The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement is teaming up with operators to launch a first-of-its-kind responsible gambling initiative. The initiative builds on an existing provision that requires New Jersey online casino operators to maintain a database of every bet made by every player for 10 years.
Under the new initiative, operators would ID problematic betting behaviors and communicate with the flagged players. Per the DGE:
“Under the new initiative, a gambler exhibiting warning signs will be approached using various circumstance-dependent interventions, including progressive responses if the indications of a potential gambling disorder keep recurring after attempts are made to assist and address the problem.”
The DGE is calling the initiative a proactive, targeted outreach that will coexist with its existing self-exclusion system.
The flags operators are required to keep an eye on are:
- Players whose gambling time increases from week to week.
- Bettors who repeatedly self-impose cool-off periods from gaming.
- Those who wager until they have less than one dollar in their accounts.
- Players who regularly access the self-exclusion page on the operator’s website without ultimately executing an exclusion.
- Multiple deposits in a short period.
- Multiple requests in a 24-hour span to increase the limits on deposits or losses.
Whether a bettor triggers a flag depends on the person’s previous behaviors. A customer could increase their betting frequency because of problematic play but also because of sport seasonality, a vacation, or any other circumstance your mind can conjure. It’s important to cast a wide net, but not too wide.
Further, the program doesn’t track customer behaviors across operators or gambling verticals. That seems like a major shortcoming, as at-risk gamblers are known to wager across multiple platforms and on various gambling products.
The DGE is requiring outreach once problematic play is spotted. If problematic play persists, the level of outreach increases over time:
- Level 1 – Triggers an automated message that contains responsible gaming resources.
- Level 2 – Requires the patron to watch a video tutorial explaining available resources before being allowed to continue gambling.
- Level 3 – Direct outreach from the operator’s responsible gambling team to address the issue with the patron.
According to the DGE, players will not be prohibited from betting regardless of how they interact with the program. The program aims to alert players to problematic play and offer educational resources.
However, a player’s account will be frozen until they watch the video in Level 2. Without an opt-out option, this certainly meets the requirement of a ban.
Does Intervention Work?
The program raises two interesting questions: Should gambling operators intervene, and what should that intervention look like?
Responsible gambling advocate Jamie Salsburg, the founder of Dyve Agency, is dubious of the current iteration of interventions:
“How exactly does that work? What are the best practices to deliver an “intervention’? Do we gather their family and friends like the TV show? Do we just send them an email? Call them on the phone? Do people still answer calls from unknown numbers? Do we need trained specialists for these things? Can our staff do them? Is there a blueprint for the conversation that we know works?
An email is unlikely to provoke an overly negative reaction from a customer, but an unsolicited phone call is a recipe for disaster. First, most people do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Second, those who answer are unlikely to view such a call favorably.
Reaching out about problematic betting behaviors is a delicate matter and not something to spring on someone. Further, there is no way to know if you are contacting the person at work, during an evening out with their significant other, during one of their child’s events, or during some other non-private time. A personal phone call about a very private matter is something (1) the person should agree to, and (2) be properly scheduled.
What are we Measuring?
I’d also question if success can be measured. If 1 out of 10 answers the phone, and 1 out of 10 of those stays on the call, is that a success? And what of the other nine that are angry and feel attacked by the intervention? Did you exacerbate a problem in nine customers to possibly reach one? And could that customer have been reached by another means?
The simple solution is to send emails but leave phone contact up to the customer. An unexpected phone call from a stranger is far too invasive. Looking at our personal lives, it’s pretty obvious that no one likes being cold-called for anything.
Imagine if you received a random phone call from a doctor after indulging in a sugary dessert two nights in a row. The response will likely be, “who are you to tell me what I can eat?”
As Law360 explained (paywall), “the program also gives New Jersey’s government a fairly invasive tool to probe gamblers’ behavior.”
The current T&C players agree to include allowing sites to track their “activity to prevent fraud, identify theft, and cheating.” Now they will also agree to allow sites to track their activity to identify potentially harmful behaviors.
Several columns have already been penned about the intrusive nature of the program.
SportsHandle’s Jeff Edelstein wrote, “While I am all for the operators doing whatever they can do to help stem the flow of problem gamblers, I’m not too keen on the state itself being the one to impose the rules.”
Jeff Deminski was even more critical in a column at NJ 101.5, writing, “If it’s OK to cyber snoop on an online gambler’s behaviors will it be OK for the government to mandate liquor stores must flag a person whose debit card is used too often indicating a possible problem? Should your credit card use on porn sites be monitored for excess? Should stores electronically track your purchasing habits regarding cigarettes? Or fast food leading to obesity, for that matter?”
The program’s use of available data should be commended. That said, I have serious concerns about the intrusive nature of some of the outreach. It’s not a question of whether we should collect data. The question is, what do we do with that data?
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