Recently, the Gambling Commission called for stricter social responsibility amongst online and mobile casinos. If casinos maintain their casino license, all sites must now provide a timed on-screen check so that players can review the time and money spent during each session.
I explored this concept a little further. Instead of just displaying an on-screen clock, what if warning messages popped up on the screen? In fact, Australia had already conducted a trial of warning messages to reduce the nation’s excessive gambling consumption. They didn’t observe any significant change in player behaviour, although it did force many players to reflect upon their playing habits. Should we do the same?
Why bother players with warning messages?
Because problem gambling is an issue. There aren’t many proverbial red flags that can help casinos identify problem gamblers. We can’t go looking for gamblers that punch their fists into the table during gameplay, or set a threshold for gambling amounts. So, the easier thing to do would be to promote responsible gambling behaviours. Hence, the warning messages. It is no longer enough to include paragraphs of text in the casino’s terms and conditions.
But what should the message say?
In general, there are two types of messages that a casino can deliver – informative and self-appraisal. The former is educational and friendly. We assume that players make decisions based on what they know, and so we should provide the correct information in the first place. Stuff like gambling limits and how much to spend. Of course, warnings do not always alter a person’s behaviour. We drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol at once, even when there’s a warning not to. We’d eat chips daily, fully aware that the fat’ll clog our arteries. Like pictures of rotten lungs on cigarette packs, many of us comfortably ignore warning messages.
It’s time the messages got more personal. Self-appraisal messages force the consumer to reflect upon their own gambling behaviours. It is easy to dismiss a warning and assume that “someone else would suffer, but it won’t be me.” Questions like “Have you spent more than you can afford?” or “How much have you lost today?” bring the problem closer to home.
There are other considerations too: where should the message be displayed? How frequently does it appear and for how long? More importantly, the messages should not make the game less enjoyable for the player. There has to be a way of identifying problem gamblers and at-risk gamblers, and enabling these pop-ups on their accounts alone.
How does it help problem gamblers?
Problem gambling begins when an individual starts to play compulsively. He/she enters a trance state and spins recklessly, on a chase for a high. The point of disruptive pop-ups is to break the addictive flow and to stop the player from progressing along the consumption continuum. It should force them into taking a short break. The messages should also be frank and openly discuss the money element. These messages must also use words like “spend” and “afford”. That would definitely kill my mood.
Do warning messages help?
With the little data we have today, it seems that players don’t really change their playing style that much in the short-term. Some players think for a little bit and decrease the rate of playing, one or two stop for a cigarette break. The study also reveals that self-appraisal messages are slightly more effective than informative messages. Some of them act upon the messages. Assuringly, it seems that the warning messages had no impact on the casino’s turnover.
Should casino operators get involved?
There’s a delicate balance between getting the players to spend more and telling them when to stop. At the end of the day, consumers are free to choose their level of involvement. The government and gambling operators can only do so much in protecting participants from harm. There are so many strategies to reduce gambling-related problems – time limits, deposit limits and self-exclusion policies. Warning messages are just one of the easier ones to implement.