There is no getting away from it, COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives in some way shape or form. The gambling sector has been no different. Online sports bookmakers, with no complementary product verticals, suffered greatly as sporting events were cancelled throughout the world. It wasn’t all bad news for operators, those with an online casino and esports products and experienced an uplift in player numbers.
The full effect that COVID-19 has had on the industry will not be known for some time. However, it is widely accepted that gambling activity has increased during national lockdowns with some countries such as Belgium, Spain and Latvia imposing specific rules and regulations to prevent increased instances of problem gambling in their territories.
How do operators in the sector protect players who may have developed a problem gambling habit during lockdown which has seen some players placing bets due to boredom, depression and anxiety?
Operators that hold a reputable licence will already be subject to the standard rules and regulations around the protection of players and problem gambling. With player numbers and activity increasing, it's important to ensure that not only are player protection mechanisms adhering to regulatory standards but that they remain fit for purpose in the current environment.
Operators offer a suite of options to players to assist them with controlling or limiting their play. These range from deposit limits based on a per session basis or for a prescribed period of time, i.e. one hour, five hours, 24 hours etc. Similar facilities are offered for bets placed. Players can reduce their limits at any time but can only increase them after a defined period of time.
Should a player wish to have a “cooling-off” period they can opt for a voluntary self-exclusion period. Again, these periods can range from 24 hours to a week, to a month to six months all the way up to permanent self-exclusion. Players can opt to increase their period of self-exclusion at any time but cannot, under any circumstances, reduce their exclusion period.
Attempts by the player to remove the exclusion period or increase betting limits are generally seen as an indication of problem gambling. In these circumstances, it is advisable to refer the player to the Responsible Gaming section of the operators’ website and encourage them to seek outside help from a local or national problem gambling service.
Operators will use technology, either proprietary or off the shelf, to manage such limits. However, additional measures can be employed by the operator to identify potential instances of problem gambling at the earliest opportunity. For example, player deposit and betting patterns can be monitored for instances of chasing losses - this could lead to the operator contacting the player to enquire as to their wellbeing.
During lockdown, we have also seen a trend towards the reduction or cessation of gambling advertisements in print, television and online marketing channels. This self-regulated approach helps to demonstrate operators' commitment to social responsibility obligations rather than respective regulators applying a more draconian approach to marketing.
With ever more insight into the internal working of gambling businesses being analysed in the media, the holding of player balances has become more important than ever.
Unfortunately, the industry has let itself down on many occasions, with operators going out of business and failing to pay their players’ funds, even in tier-1 jurisdictions such as Malta.
However, the Isle of Man has a long and successful history in protecting player funds with no instances of businesses failing and leaving player balances unpaid. This is because the Isle of Man has established a unique approach to ensuring players’ balances are held in a way that legally protects them against creditors or liquidators.
Player protection can come in many forms, segregated banking client accounts, bank guarantees, insurance policies and trusts. In the case of blockchain-based operators, smart contracts can be employed, where the company neither controls, owns nor takes control of the funds. Trusts who control tranches of the token can also be used.
Unfortunately, the default position of many commentators is that the gambling industry must be guilty of something, applying pressure to find areas of culpability. However, this can be mitigated with a tier-1 licence.
In the modern age, corporates in any sector are expected to be transparent in their affairs and handling of relationships with their customers. When located in a tier-1 jurisdiction, this becomes easier to handle as one engages with high ethical standards as a matter of standard practice and in the case of the Isle of Man, can demonstrate player monies are safe and secure against any issue.
By Nick Wright, Director and COO of SolutionsHub - an Isle of Man-based professional services provider, specialising in the fields of blockchain gambling and regulatory compliant tokenised businesses.
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