer their own self-exclusion model internally, or more typically, defer to a supply-side and/or responsible gaming model in lieu of robust infrastructure for individual self-exclusion.
- Ineffective frameworks for ensuring third party operational compliance with jurisdictional self-exclusion lists.
- Government regulated gaming offerings that don’t readily lend themselves to stringent self-exclusion tactics (e.g. lotteries and scratch cards, bingos, fantasy sports).
In particular, the ability of compulsive or addicted gamblers to easily evade self-exclusion bans by transacting with unlicensed online operators represents the largest hurdle preventing an effective self-exclusion model. Currently, only Germany, Norway, and Sweden, stringently enforce a self-exclusion model that covers both land-based and licensed online gambling across the entirety of their operational footprint.
- In addition to these loopholes, another factor influencing the efficacy of self-exclusion models is the jurisdictional availability and application of crisis counselling resources. Given the critical timing for at risk individuals (i.e. at the moment when they are acknowledging potentially problematic behavior and seeking government intervention to help mitigate such illness), recent studies demonstrate that jurisdictions leveraging existing counselling services in tandem with robust self-exclusion tactics can be more effective in mitigating the damages associated with problem gambling. For this reason, jurisdictions that successfully self-exclude the individual in the transactional relationship while failing to follow-up with effective counselling in the human relationship run the risks of low adoption and eventual non-compliance with their self-exclusion models.
Recommendations For a Robust Self-Exclusion Program
With the hurdles to self-exclusion sustainability clearly defined, regulatory agencies can focus their energies on the tactics that create a foundation for a sustainable self-exclusion model as follows:
- Self-Exclusion programs must be accompanied by an effective communications strategy to publicize the program properly, incorporating a handful of key elements:
- Visibly promoted messaging concisely conveying the key benefits of self-exclusion for at risk individuals.
- Positive calls-to-action counteracting the potential stigma for program participants, reinforcing the ease and confidentially of the application process, and the availability of additional counselling and support services.
- Complimentary responsible gaming messaging emphasizing the inherent risks of gambling and the promotion of risk awareness tools and wagering limits to mitigate against compulsive or addictive betting behaviors.
- Effective staff training to facilitate prompt and effective reaction to self-exclusion requests.
- Targeted and responsive counselling resources to seamlessly transition at risk individuals from initial problem recognition into ongoing treatment and rehabilitation.
- Provision of tools for citizens seeking to block online gambling sites.
- Operators should remove all self-excluded individuals from ongoing promotional activity and incentive offers during the entirety of their requested exclusion period.
- Programs must offer a range of time periods for exclusion.
- A reinstatement process should occur before the self-excluded individual is permitted re-entry.
- Self-exclusion programs should be evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure programs are effective, have no unintended harmful consequences, and are conducted in compliance with the required processes.
With these foundational resources in place, those jurisdictions seeking a more robust self-exclusion model with enforcement ‘teeth’ comparable to more stringent regulatory regimes can consider the following tactics.
- Central Self-Exclusion Registry
Various nations/states maintain a central self-exclusion register, enabling ID-based identification of self-excluded gamblers. At their request, these individuals are prohibited access to gamble at any venue or online service covered by the register. Such procedures have been implemented for both online and land-based gambling in Germany and Sweden, for land-based gambling and sports wagering in Massachusetts, and for online gambling in Finland, Italy and Australia.
- Non-Compliance Fines
Some jurisdictions enforce financial penalties for operators and/or consumers for violating self-exclusion agreements.
- In Massachusetts for example, program participants violating their voluntary self-exclusion agreement are escorted from the gaming floor of the establishment when detected and forfeit any money wagered, won, or lost, including money converted to wagering instruments. Forfeited monies are transferred to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be deposited into the Gaming Revenue Fund.
- In Sweden, the Gambling Authority has imposed extensive fines on the gambling industry for violating the law regarding self-exclusion.
- Exclusion Lists
Comparable to a central registry but restricted to a smaller scope of individuals, exclusions lists are often used to prevent athletes and staffs associated with professional and amateur sports leagues from wagering on games associated with their league. Whilst not falling under the category of voluntary self-exclusion per se, this type of proactive prohibition nevertheless demonstrates the effectiveness of blocking bettors at the individual identity level, providing further proof of the efficacy of ID-based exclusion tactics.
Leveraging Technology to Equip Your Self-Exclusion Program
Whatever path your agency pursues to protect your at-risk citizens to provide them with a safe and secure gaming environment, be it a robust individual self-exclusion model and/or a supply side exclusion model leveraging responsible gaming guard rails, the data management abilities of your chosen Gaming Control Software solution will play a pivotal role in your efforts to achieve effective compliance and enforcement in this endeavor.
Whether you are an agency operator facilitating your own branded gaming offering OR a regulator facilitating oversight of licensed third-party operators, it is mission critical that your Gambling Control Software can effectively integrate with and exchange information with the full range of gaming systems and software facilitating today’s online and bricks-and-mortar offerings. By leveraging the capabilities of big data within your own internal gaming control system, your agency can facilitate a true closed-loop, automation assisted process to monitor and manage both internal and licensee compliance with your current self-exclusion regulations.
Leveraging a POSSE GCS System that seamlessly correlates your complaint > investigation > enforcement > remedy process directly to the applicable licensee profiles, your agency can closely monitor and manage the status/outcomes for reported self-exclusion and advertising infringements, with POSSE GCS enabling the flagging of those operators failing to comply with current regulations and legislation. Once flagged, POSSE GCS users can notify licensees of the steps need to reconcile potential licensing infractions including appropriate fines to be paid or remedies to be actioned, the available appeal process, or even potential license loss for excessive self-exclusion infringements when warranted.
For those progressive agencies seeking to implement a proactive self-exclusion model, where these efforts may ultimately lead is a broader organizational awareness of the capabilities of your regulatory regime and gaming control system to function in tandem as sustainable public health infrastructure to protect your most at-risk citizens. While the prevalence of those suffering from legitimate gambling addictions is often greatly exaggerated as a percentage of the larger whole, it is nevertheless worthwhile to keep in mind the words of Mahatma Gandhi who said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” While Gandhi undoubtedly did not have a self-exclusion model in mind when he spoke these words, the quotation nevertheless offers a clear guidepost for government gaming regulators striving to balance the potentially contradictory goals of maximizing gaming revenues whilst simultaneously protecting the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens. It is to these mutual ends that an effective self-exclusion model empowered by robust gaming control software can meet the needs of all citizens.