Responsible gaming in a time of coronavirus pandemic with Alan Feldman, Distinguished Fellow in Responsible Gaming at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.
The online gambling industry has developed around the world and provided customers an enjoyable form of entertainment. As with almost any activity, so long as the product is used in appropriate moderation, it causes no harm and provides the benefits of any number of forms of leisure activities. In normal operations, operators should be keeping a watch for players playing for excessive amounts of time or money (which may not be conclusive), but the vast majority of customers are playing for the fun and excitement of the game.
Gambling harms, on the other hand, are often the result of people with underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety or other psychological disorders coming into contact with gambling. For these customers, their brains can interpret the feelings gambling provides as a “solution” for that underlying condition. The resulting harm can come in a wide range: from mild to moderate to extremely severe and can happen once, occasionally or chronically.
But that was before coronavirus.
What’s changed? Almost all of the factors that are believed to contribute to gambling harms now exist in enhanced or increased measures.
To begin with, people have more time. With countries on lockdown, businesses closed and almost everyone working less or laid off, people are home with little to do. They are, by government requirement, more isolated. The simple fact that we are virtually all in quarantine around the world underscores this fact. Locked in our homes or apartments, even with whatever space we may have, the walls eventually start to close in and we can feel separated from the world around us.
Many people have reduced or no income. Beyond employment which by now may have been eliminated entirely, reduced dramatically or substituted by government assistance, investments, savings, and retirement accounts have fallen dramatically as stock markets have crashed around the world.
All of this can lead to a dramatic increase in depression, boredom, and loneliness. Some may see online gambling as a “way out.” Others may be desperate to “make up” for lost income.
It is not that online gambling products are dangerous, per se – it is just that during these unprecedented times, operators must recognize that many of their customers are more vulnerable to getting into trouble.
Yet, oddly, the coronavirus also creates an opportunity to show leadership in a time of crisis.
The industry has the chance to show its customers, the general public and regulators that online gambling is a safe and appropriate form of entertainment in an unusually stressful time for humanity so long as everyone remains aware of needed safeguards.
By providing prevention tools to ensure that players do not get into unwanted trouble operators can prove the safety of the industry and avoid having players get into unwanted trouble which, in these times, will only further exacerbate the public’s mistrust of the industry.
While online gambling can be fun and exciting, and even serve as an important and appropriate activity in these times, for some it can be exactly what they don’t need right now.
So, how do we separate those looking for a bit of fun from those who are about to lose control?
While there is no singular or perfect answer, the undeniable fact is that now is the time to put all available measures in place to provide customers with every available measure to prevent trouble for them and for the operator.
All operators of online gambling sites should immediately acknowledge this new reality of COVID-19 by instituting new policies, even if temporary. These can be monitored and if research later proves their efficacy, they can be made permanent.
– Remind players of the need to maintain balance
– Encourage/enforce strict time limits
– Encourage/enforce strict spend limits
– Encourage/enforce breaks in play
– Make clear new policies up front/market them/make them user friendly.
This is also a moment to be extra cautious in advertising and marketing strategies. The world is watching (as there’s little else to do.) Critics are waiting to pounce. Don’t unnecessarily hand them any fodder.
Advertise and market the fun of the games, not the chances of winning big. Market the fact that your company cares about your product’s safe use, rather than bonusing extended play.
In other words, for a responsible gaming in a time of coronavirus pandemic don’t unintentionally exacerbate potential problems caused by the heightened sense of anxiety among your player base or anger among your critics.
Online gambling and social gaming are fun and enjoyable forms of entertainment for millions of people around the world on any given day. The industry can prove that now by taking extra measures to remind customers to play safely and only for fun.