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The New Realities of Land-Based Gaming

November 6, 2020

As casinos, bingo halls and other land-based gambling venues re-open across the globe, players are seeing new protocols in place: mandatory masks, health screening and hand sanitizer have become the new norm, plexiglass dividers and floor stickers direct players through the venue keeping everyone at a safe distance. There is no doubt about it, gambling looks different in a global pandemic. Which begs the question “do player safeguards also need to look different?”

Managing Increasing Levels of Risk
In a recent Responsible Gambling Council market research study of Ontario gamblers, approximately half of those surveyed indicated they intend to return to land-based play when they reopen. Importantly, those who intend to return are about twice as likely to be high risk gamblers. It’s also important to consider that during these COVID times, mental health is impacted even more with people experiencing increased anxiety and depression as well as substance use. We know that gambling under these conditions heightens risk.

So in short, the answer to that question is yes. Player safeguards need to look different. Both in what we say and how we say it. Education that reinforces the risks of gambling and how players can protect themselves is more important than ever. Using tools and touchpoints that support physical distancing WHILE promoting responsible gambling and harm minimization should be the norm during COVID.

Understanding Shifts in Behaviours
As venue staff return to work, it’s important that they understand that player profiles may have shifted in the six months casinos were closed. New red flag behaviours are expected to present differently, which is why training staff to recognize these behaviours is so important during this time.

Here are some new behaviours that can be expected:

  • Players booking more than 2x per week could be entering into a higher risk zone
  • Hyper focus on playing
  • Feeding money into machines
  • Gambling while intoxicated
  • Poor/significant decline in personal hygiene
  • Irrational/disproportionate anger
  • Demeanor when they leave the gaming venue

Optimizing Communications for Safer Play
It is imperative that player safeguards be integrated into the new play experience and reinforce safer play strategies that are meaningful now. All player communications from advertising to promotions should include a responsible gambling (RG) message that encourages players to practice safer gambling. In addition, leveraging the slot machines to reinforce time and budget tracking via on screen messages is a great way to reinforce positive play behavior during the moment of play.

Although traditional in-person connections at the venue may look different during COVID, there is now an opportunity for RG messages to be delivered while players check-in online ahead of their visit or as they as they wait in a virtual queue.

Preparing Staff and Venues for this New Reality
In Ontario, as our PlaySmart Centre (PSC) staff also return to casinos, we’ve enhanced our own health and safety and responsible gambling protocols by ensuring proper training is provided to prepare staff in identifying and responding to these new red flag behaviours. We are working closely with each venue to support and enforce local operating guidelines from government health officials. PSC staff have the knowledge and experience necessary to pivot and modify the way responsible gambling and harm prevention support is delivered. This versatility enhances our staff’s ability to manage situations where new behaviours are exhibited by players and support venue staff in navigating these changing times.

To prepare players ahead of their return to land-based gambling, RGC’s Community Outreach program recently launched a digital awareness campaign to align with the reopening of the casinos in Ontario. The campaign delivers two critical safer play tips: set a budget and time limit and don’t gamble to earn or replace income.

The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention. RGC works to reduce gambling risks by creating and delivering innovative awareness and information programs, for a wide range of different groups including youth, young adults and the general public.

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