Responsible Gambling Programs

March 13, 2017
Christine Reilly
Senior Research Director
National Center for Responsible Gaming

Warning messages on gaming machines. Self-exclusion programs. Programs to limit money and time spent gambling. These are just a few responsible gambling strategies in use around the world. Responsible gambling (RG) refers to programs that seek to prevent or reduce gambling-related harms. The impetus behind these programs derives from the public health shift from a reactive posture of trying to eliminate disorders that have already occurred, to a proactive force that seeks to promote positive health behaviors and prevent diseases before they emerge (or at least mitigate their effects).

Source: Independent Gambling Authority

The rise in responsible gambling strategies is a response to this trend of health promotion. Enacted in government regulations, as well as in voluntary programs developed by gambling operators, responsible gambling programs have proliferated in legalized gambling jurisdictions throughout the world. However, are these programs safe? Are they effective? A review of the scientific literature by the leading gambling researchers indicates a dearth of science-based, peer-reviewed programs in this area. Why is peer-reviewed research important? Quality research will answer questions about safety and effectiveness. For example, is self-exclusion an effective intervention? Are limits on time and money wagered safe or do they in some cases cause people to gamble even more than they intended? These questions must be answered to protect people and to ensure that the considerable expense of these programs can be justified as effective. Here a few examples.

Voluntary self-exclusion programs, typically operated by
casinos, online gambling sites and gaming regulators, give individuals the opportunity to exclude themselves from gambling opportunities. Typical programs remove the enrolled person from marketing databases. Some authorize staff to remove the enrolled person from the premises and to deny cash prizes to those on the self-exclusion list.

What the research says

Research indicates that self-exclusion is safe and, for some gamblers, an effective intervention. However, more research is needed to ascertain the long-range impact of the program and to determine the most effective features of the program. For example, it is not clear what the optimum time limit for the ban should be.

Another responsible gambling strategy is to educate gaming employees about responsible gambling and gambling disorder. Research indicates that employee training can improve employees’ knowledge of responsible gambling. However, there is no evidence that increasing knowledge among casino staff can help employees accurately identify casino patrons with a gambling disorder.

In conclusion, the field does not yet have a systematic approach for assessing the quality of research on RG. Instead, a haphazard approach to developing and adopting RG programs has characterized RG efforts. Policymakers and the gambling industry should take a cautious and conservative approach to RG until quality scientific research provides a roadmap to safe and effective programming.

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