An empirical investigation of responsible gambling tool use, responsible gambling tool implementation, and the early signs of online problem gambling

Catania, M., 2022. An empirical investigation of responsible gambling tool use, responsible gambling tool implementation, and the early signs of online problem gambling. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Extended Abstract:

As technological advances and the availability of the internet increases, online gambling has also increased in frequency. Unavoidably, this increase in online gambling may influence the development of gambling problems because online gambling has propensities and features that may help this development. Nonetheless, online gambling has permitted a shift in research possibilities because it allows the carrying out of empirical research based on actual gambling behaviour. Due to the increase in gambling, this type of research is even more important as it helps to contribute to the reduction of gambling related harm. A collaborative approach with different stakeholders such as regulators, operators, reformed problem gamblers, and researchers, can help reduce gambling-related harm through responsible gambling (RG) approaches and initiatives. This thesis aims to assist different stakeholders such as gambling operators, gambling regulators, and gambling scholars because the findings from each of the studies in this thesis can be applied by stakeholders to their day-to-day practices. After a review on the psychology of gambling and a review of corporate social responsibility in relation to the gambling industry, five empirical studies are outlined.

In the first study, 50 leading online gambling operators with a "dot-com" suffix were evaluated in accordance with the RG information and RG tools that they offered. The communication with customer service was also evaluated to observe what interaction and information is provided to gamblers that may need help. The main finding in this study showed that most online gambling operators showed consistent RG information and that 68% of these operators showed information that gamblers needed to be 18 years or older to register an account. Commercial communication upon registration of the gambling account was sent by all gambling operators, but only almost half (47%) of this communication contained information about RG. Inconsistencies were visible in the RG tools offered and also in the communication with customer service representatives.

The second (replication) study three years later with 50 leading gambling operators took a similar approach to assess whether regulatory pressures contributed to significant changes in the RG practices conducted by different online gambling operators. The results in this study did show that there was an improvement in the overall RG practices performed by the gambling operators. This was visible in the dedicated RG online pages, and the RG tool availability. Communication with customer service representatives had also improved. Although there was an evident increase in the RG practices of these online gambling operators, there were still some areas that needed improvement, such as the links to gambling blocking software, RG information in the first communication email, and customer service communication. There was an increase in the information in the RG dedicated page when it comes to mentioning gambling help organisations (from 84% in the 2017 study compared to 92% in the 2021 study), the presence of a self-assessment test (from 64% in the 2017 study compared to 84% in the 2021 study), information about RG tools (84% compared to 92%) and no promotional material present on the page (from 12% to 92%). Nonetheless, the presence of gambling blocking software decreased from the first study compared to the second study (60% to 54%). Age checks increased when comparing the data from 2017 to 2021 study (68% to 88%) and positive increases were also noted for the presence of RG tools; limit setting availability (90% to 98%), cooling off period availability (72% to 96%) and self-exclusion (86% to 96%). There were better interactions with customer service representative, such as communication about limits (from 60% to 86%), communication regarding RG breaks (44% to 78%), and communication for problem gamblers (50% to 62%), albeit the need to improve this communication as it may come at a moment where the customer needs most assistance.

As technological innovation has led to more RG tools which allow gamblers to limit their gambling, or take breaks from gambling, the third study was an exploratory study that examined the preferences to voluntary RG tools in relation to age and gender. The authors were given access to an anonymized sample of 18,635 gamblers registered with an online gambling operator (16.55% of the total population who had registered a new gambling account at the time of data collection). This study also examined at which point from the account creation date do gamblers prefer to set up voluntary RG tools. Results showed that deposit limit-setting was the most preferred RG tools across all groups examined (n = 16,344; 87.71%). Moreover, deposit limit was a more prominent choice among older age bands: 46-55 years (n=1721; 93%) and 56-65 years (n=648; 93.5%). There were significant differences noted when looking at age groups and the days from the creation of the online gambling account and the activation of the voluntary RG tool. Such examples include gamblers in the age group of 18-25 years were more likely to activate a voluntary RG tool in the first 91-120 days when compared to other age groups. Gamblers aged between 26-45 years of age were more likely to activate a voluntary RG tool during the first 1-7 days of their account activity.

