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The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention.

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Play Analytics – New Tools for Understanding the Dynamics of Problem Play

by Jon Kelly, CEO | May 04, 2012 04:23 PM

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 17)

Play Analytics Example

There are many aspects of online gambling that problem gambling organizations worry about: the appeal to young people, the instant access, and the popularity of online poker. Yet, there are some aspects of online—as well as electronic (i.e., slot machine and VLT)—gambling that provide opportunities to understand problem gambling better and to incorporate safeguards right into the technology.

In the past, marketing specialists in gaming organizations had much greater insight into player behaviour than anyone else. Researchers and problem gambling specialists had to rely primarily on players reporting their thinking, emotions, and actions rather than true player data. Online gambling, and electronic gambling more generally, offer the opportunity to track and analyze play patterns.

While play analytics/algorithms have traditionally been used primarily for marketing, several gaming providers—including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG)—are planning to make play information accessible to organizations for prevention purposes. This opens up a major new avenue for understanding the etiology and progress of problematic play. It will allow for the investigation of a host of variables in order to better understand problematic gambling. Play analytics will, for the first time, provide insight into the evolution of problem gambling based on the analysis of actual player behavior such as betting patterns, amounts bet, time of play, escalation of betting, and many other variables. Problem gambling research will no longer be dependent on retroactive reporting and recall, with all of its faults and limitations.

Beyond a much more intimate insight into problematic play, play analytics opens up enormous opportunities for prevention programming. It identifies groups of players who can be targeted for specific messages. It allows for the identification of patterns of play that are a precursor to a problem and the opportunity to tailor safety messages to the identified patterns.

But, two words of caution. Many of us will remember many years ago how new drugs were developed and touted to prevent alcoholism. They didn’t. Remember the ‘paperless office’?

Algorithms and other forms of play analytics can be very useful tools. But, like all tools, they are only as good as the people who use them. These tools need to complement—rather than replace—other safeguards. Sometimes the introduction of new technologies leads to the abandonment of old processes. The risk is that organizations may rely on these emerging technologies instead of other people-based strategies. Identifying and assisting players with problems on the gaming floor will always rely on capable, knowledgeable and well-trained staff.

If play analytics can inform prevention strategies and staff training, then leveraging new technologies could be a valuable new tool.