Destigmatizing problem gambling is key to a safer industry, says expert

According to a January 2023 report, around 0.5% of UK adults have a gambling problem, 3.8% gamble at a risky level and 7% are negatively affected by other people’s gambling.

The UK has one of the largest gambling markets in the world with profits of 14.2 billion in 2020. However, it is also arguably the most developed gambling market in terms of regulation and player protection, thanks to a long history of gambling and thorough regulation and oversight by the Gambling Commission .

To add to this, initiatives such as Safer Gambling Week 2023, which runs from 13th until 19th November, are promoting safer gambling in widespread campaigns designed to reduce gambling harm across the country.

For Simon Vince from Casino Guru, the leading online gambling information platform, Safer Gambling Week 2023 is another opportunity to get involved in ongoing efforts to improve player safety not only in the UK, but around the world.

In this exclusive interview, Vincze discusses why there is no such thing as completely safe gambling, and what Casino Guru is doing to help make it as safe as possible.

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What is ‘safe online gambling’ to you?

There is no such thing as 100% safe gambling, as there are always a number of different risks that go along with the activity. Being aware of the risks and taking them into account is fundamental to safer play. Spending more money than one can afford, neglecting work or family responsibilities, or devoting too much time to gambling all count as harm that gambling can bring.

The goal is to minimize this damage by combining several factors, including the responsibilities of multiple parties. This combines player awareness and self-management, a casino’s duty of care to interact with and protect those who show signs of gambling problems, and regulators to set a functioning environment and safeguarding rules.

Most people who gamble do so within their financial and time constraints. However, we know that gambling can be highly addictive, and too many people easily fall into a state where they cannot control themselves. They enter a vicious cycle of debt and lies that can cause lifelong damage to them and their loved ones. The ideal situation is to avoid this path through prevention or abstinence, which is not very popular among gamblers, because the excitement of the game comes first. For those who find themselves in a situation where they are unable to control their gambling, one of the things they can do is to self-exclude from online gambling.

What services do you offer to promote a safer online gambling environment and make it safer for gamblers?

Self-exclusion is a particularly responsible gambling tool that should prevent individuals from gambling by building a barrier between them and the activity, especially for those who are unable to control themselves. It sounds simple, but the reason I’m so distinctive here is that self-exclusion is an imperfect concept.

One of the main areas is the limited scope of self-exclusion schemes that apply either to a single casino or, in some countries, to all locally licensed casinos. However, anyone with an internet connection can access thousands of other casinos, as online gambling does not always respect national borders. We at Casino Guru are determined to change that by launching the Global Self-Exclusion System initiative, which aims to create a system that will allow vulnerable players to self-exclude themselves from playing at virtually all online casinos globally.

The volume problem is only the tip of the iceberg, as self-exclusion struggles with efficiency. In addition to sensitive factors such as verification of self-excluded players, false negatives or data sharing, there is also a lack of compliance across jurisdictions. In fact, there is currently no international best practice regarding the self-exclusion process, leaving struggling players to rely on obscure methods of various kinds.

To change that, Casino Guru has teamed up with City, University of London to develop self-exclusion best practice recommendations. The Self-Exclusion Standards Project combines research with a series of workshops by industry experts with diverse backgrounds, as well as consultation with wider stakeholders, to ensure transparency and accountability. In addition to the City, the project unites representatives from three continents and seven countries. Final recommendations will be publicly available, and further research is anticipated. I personally hope that it will contribute to the further harmonization of safer gambling policies around the world.

What would you say are the biggest problems many gamblers face when gambling online?

The biggest problem players face, in my opinion, is a lack of understanding of how gambling works, the image of gambling and deception by companies. How can someone start gambling without knowing what goes on behind the scenes of spinning slots or roulette and having fun within their limits? I often come across players who think that new slot games will have a higher payout ratio because their authors want to make them popular, they have no idea about RTP. It is impossible to approach your gambling habits responsibly and reflect the risk of losing control without sufficient information.

Unfortunately, the conscious attitude of players does not always solve the problem, as gambling companies are still very tempted to treat players unfairly and create misleading rules, which lead to dissatisfaction or harm. Although many operators realize that protecting and educating players leads to more sustainable earnings and less damage, there are still those who go after vulnerable players and short-term gains.

The way players and the public view the gambling industry affects the approach to problem gambling prevention and treatment. Seeking help for gambling-related harm is often perceived negatively, so people would rather avoid it than be labeled a problem gambler. Destigmatizing this issue is an important step towards a safer gambling industry.

To solve this problem, we launched Casino Guru Academy, a platform with free educational courses primarily for online casino employees to improve their knowledge and player experience. Course topics range from customer support, through player verification and safer gambling, to successful and efficient player complaint handling.

Resolving player complaints about online casinos is our specialty, as we operate the largest casino complaint resolution service on the internet, helping players who are mistreated by online casinos. Our experience in handling thousands of complaints is the main source of knowledge we put into our courses. Of course, we are not able to cover all aspects of the various topics, so for many of them we collaborate with other specialized organizations that help us provide even more value to the Academy’s students.

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