Let’s face it, sometimes gaming does not live up to people’s expectations. Losses can follow hot on the heels of big wins, something which many will take in their stride and understand as being part of the game. On the other hand, there are those who seem to think that the cure for a headache is to hit your head harder against the wall.
This is a worry, but not an insurmountable one; here at Coingaming we’re in the vanguard of finding ways to ensure responsible gaming for all. Nothing less than that will do, so let’s have a look at how that works.
What is problem gaming?
It’s important not to underestimate the issue of problem gaming. Yes, there are irresponsible sites out there who will allow just that, but non one with a conscience can ignore the facts. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar global industry and whilst most people play happily enough within their means, as with a lot of forms of entertainment, there is always the minority who take it too far.
“Sometimes the symptoms are a bit less obvious, such as pleading for more bonuses, promos or free spins over and above what is normally on offer.”
Fortunately, there are tell-tale signs that can help us identify those who are ‘at risk’ of developing future issues early on and take the necessary measures to get the player back on track. Some of these signs would include an increased level of contact with customer service agents via Live Chat, email and other means, often using emotionally charged language concerning gaming or even openly stating they have a problem. But sometimes the symptoms are a bit less obvious, such as pleading for more bonuses, promos or free spins over and above what is normally on offer. Players who are getting out of their depth sometimes try to recoup their losses using ‘free’ money, but it can be a vicious circle as they take greater and greater risks which don’t pay off, then request more bonus money to cover those losses… and on it goes.
Recognising the warning signs is vital for operators in this industry
Other indicators include lengthier-than-usual visits to a site, unusually high levels of spending or sudden bursts of higher spending over a shorter amount of time. This can happen just as easily in sportsbook betting as with online slots, so it’s not like there is an area of this industry which is immune to irresponsible gaming.
Very serious impacts
The consequences are self-evident, starting with the financial fallout: using up all your funds can lead to the neglecting of important bill payments and other commitments, and ultimately even bankruptcy. But worse than that (since money can always be recouped) is the lost time (which cannot), irreparably damaged relationships, negative impact on health and well being, and issues with an employer.
And it can get even darker — one hospital in Australia, for instance, reported that around 17 percent of those hospitalised with suicidal tendencies have gaming problems. At this level we are talking about chronic and compulsive gamblers, which tend to be inherently different from those we might flag up as ‘at risk’ on a day-to-day basis. The level of involvement required for such cases would go beyond the capabilities of guidance and support that online outfits are usually able to offer. People for whom gambling has become chronic or compulsive require professional medical intervention.
Problem gaming is an internationally recognised psychological issue (the technical term is ‘Ludomania’), with international classification numbers to boot. With the gaming commission in the UK investigating several hundred gaming companies and reviewing the licenses of around half a dozen of them, social responsibility is clearly something which needs to be in focus.
Within every ’at risk’ problem gaming case there are processes which can help
Fortunately, the potential actions and processes to help are myriad and they can be grouped into three main categories: self-help methods where the gamer recognises she or he has a problem, actions taken by the player themselves or the gaming site, and finally ‘external’ solutions outside the remit of the gaming site, such as GamCare.
Self-exclusion and player-diagnosed support
Self-exclusion, where a gamer voluntarily decides to take time out from gaming — usually temporarily but sometimes permanently — is a good way to take ownership of one’s own gaming habits. This can not only lead to a more reasonable level of gaming in the future, but also set a precedent where the player knows what to look for so they’re less likely to overdo their playing. Under our Estonian Gaming license, we offer self-exclusion functions and reality checks, meaning a player gets a pop-up notifying them how long they have been playing for.
A more drastic measure would be for a user to close down their account altogether, but at the other end of the spectrum there are some borderline cases where a person might be questioning whether they have an issue or not. One way of determining this is to take a self-assessment quiz, where the player answers a series of questions anonymously to get a clearer picture. At the Coingaming Group, we offer 24 hours, 7 days, 1 month and 6 month self-exclusion options as well as permanent closure of a player’s account if requested or suggested by our team.
