Igaming Focus: How does responsible gambling fit into the U.S. market?

Igaming Focus: How does responsible gambling fit into the U.S. market?

  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
August 9, 2022 2:00 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

Despite the U.S. following in the footsteps of Europe’s highly regulated and sometimes publicly criticised igaming industry, responsible gambling (RG) seems rarely to be mentioned. 

With the amount of money being thrown at marketing, and this month in particular, the degree to which that is paying off gets far more attention, understandably.  

But if there’s one thing the UK and other European jurisdictions can teach the U.S., it’s the benefit of getting on the front foot when it comes to RG. 

Those regulators, and indeed operators, that don’t assume responsible gambling will eventually become a hot topic, will find themselves in hot water when it inevitably starts to hit the headlines. 

RG still requires work in the most mature markets, but it is gradually becoming a bedrock of European operations, with almost every panel at ICE London this year raising it in some form or another.  

It wasn’t so long ago that it would be discussed in hushed tones in the lunch queue, while operators were still hoping public sentiment wouldn’t lead to too much of a regulatory backlash.  

Then, in 2018, a campaign to cap maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals at £2 gained rapid momentum, and ultimately led to the cap being introduced, effectively killing off a profitable land-based revenue stream. It was time to pay attention to RG. 

Not that there hadn’t been efforts to prioritise RG before. Many operators had strong RG strategies and took it seriously, but the industry as a whole became more vocal and more determined to prove it had a handle on responsible gambling. 

Back to the U.S. then. The term seems rarely to come up. When a new jurisdiction launches a regulatory framework, we hear what the licenses will cost, and what the renewal fees are, and a great deal about taxation — but very little about player protection. 

New Jersey has recently decided to steal a march on this critical aspect of contemporary igaming operations.  

Having commissioned a report from the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has outlined new responsible gaming protocols to be introduced by all operators in the state next year. 

These include hiring a dedicated staff member to oversee responsible gaming practices within each operator. It seems odd that such a rule did not already exist, but apparently not. 

The dedicated RG individual will ensure that any customers who could be considered ‘at-risk’ have access to information and resources that can help them to limit their exposure to gambling harms. A part of this would be a self-exclusion scheme, something that has been central to many regulatory reboots across Europe in recent years.  

New Jersey will also expect operators to be able to identify at-risk players. This would recognise certain red flags as a sign to intervene with the player’s account. 

The Rutgers report called for greater RG education at the point that users signed up with an operator, and for there to be more ways for gamblers to feedback to operators on RG features they would find useful.  

The report found that there are interventions and self-exclusion methods in place already with some operators, and that “at least some players who are gambling at high levels of intensity are engaging with limit-setting features”. 

However, it continued: “Unfortunately, they are already gambling at high levels by the time they set their limits. If these features could be incorporated into and promoted prior to placing the first bet, it is possible that this group of players could make informed choices about their gambling before play escalated to levels that are disproportionate to the overall population of online gamblers.” 

This, in fairness, is advice that could also be applied to the UK market, and the rest of Europe. All jurisdictions will ultimately improve their offering, and their relationship with their players if they make RG more central to the business model, and less of a tick box exercise in the aftermath of an outcry. 

New Jersey licensed operators have until January 2023 to put the requisite systems in place. The changes apply to all gambling, including sports betting.