What Is Responsible Gambling?
Although the term responsible gambling is widely used in reference to gambling policies, regulatory requirements and industry codes of conduct, no clear operational definition exists. This has led to a lack of clarity as to which stakeholder, government, industry, community and individual is accountable for what and to whom.
As a consequence, increased criticism is directed to the use of the term responsible gambling. This criticism suggests it is used as a meaningless descriptor by governments and industry to sanitize gambling policies and activities; deflecting criticism associated with their respective roles in legislating for and promoting gambling products.
In reality responsible gambling is best described as an outcome; an individual gambling within personally affordable levels in the absence of harm. Policies and strategies can be directed towards achieving responsible gambling as an outcome, with governments and industry each accountable to the community for implementing action that will lead to this outcome.
In this context, regulators are accountable for monitoring industry operators to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
What responsible gambling policies and interventions work?
From a public health perspective, population-wide benefits can be achieved by restricting the availability, distribution and accessibility of gambling products. Restrictions on supply, such as limiting the number of gaming licences and products within a jurisdiction, serve to reduce consumption (Ladouceur, Shaffer, Blaszczynski, & Shaffer, 2017).
According to the consumption model, a reduction in population level consumption will be associated with a concomitant reduction in harm; the fewer people consume a product, the smaller the absolute number experiencing harm.
This, of course, creates multiple tensions.
Opposition to restrictive policies emerge from the majority of consumers enjoying the consumption of a legal product in the absence of harm and who question why the majority should be disadvantaged by the behaviour of a minority.
Governments and industry operators are equally not enamoured of reducing population-level consumption on the basis that it affects indirect taxation or direct revenue, respectively.
These consumption model based strategies are often unpopular because they are perceived as more paternalistic, imposing external control on individual choice.
Other responsible gambling strategies are reliant on the individual’s motivation to accept, absorb and respond to educational and warning interventions and/or adopt the use of tools such as pre-commitment, deposit and loss limit setting, and self-exclusion programs. Literature reviews of existing studies evaluating responsible gambling interventions have reported limited evidence for large effect sizes or impacts for many of the measures applied (Williams, West, & Simpson, 2012, Ladouceur, Shaffer, Blaszczynski & Shaffer, 2017).
Proactive Staff Training
Delfabbro and his colleagues (2016) have established a series of behavioural indicators that can be used by gaming staff to identify and interact with individuals exhibiting characteristic signs associated with problem gambling.
Having demonstrated an increase in the accuracy of staff identifying at-risk and problem gambling when using these indicators, a number of casinos and other land-based venues have implemented the use of these indicators. Similarly, online operators have turned to machine learning and the use of behavioural tracking using algorithms to detect potential problem gambling account holders.
The utility of behavioural indicators as a guide to inform staff and staff interventions has limitations in both land-based and online gambling environments. Although these need to be recognised, they do not negate their use when coupled with effective staff training.
So, should staff play an active role in identifying and interacting with individuals within their venues exhibiting indicators of excessive gambling? The answer is a resounding yes, primarily because the gaming floor or online environment is where the ‘rubber hits the road’, that is, where the individual and operator (gaming staff) meet face to face, and where proactive and direct action can be taken in a supportive and non-stigmatising approach.
What Are The Current Limitations Of Staff Training?
Where staff training is a requirement for employment in the gaming industry, competency courses have a primary focus on compliance and regulatory requirements, and a secondary focus on describing what constitutes problem gambling and its impact. There are no practical skills training in teaching staff how to sensitively approach and deal with an individual displaying indicators of problem gambling.
As a result gaming venue staff members are not well equipped to take action when necessary.
It is important to highlight that staff are not counsellors and do not have the requisite skills to diagnose problem gamblers. If approached for assistance or when identifying features of problem gambling, however, staff should have the necessary basic skills to respond appropriately and be guided by set protocols and procedures.
The absence of adequate skills and lack of guidelines have serious implications for staff satisfaction and failure of duty of care. Studies have shown that staff satisfaction improves once their roles and expectations are clarified and supported by senior management (Quilty, Robinson, & Blaszczynski, 2015).
From a series of focus groups conducted with gaming floor staff, the main issues expressed were:
A sense of disempowerment in seeing someone display problem gambling behaviours,
Concern about legal ramifications of taking the initiative to approach and intervene,
Fear of offending individuals and managing potential aggressive responses, and
Criticism from management for losing valuable customers and consequently compromising their promotion or employment (Beckett, Keen, Pickering, & Blaszczynski, 2020).
The end result is inaction leading to a failure to assist anyone at-risk of excessive gambling, allowing individuals to escalate the severity of harms experienced, and consequently loss of customers.
What Are The Benefits Of Staff Training?
There are significant advantages to staff training, with an ideal program featuring:
All staff receiving information on problem gambling and its indicators, with instructions on who to notify in cases of concern,
Gaming floor staff initiating contact with identified individuals offering assistance or resources, and recording interactions in a central registry, and
Ambassadors trained to deal with difficult or more severe cases that are escalated to them by floor staff.
The advantages accrued to an operator are significant. Significantly when staff satisfaction and morale is increased this leads to positive reactions with customers receiving assistance and preventing or reducing gambling related harm.
The end result is the long-term retention of customers, with customers’ enjoying a high-level of supportive services likely to increase brand reputability.
What Can Regulators Do?
Regulators should be acting to ensure that staff not only comply with regulatory requirements but also are familiar with the key behavioural indicators when identifying patterns of problem gambling. If the staff member identifies any of these key indicators, then they have the necessary skills and support structures to respond appropriately.
Regulators can cooperate with industry operators in monitoring central incident registries held at venues and raise questions where low rates of incidents are recorded. Are the low rates due to inaction or to successful action taken to achieve responsible gambling among customers?
Professorial Research Fellow & Director, Gambling Treatment & Research Clinic
University of Sydney
Editor, International Gambling Studies
Beckett, M., Keen, B., Pickering, D., & Blaszczynski, A. (2020). Responsible gambling staff training in land-based venues: A systematic review, International Gambling Studies. Doi: 10.1080/14459795.2020.1737723.
Beckett, M., Keen, B., Swanton, T.B., & Blaszczynski, A. (2020). Staff perceptions of responsible gambling training programs: Qualitative findings. Journal of Gambling Studies, 36(1): 405-419. doi: 10.1007/s10899-019-09874-9.
Delfabrro, P., Thomas, A., & Armstrong, A. (2016). Observable indicators and behaviors for the identification of problem gamblers in venue environments. Journal of Behavioral Addictions 5(3), pp. 419–428. DOI: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.065.
Ladouceur, R., Shaffer, P., Blaszczynski, A., & Shaffer, H.J. (2017). Responsible gambling: A synthesis of the empirical evidence, Addiction Research & Theory, 25:3, 225-235, DOI: 10.1080/16066359.2016.1245294.
Quilty, L.C., Robinson, J., & Blaszczynski, A. (2015). Responsible Gambling Training in Ontario Casinos: From Recognition to Response. International Gambling Studies,15(3), 361-376.
Williams, R.J., West, B.L., & Simpson, R.I. (2012). Prevention of problem gambling: A comprehensive review of the evidence and identified best practices. Report prepared for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. http://hdl.handle.net/10133/3121.