Why self-exclusion is not an answer to problem gambling
A legislative proposal registered this autumn in the Senate aims to introduce the responsibility of gambling organizers to identify the persons entering the premises, to maintain records of their identification details in electronic format and to create a centralized electronic database to manage people requesting self-exclusion.
Self-exclusion is one of the most handy measures of protection in the field of social responsability against the danger posed by excessive gambling. It is applied in several jurisdictions whether it is a legal obligation or just a self-regulatory initiative, but which, from a psychological perspective, raises serious questions about the effectiveness of solving gambling addiction. Some suggest that this tool is an appropriate public health response to minimize risks, while others see it as a reactive, inflexible approach, facilitating short-term abstinence rather than the self-control of the affected person. This hypothesis is also validated by Dr Cristian Andrei, neuropsychiatrist and coordinator of the 24/7 Counseling program within the Responsible Gambling Association: „The measure of identifying and storing data of people entering a gambling location is a measure that pushes away the player from the possibility of being known and helped in a concrete way. At first it seems to be a measure that puts the player into control, then you realize that you will lose any contact with him. If a player has a gambling addiction, he will do anything to play elsewhere, under his own conditions, and he will certainly find a place to do so.”
The latest annual report released by the UK Gambling Commission found that overall, 5% of gamblers have ever self-excluded and 42% of gamblers are aware of self-exclusion but have not self-excluded. The most common reason given for self-exclusion was to help control the amount being gambled overall (50%), followed by to help control the amount being spent with a particular company (41%), so not necessarily to stop gambling. Commission statistics show that an increasing number of self-exclusion „breaches” are reported. For example, for the period of April 2017 to March 2018, the number of self-exclusion breaches from UK sports betting locations came to roughly 18.410, unlike in 2010 when only 10.468 such cases were reported. Online, in 2017, 87.000 cases were registered, compared to the previous year (74,000). This is the total number of incidents that could be identified by an operator before or at the end of the game, but their actual level will not be known at their true value given that gambling organizers will not be able to detect all customers who violate the rules, as well as the various methods used.
Regarding the legislative proposal registered this autumn in the Senate, a first observation is related to the way in which the personal data collection of all customers and maintaining these databases for a period of 5 years from the date of establishment can serve specifically to prevent and combat problem gambling, as evidenced by the motivation text, namely to protect consumers from the negative effects of excessive gambling.
Prior the adoption of such regulation, an impact assessment on the data protection should be carried out, as provided in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and in the Romanian national legislation. The obligation to identify all customers may lead to the large-scale special data categories processing, which requires mandatory procedures to ascertain the impact of the intended processing on data protection. Article 35 of the GDPR requires an assessment of the impact on data protection before processing, in particular in the case of “large-scale processing of special categories of data”. In this case, it is presumed to pose a high risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals.
Otherwise, by analogy, it is unimaginable and unrealistic to consider that, in order to combat the diseases associated with excessive alcohol or tobacco consumption, all economic agents should record personal data of all persons purchasing alcoholic beverages or tobacco products and that this action, in addition to the huge difficulties created for economic operators, could have the effect of reducing the risks of addiction.
Last but not least, we emphasize that the registration of data of all persons entering gambling locations will only have the effect of hindering and especially contracting the activity of gambling organizers and participants alike, facilitating the premises for player migration to other gambling markets, including the unregulated one, the so-called black market: “It is not a measure that has a real effect in solving the problem gambling, but one that will develop other problems: the underlying problem is not solved, the player will seek, at all costs, to play elsewhere and will be directed to the black market or other jurisdictions, by accessing unlicensed gambling websites in Romania. Even if this is not allowed by law, and Internet provider have the obligation to set IP / DNS blocking, these filters can be avoided and, due to despair, this can be a chosen path. Additionally, such an obligation would result in the closure of many traditional locations, and thus a reduction in contributions to the state budget, for at least two reasons: First, identifying all customers brings a huge bureaucratic and operational burden, which comes with a consistent increase in operating expenses amid the discomfort generated by customers. Secondly, one of the main features of participating in retail gambling is the anonymity. Someone who enters a gambling venue does not identify, neither in the Lottery, nor in a betting agency, it is anonymous to a certain extent. Once the identification requirement is established, it is very likely that the player will not enter the location anymore. Specifically, self-exclusion does not solve the player’s underlying problem, but it does generate many other problems. There is only one solution: specialized support. Public policies must be directed towards this goal, and the industry, especially through the programs developed by the Responsible Gambling Association, is already, to a large extent, aligned with this direction ”, says Liviu Popovici, Chairman of Romanian Bookmakers.