A few questions and more possible answers – episode II

By Dan Iliovici, Vicepresident, ROMBET

We continue the topic addressed in the previous issue of the magazine, about how we can evaluate the effectiveness of responsible gaming measures and programs and, based on these measurements, how we can control and improve these programs.
The first step is, as we have stated on several occasions, to carry out a complex, exhaustive market study, based on which to obtain a series of data and information as relevant as possible, and which objectively reflects reality.
Then we implement certain programs, we take protection measures for vulnerable groups, we carry out (continue) the education of young people, in order to prepare them for adulthood and the possible direct contact with gambling.
Finally, after a certain period of time, a year or two, we resume the study, in conditions as close as possible to the first, and we see how we are.
Here I think it is worth mentioning how difficult it is to replicate a study under the same conditions, even if only if we refer to technological progress.
If we manage to overcome the barriers related to the specifics of the field of gambling, aspects presented above, we could assume that the study authors will be able to obtain this data, of course with the help of all parties involved and, perhaps primarily, with operators.
Paraphrasing the title of this article, we will then find ourselves in front of the following question:

What data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of responsible gaming programs?

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The simplest answer would be related to the number of people / players who, after an expression dear to tabloid journalists, fell in love with gambling. But things are not that simple.
Beyond the anecdotal expression, by which players are already stigmatized as gambling enthusiasts, we must refer to what psychologists say about what gambling addiction means and how it is defined.
I just remind you that, according to specialists, there is no clear boundary between the average player, “normal”, and the pathological one. Thus, we have a gradual, continuous transition, without clear boundaries, from the occasional player, the one who keeps this passion under control, to the pathological cases.
There are people in the risk area, but without exceeding the area accepted as “normal”, we then have players with problems due to the game and, at the end of this scale, would be the pathological player, gambling addicts, those who need psychological treatment Specialized.
However, the general public (and especially the media) does not differentiate between these categories of players, nor would they be able to, without having access to specialized studies. Hence the countless bombastic titles like “Gambling Enthusiasts”, phrases applied, without meaning, to all those who go out or enter a game hall.
What is important, however, is that the assessment of the degree of deviation from normal can be done only by the psychologist, hence the absolutely necessary collaboration between the market research company and these specialists.

An unanswered question. For the time being

Before asking this unanswered question, here is a brief, simplified recapitulation of the reasoning so far:
· We make a study and evaluate the number of people with gambling problems (addicts);
· We apply some education and protection measures;
· We repeat the study and compare the data with those from the first point.
Based on these steps we should have the data and information needed to improve responsible gaming programs, but …

Which of the programs was (more) effective, which project led to a decrease in the number of problematic players, and which did not?

In fact, we have several measures / programs, most likely with different effects (results): some could have positive effects, others neutral (without any direct effect), and some could even have unwanted results.
How do we detect then which program had a certain effect, since the results are summed up, maybe even with some weights, and in the end we have a single figure ?! This without taking into account the disruptive factors of the analysis, as mentioned above: technological progress, the emergence of new types of games or new regulations, even not directly related to the field of games (see the legislation on GDPR or AML).
Beyond the difficulty of having a clear and simple answer to this problem, I would propose an approach through … envelopment.
A possible substitute for this question on the effectiveness of different projects could be the following question:

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How many of the players are aware of the programs to help those with problems, of gambling addicts?

Operators currently try, through various methods, including “artificial intelligence”, to detect players at risk, those who are beginning to have problems with excessive gambling, and guidance on responsible gaming programs, including help Specialized. In this context, it can only be beneficial that those who need help, including their relatives and/or friends, will be aware of the existence of these help/counseling programs and will be able to turn to them if needed.
Also, an increase in the number of people accessing the various forms of guidance and help is an indicator that these programs are known to those interested. In vain we have the best projects, if the world does not know about them.
Perhaps I should mention another important point here:
By making these Responsible Gaming programs known, professionally designed, with the help of the best specialists, we avoid those who need advice and help from “getting in the hands” of “specialists”, whose main purpose is financial gain. Some of these self-titled experts artificially exacerbate the numbers of players with problems, based on so-called “studies” that no one has heard of, all to justify the need to offer “services” to operators, but even to access European funds, etc.
Regarding the efficiency of education programs, here the ways to measure the effectiveness of “lessons” are even more difficult, if we refer to a time horizon in which we could adjust the programs, depending on the results.
How to see if, for example, young people participating in “Adult Training” – the project run by the Responsible Gaming Association with high school students in major cities in the country – will have a responsible behavior in terms of personal budget, time allocated to different activities and fun, entourage, choosing friends, etc.?!
But even in the absence of ways to assess the beneficial, preventive effects of youth education, we can be inspired by similar programs in other states with a tradition in this field. Without indicating a model, I believe that through collaboration with all factors involved in the educational process – the Ministry of Education, psychologists, parents, students, and having the experience of other countries, we will be able to perfect all these projects and plan others, from getting better.
But the initial question remains: how do we know what the best measures are?!