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Discovery 2014 Puts Pre-Commitment Under the Microscope

by Responsible Gambling Council | Feb 21, 2014 10:19 AM

Newscan (Vol. 16, Issue 7)

As a concept, pre-commitment is pretty simple. If people set a limit on their gambling in advance, they will be more aware of their spending, and better able to control it. They are less likely to engage in risky behaviour like chasing losses, and so their risk of developing a gambling problem is reduced.

It Just Plain Makes Sense

As Australian gambling research pioneer Mark Dickerson pointed out decades ago, it’s difficult to make rational decisions while caught up in the excitement of gambling. So, by setting a limit in advance, people are more likely to choose an amount that is based on self-reflection and reason than what they might choose mid-session. And, because the act of pre-commitment involves a conscious, self-imposed decision, it will be less arbitrary and therefore easier to stick to.

Easy to Understand—Hard to Do

Setting a limit in advance is neither groundbreaking nor unique to gambling. Budgeting, dieting, setting an alarm clock: these are all ways we pre-commit to a plan. But sticking to it? That’s a different story. A recent Ontario survey by RGC showed that although almost half those who gambled did set a money limit, they also exceeded that limit at least once in the past year. And a third of them said they chased their losses, trying to win back the money they had lost.

Technology to the Rescue

Developments in electronic gaming machines, greater sophistication in player cards and the rise of online gambling sites mean that the capacity to track play can be built into gambling like never before. Today, it is possible to establish a process for players to set a money limit before they play (either immediately prior to the start of play, or at the point when the account is set up).

So… Are We Committed?

There’s theory, and then there’s practice. It turns out that committing to pre-commitment has presented challenges from several angles:

  • From politicians—In Australia, a federal decision to introduce mandatory pre-commitment has faced a heated backlash from lobby groups
  • From academia—There is still debate about whether pre-commitment delivers on its promise at all—and some say it might even have some unintended negative consequences
  • From players—The strategy has not been well received by some gamblers, who question the loss of anonymity and the “slippery slope” of data collection

Then there’s Sweden, where the practice has been in place for several years. Do they have a recipe for success that can be followed? Or is success too dependent on social acceptability within a particular jurisdiction?

At Discovery 2014, pre-commitment is going under the microscope. Join people deeply immersed in the subject from Sweden, Australia and Nova Scotia in Toronto (April 29 to May 1) as they dissect their own models and explore their specific challenges and successes.