With the increase in online gambling, the possibilities for new ways of researching gambling has been made possible through the use of online behavioural tracking. A number of studies have used voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) as a proxy measure for online problem gambling. Although some scholars have argued that VSE is not an ideal proxy measure for problem gambling, there have not been many studies looking into this. Consequently, the fourth study examined the reliability of using VSE as a proxy measure for online problem gambling by using real gambling data of gamblers who have used VSE (n = 7732), but also closed their gambling account due to self-reported gambling addiction (n =141). Approximately one-fifth of the gamblers (19.15%) that had chosen the six-month VSE option had less than one day activity on their online gambling account. Furthermore, half of the gamblers (50.39%) had less than week's activity prior to using a six-month VSE. Therefore, gamblers who use VSE are too diverse to be treated as a homogenous group and further shows that VSE is not a reliable proxy measure for problem gambling.

In the final study, the nine DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder were explored to understand how these can be operationalised as actual markers of harm. This has been done by using account-based gambling data, and the data points are explained to ensure the possibility for online gambling operators to use these findings to minimise gambling related harm. Access to an anonymised sample of 982 gamblers registered with an online gambling operator was provided. This study was the first to examine the application of the DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder to actual online gambling data. The data points used varied from customer service contacts, number of active days, deposit amounts, and frequency of requesting bonuses through customer service amongst others. For each behavioural measure, the data was extracted from the sample of customers and for each behavioural measure, a descriptive statistical analysis was provided. Each of the behavioural measure, z-score normalisation was applied to allow comparability, and a two-step cluster analysis was done so to present natural grouping of the dataset. Four clusters emerged. The first cluster had the majority of the gamblers (n = 646; 65.78%) and were termed as the non-problem gamblers. In this group, the gamblers scored negatively on all the criteria. The second cluster contained few customers (n = 3; 0.31%) and this group of customers showed predominantly higher values in the criteria that covered gambling expenditure and were termed as financially vulnerable gamblers The third group of customers were termed as emotionally vulnerable gamblers (n = 9; 0.92%) as this group showed more markers of harm that were more emotional rather than financial. The last cluster contained a group of customers were named as at-risk gamblers, and these accounted for almost 30% of the whole sample (n = 324; 32.99%). This group of customers had specific criteria which were higher mean values when compared to the rest of the group.

These five empirical studies that form this thesis can be applied to reduce gambling-related harm. The initial two studies that looked into the consumer protection availability on the 50 most advertised online gambling companies give an insight to which RG areas policymakers and regulators should look into and examine. The study looking at the preferences to voluntary RG tools in relation to age and gender, can provide insight to operators for which RG tools may create more adherence and favourability for consumers to use. The study that focused on the reliability of VSE as a proxy measure for problem gambling gives an insight using online behavioural tracking to gambling operators on determining what can be used as a proxy measure for online problem gambling. The last study which looked into operationalising the DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder, can be used by online gambling operators and regulators in determining the markers of harm that can be used to assist gamblers at an earlier stage to minimise gambling related harm. Therefore, gambling operators can benefit from the findings in this thesis because the findings can be applied for policy and procedure improvement for online gambling operators. Gambling regulators may also utilise these findings to examine and determine which specific aspects can be used to reduce gambling-related harm.

The findings from each study can assist online gambling operators to apply the findings in productive manner to reduce gambling-related harm. Through the studies that looked at the availability of consumer protection amongst the top 50 online gambling operators, these exploratory studies provide insight not only in what is available for the consumers, but also which RG areas need more emphasis and improvement. In the empirical study looking at the preferred RG tool activated when looking at gender and age groups, this information can assist online gambling operators to promote a personalised approach to the preferred RG tool options for these demographic groups, ensuring not only better uptake of RG tools, but also more adherence to these tools. The study which looked at whether or not VSE is a good proxy measure for problem gambling challenges previous research and approaches that used this proxy measure but may give better possibilities to helping operators and regulators in approaching harm minimisation possibilities. The final study looking at operationalising the DSM5 criteria for gambling disorder, can assist online gambling operators to apply scientific concepts to real gambling data, and minimise gambling harm through the use of online behavioural markers of harm.

All the studies may assist gambling operators to improve their policies and procedures in the field of RG. The application of the findings from these studies, such as optimising the markers of harm, the needed improvement in customer service communication, the information of RG on the online gambling website, and analysing data from gambling disorder closures, amongst others can make tangible changes that directly decrease gambling-related harm. Even so, the same application of these findings can be utilised by gambling regulators. Only by encouraging a collaboration with the different gambling stakeholders, such as policymakers, researchers, and gambling operators, is it possible to achieve initiatives that ensure the best possible consumer protection.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Catania, M.
Date: July 2022
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 25 Apr 2023 09:40
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2023 09:40

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