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

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Is Prevention Keeping Pace with Gaming Expansion?

by Jon Kelly, CEO | Jun 15, 2012 11:27 AM

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 23)

The House of Commons and the Canadian Senate are currently debating Bill C-290, which will expand single-event sports betting in Canada beyond horse race wagering. Until this change, betting on sports required betting on the outcome of at least three different games or events.

The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) has been invited to speak as a witness at the Senate hearings. In preparation, we have been discussing what to say in our short window of opportunity. And we are struck by the fact that, even though there may be a lot of revenue at stake as a result of this change, in a way, single-event sports betting seems to be a very tiny part of a very large transformation.

The Changing Face of Gambling

Not too many years ago, the word ”gambling” conjured up images of casinos, racetracks, bingo halls, and—perhaps—lotteries. While venue-based gaming is here to stay, there is no doubt that the advent of online gaming is a game changer. Originally, online gaming simply meant the delivery of familiar gaming products (e.g., poker, lotteries, slots) on the web. That will, undoubtedly, continue as well—just as TV overlaid radio, and social networking overlaid them both. But, “online” now means much more than that.

Online gaming opens up the potential for new games and game formats that is constrained only by the imagination of those who develop them. We can already see the explosion of the products of that gaming imagination. Just in the past month, we have seen stories about a wide range of betting applications. Consumers in Switzerland were offered the opportunity to use credits earned in free online video games in the local casino. In a British wagering scheme, well-known companies like Boots and Marks & Spencer were offering their customers the opportunity to wager a pound for the chance to get their purchase for free. Last week, there were several stories about micro-betting, where people can bet instantly on a range of possibilities within sporting events (e.g., you might bet on the length of the National Anthem or who will score the first goal).

Part of this trend is the blurring of lines between social gaming (i.e., video gaming) and gambling. Earlier this month, London-listed bwin.party, the biggest online gambling company, said it was investing $50 million into social gaming. Meanwhile, the British Gambling Commission has announced it is investigating the social games offered by Facebook.

The possibilities offered by new technologies are constrained only by the imagination and, of course, the regulators. Clearly, there is going to be a challenge for regulators around the world to continue to set the rules for gaming, due to their proliferation and the challenges of maintaining jurisdiction in the “borderless” digital world.

As the Games Change, So Too Must Prevention Practices

Since there will be an incredible array of gambling options in the future, and since that array is somewhat unpredictable, it will be even more important to build "gambling literacy" in the broader public—particularly to prepare young people for the growing range of gambling enticements and opportunities. Gambling literacy means ensuring that people who gamble understand:

  • How gambling works
  • The realistic chances of winning and losing
  • How to avoid a gambling problem
  • Signs of a problem and where to get help if needed

But, in Canada, while gaming operators have been expanding responsible gambling programs at a significant pace, the growth of youth programs, public awareness, and other informed-choice programs has lagged behind. In Ontario, for example, responsible gambling funding for industry-based programs has grown 67% in the past 5 years, while funding for community prevention programs has flatlined during the same period. 

As gaming grows, it is very important that the prevention/awareness side of the equation be just as imaginative as it enhances and diversifies its content and strategies.