Gaming site vigilance and support.
Resources like self-help quizzes are really the preserve of the gaming site itself. Any site worth its salt should provide help for those who are in trouble. This is where good customer service channels come into play, the more personal the better. So for instance, Live Chat or a phone contact is preferable to email. Customer service agents should be trained to watch out for certain key phrases in communications or particular player activities, how to initiate interactions based on those behaviours and take action accordingly. Dedicated managers should be available to supervise this process and strict procedures in place, including set texts to send in communications with the customer, to ensure consistency.
“Disreputable casino sites who make it hard for customers to withdraw or are sneaky about the terms and conditions of their bonuses effectively encourage irresponsible gaming, since players can’t quit while they’re ahead as easily.”
This principle should carry through to all the other departments at a socially responsible gaming site too. For instance, at the Coingaming Group we ensure that withdrawals are processed as rapidly as possible, within 2 minutes on average, something which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies lend themselves to. On the surface this may seem counter-intuitive — if people can deposit and withdraw quickly, surely they are more likely to bet more and more and get into hot water?
In fact, practically the opposite is the case: disreputable casino sites who make it hard for customers to withdraw or are sneaky about the terms and conditions of their bonuses effectively encourage irresponsible gaming, since players can’t quit while they’re ahead as easily. Instead, they end up cancelling their pending withdrawal, ‘reinvesting’ their winnings, or using bonus money to chase losses. With fast withdrawals it’s perfectly possible to play for a short time, make a withdrawal of any winnings gained and carry on with the rest of their day — having a fun, fast and fair gaming experience.
Outside help exists too
Finally, there are plenty of external resources available to combat irresponsible gaming and which are beyond the purview of any one gaming site. These include organisations like Gamcare, which as its name suggests is set up to provide information, advice, support and free counselling for problem gamers, as well as 12-step groups like Gamblers’ Anonymous, the Samaritans, and psychotherapists and other practitioners.
Never label someone a problem gamer
It is crucial to point out that, whilst problem gaming is a very real blight on an otherwise attractive landscape, we are not in a position to actually diagnose someone with problem gaming. This is because we are not trained psychologists or psychiatrists (as noted compulsive gaming is an internationally recognised addictive behaviour in the psychology fraternity).
We must offer help and support at all times, and diplomatically approach a gamer when red flags have popped up, but on no account should we directly state ‘we think you have a gaming problem’. All subsequent measures including suspending or even closing an account are sufficient to deal with the issues without pointing the finger, which could also reinforce a person’s self-image as a problem gamer instead of supporting them through that journey.
Problem gaming takes many forms
Problem gaming covers a vast spectrum of behaviours and intensities from the mildest to the most alarming, and varies from player to player; just as people are unique, so are their gaming issues (or lack thereof). There can even be seasonal variations within one player’s activity, and factors within their personal life can alter whether they are a potential problem gamer or not from one day to the next. This is where a proactive social responsibility policy is worth its weight in gold.
“We can see then, that problem gaming is very real but has its natural flip-side in the solution of responsible gaming.”
It is vital not to be rigidly over-regulatory, particularly given attacks which are made on the industry from hostile elements in the media both on gaming and on cryptocurrency, but at the same time problem gaming can dovetail into other issues, some of them legal (such as underage gaming or the problem of fraud) so it is important to remain dynamically vigilant at all times.
We can see then, that problem gaming is very real but has its natural flip-side in the solution of responsible gaming. We at the Coingaming Group do a lot to make sure our players are safe at all times, but without being intrusive. The attitude needs to be customer-centric and not revolve around making it difficult for the player and easy for the casino; this would ultimately backfire and help no-one. With the kinds of responsible gaming policies outlined above, we can all get our fair share of fun, fast and fair action and yet happily go about our daily lives as well.