Canadian Gaming Summit: Is responsible gaming a driver of growth for Canada?

June 29, 2023 1:07 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
June 29, 2023 1:07 PM

Instead of paying mere lip service to it, guardrails around responsible gambling and requirements set by Ontario’s regulator ensuring it’s a primary focus for licensed operators was a big topic focus at the recent Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto.

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Responsible gambling was a big reason behind regulating the Ontario market in the first place. Players weren’t getting those protections in the gray market.

But when does it go from a social responsibility, the right thing to do, to a driver of growth through improved relationships with consumers? Are operators better able to attract and retain players by going above and beyond, as opposed to implementing the minimum requirements imposed by the regulatory regime? Across the country in other jurisdictions, robust RG regulations exist.

The pros and cons were weighed by a panel at the Summit, hosted by Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling, Entain. Also on the panel were Jacob Coin, executive advisor, chairman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; Nav Sandhawalia, chief compliance and risk officer, Niagara Casinos; Aaron GlynWilliams, director, social responsibility, OLG; Dan Spencer, director of safer gambling, EPIC Risk Management; and Shelley White, CEO, Responsible Gambling Council (RGC).

Spencer said there’s been a “culture of responsible gaming” in Ontario from the start, meaning after the regulated market went live April 2022. “The rotten apples that have not bought into RG ultimately will be forgotten.”

White referenced a strong commitment to research on the topic and a number of gambling study programs across the country. In Ontario, PlaySmart Centres in land-based gambling venues staffed by Responsible Gambling Council employees educate players on games and help them step away if need be. A self-exclusion program, similar to one just introduced by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation for access to all its casinos, will soon be introduced in Ontario as well.

“As the gambling industry grows, there is a need to increase the investment we’re making in responsible gambling, prevention education, research in ongoing adaptation, and development of standards,” she added. “We have to remain innovative.”

Added Sandhawalia, “As an operator, it disappoints me when other operators don’t buy into or aren’t committed to RG. One bad apple ruins it for all of us. We all need to be at a certain level, a certain bar, and that bar should be high. I don’t think we need to compete on RG. We need to support each other to grow the message.”

There will be negative ramifications if you’re caught being a hypocrite, publicly saying you’re committed to RG and not have that reflected internally, said GlynWilliams.

White says over the past three years, she has spoken with many leaders in the gambling industry who are telling her their commitment to responsible gambling is contributing positively to their bottom line, vis-a-vis customer retention and loyalty and employee retention. According to data she’s seen, employees feel proud to be part of an organization that’s committed to RG and consumer protection.

“But we don’t have a scorecard. We don’t have a set of metrics for this,” she added. “I believe this is an extremely important next step for this industry – develop a common set of metrics to be able to measure and communicate the impact that responsible-gambling player health is having on the industry going forward.”

GlynWilliams said their responsible-gambling campaigns outperform their product campaigns in getting players to try OLG products, in terms of building trust and loyalty.

“When we talk about the growth of our industry, some of our product teams are looking at net-promoter score, player churn, customer satisfaction, customer experience. All of these measures are impacted and driven by your commitment and the real usefulness of your responsible-gambling program and your tools,” he said. “Within all those measures is part of the overall RG story that we have to unpack and prove.

“And we’ve got a great landscape in this province. We’ve got operators committed to it. We’ve got RGC. We’ve got great researchers who work in partnership with the industry to better understand how we can prove what we’re doing. Last year, OLG released an RG plan to the public. We talked about player health, positive play, tool use as key measures that we’re monitoring to make sure that our programs are effective. And we can keep moving that needle forward with the help of some of the panel here and the other partners.”

Coin referenced studies showing that Gen Z and Millennial consumers would rather spend their money with companies that have a social conscience. “We have to focus on these generations as the new areas of growth.”

Said Spencer, “We should all know by now that problematic gamblers are not good for business.”

According to data, he added that clients he works with have done private studies where in the end, “they cannot believe the percentage that choose them because they believe them to be an ethical operator.”

What’s really needed is for operators to prove it: They’ve focused so much on RG, they’ve closed down this percentage of accounts, their profits have still gone up, and here’s why.

It all points to the fact that a commitment to responsible gambling will really start to build traction in the industry.