Are Self-Service Safer Gambling Tools Helping Vulnerable Players?
Safer gambling tools are the suite of responsible gambling tools, like reality checks and spending limits, that players have available to them at UK-licensed gambling sites. The tools are provided aiming to encourage consumer self-management over gambling behavior. But how good are these tools, do players use them, and are they helping vulnerable gamblers?
Safer gambling tools
UK-licensed operators are all bound to ensure player safety. One of the cornerstones of this is responsible gambling. UK consumers are expected to monitor and self-manage their gambling behavior, knowing gambling is potentially addictive. Gambling sites must provide the support, tools, and education required to achieve this.
Safer gambling tools include:
- Deposit limits: Set daily, weekly, or monthly limits on deposits.
- Reality checks: Get a pop-up play time reminder.
- Product restrictions: Puts a limitation on certain gambling products, like casino games or sports betting.
- Timeouts: Take a short-term break from a gambling site by setting a timeout for several days up to six weeks. There is no marketing during this time.
- Self-exclusion: Gamstop is a voluntary self-exclusion scheme that sets an online gambling ban for six months to five years. There is no marketing during this time.
Outside the casino, players can also put a bank stop on gambling products via their bank, block gambling websites using software like Gamban and BetBlocker and even opt out of gambling-related content on social media.
These tools are customer-facing, but operators also have a role in educating players on how to monitor their gambling behavior and use safer gambling tools. Simply providing the tools is insufficient.
Operators can also encourage responsible behavior and safer gambling via their practices and site terms and conditions. Ensuring transparency and fairness is key to this. Wagering requirements are a great example; the UKGC has recently called them out as potentially encouraging excessive gambling.
Slot sites and online casinos that encourage responsible play don’t list offers with sky-high wagering requirements because this bonus term encourages players to spend large amounts of money quickly to cash out.
The free spins casino sites and welcome bonus offers with no wagering requirements provide a much safer and fair deal for players, who only need to spend the bonus once to qualify for a withdrawal. At the best gambling sites, fairness and transparency extend throughout the whole site's T&Cs.
How effective are safer gambling tools?
Rates of problem gambling in the UK are falling, according to the latest round of industry stats from the UKGC. Compared with 2020, high-risk gamblers are down from 0-6% to 0.3% and statistically stable. That’s a significant improvement, but this reduction is not necessarily connected to increased consumer use of self-management and safer gambling tools.
Budget limits, reality checks, and timeouts
The uptake of budget setting and reality checks in the UK is low, with only 8% of players using this safer gambling tool in 2020, according to UKGC data. Interestingly, financial limits were the safer gambling tool UK players knew most about and used most often. Reality checks had a 5% uptake rate. What’s most impactful, across all categories, is the high number of players unaware that safer gambling tools exist and the number opting not to use them.
One way to solve player awareness of safer gambling tools (and therefore increase their use and effectiveness) is to introduce them as mandatory measures. Past research has shown across 40,000 Australian gamblers that voluntary gambling harm reduction tools aren’t used.
However, making it compulsory for consumers to set limits or opt out positively affects gambling behaviors.
After budget limits and reality reminders, timeouts are considered the next step up. Timeouts are designed to break a cycle of negative gambling behaviors by enforcing a stop. When dissociation is taking place, it can be very effective. However, as the table shows, the UK’s awareness and uptake of timeouts are low. When understanding and uptake of a tool are low, it’s ineffective.
GamStop is the UK’s internet gambling voluntary self-exclusion scheme, and Moses is its land-based counterpart. The idea is that players register for a time period and then cannot access gambling during the ban.
Both Moses and GamStop have been criticized as not fit for purpose after a 5 Live investigation revealed that players who had self-registered could still place high street bets and open new online accounts by using a different spelling of their name.
This is one of the numerous issues with the scheme. Since Gamstop first appeared in the UK in 2018, the number of Google searches and websites covering how to evade Gamstop has skyrocketed. As a result of Gamstop being applicable to all UK-licensed online gambling sites, this often leads consumers to offshore, unregulated gambling sites.
Other elements of Gamstop’s design have come under fire, such as deregistering being too straightforward – it takes only one phone call and a 24-hour cooling-off period.
Safer gambling tools are certainly not perfect; if anything, this article has highlighted their many issues. At the fundamental level, and the biggest flaw, is that unless setting restrictions (or opting out) is mandatory, safer gambling tools rely on gamblers' self-awareness and identification of problem gambling. This is not common practice, according to the UKGC.
Even if the current range of safer gambling tools were introduced as compulsory measures, they’ve been argued as unattractive, with their design lagging behind the product and setting/changing limits causing friction. Research conducted by Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) for GambleAware found that “deposit limit tools have the potential to deliver benefits to those who gamble and to society as a whole, without constraining customer choice, but innovation and development have been lacking.”
In short, it’s time to redesign safer gambling tools to better suit gamblers’ needs.
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