5/05/2021

Responsible Gambling - What is it?

You may have come across the term responsible gaming before, but have you ever wondered what it is? It’s basically a concept, involving a bunch of policies and regulations aimed at providing a safe user experience. What this really means is that online casinos must put certain mechanisms in place to protect you, from yourself.

To fully understand responsible gambling, I have to bring up a very sensitive subject – addiction. Just the word addiction come with a lot of stigma and negative associations, like weakness, which is why it’s so difficult to confront.

No one wants to admit that they have an addiction, or a problem, since it would also mean admitting that you’re no longer in full control of your actions. Still, the first step towards fixing a problem is admitting that there is one.

In this article you’ll find everything you need to know about responsible gaming, how you can identify if you have a problem, what measures you can take, and where you can seek professional help in case you’re gambling without control.

Let’s start with a bit of history, though. Keep reading and I promise you’ll be better off for it.

History of Responsible Gambling

The term responsible gambling dates back to the mid-1990s, before the advent of online casinos. I’m not 100% sure but there’s enough evidence to suggest that this term comes from similar discussions regarding alcohol and responsible drinking.

But unlike the discussion about drinking, where onus is on the consumer, responsible gambling made its way into the halls of powers where lawmakers started working on regulations.

Did you know that gambling is more regulated today than tobacco and alcohol? Especially online. It’s really easy to put to the test.

Picture this, you buy a pack of cigarettes and on the pack is a list of every single health complication related to smoking. The vendor checks your ID, asks where you got the money to make the purchase, and then informs you about limitations you can set to curb your habit.

It doesn’t stop there. On your way out of the store you’re greeted by a stranger who hands you a business card and let’s you know about various support groups for people who smoke.

In this scenario, you can just as easily swap the pack of cigarettes for a bottle of wine and it would be exactly the same. However, no one ever stops you from completing your purchase no matter how many packs or bottles you ask for.

The first steps towards gambling responsibly

There are so many support groups and forums out there where players with a gambling problem can go and talk to others in a similar situation. Further down I will go into more details about the ones that are usually advertised in online casinos and what you can expect from them.

I would say that these are the four basics you should start with and I will explain my thoughts on each of these:

  • Know the risks – You have to understand that videos on YouTube where players win 50,000x on a regular basis are either completely fake or misrepresent the chances of winning. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks. If it was that easy to win all the time, online casinos would go out of business.
  • Take control – Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for your own actions and realize that no one is making you gamble. If you have a real problem, own up to it. I know this is tough love. We were all raised to understand that actions have consequences and that we’re the ones responsible for the outcome.
  • Use the limit settings – Every online casino will allow you to set limits on how much and often you can deposit into your account. You can also limit the amount of time you can gamble each day, week, month… These settings are there for good reason. Use them!
  • Change your mindset – This is a lot easier said than done. Gambling should never be thought of as a source of income. Think of it as any another recreational activity. In other words, think of it purely as entertainment. It’s definitely not a chore.

Here are my thoughts:

Know the risks

Hollywood too often makes gambling look like a viable way to make tons of money when the odds of winning a jackpot is like one in forget about it. This image is really hurtful for an industry that would never be allowed to advertise gambling in this manner.

It does nothing but perpetuate the idea that it’s easy to win when you’re playing slots or table games. And when you watch compilation videos on YouTube from various streamers, there are a few things you ought to know.

I’ve been watching streamers and videos for many years and noticed a few things. Betting amounts have gone up significantly. It used to be that streamers would be betting €10 per spin on rare occasions. Today, that’s a pretty tame wager.

Also, streamers are buying into bonus rounds directly for up to €25,000. And they tend to end up winning even more money this way, more often than not.

I can tell from firsthand experience that winning is not easy, let alone hitting max payout wins. Of course, if you play long enough you’ll eventually hit a big win. And long enough could be anything from hours to months. Winning is all about luck!

Take control

Whenever you gamble, you do so at your own risk. You’re not a victim. No one put a gun to your head. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can start doing something about it if you have a gambling problem.

There are two things you should NEVER do: Never chase losses by increasing your bet, and never play with money you can’t afford to lose. Rise above it. Take a break and go for a walk. Do something else, anything else.

Use the limit settings

I love the limit settings and I use them all the time. In all fairness, I have accounts in several casinos and each has a different setting. This way I can play differently depending on which slot I’m gonna play or just what kind of mood I’m in.

The limits you set are only there to minimize your losses and the amount of time you’ll allow yourself to play. Personally, I think two hours per day is more than enough playtime and €50 per week in deposits.

You can still hit big wins and make withdrawals. In all honesty, limiting yourself is not only a great way to protect your bankroll, but also a great way to take control, like I mentioned above.

Change your mindset

This is probably the most difficult one on my list of basics because you might have to admit to some hard truths about how you look at things. Gambling is purely entertainment. I know what you’re thinking: “How can it possibly be entertaining to lose money?”

This is a stupid question. Here’s how you have to look at it. The money you’re playing for is a countdown to when the entertainment stops. Playing games is the fun part. If you win, you’ve extended the period you can have fun. When the money is gone, the fun is over.

I have come across people in my life who claimed to be professional gamblers. Let’s just say that it’s a career with a very short lifespan and you end up with less money than you start with in the end. I’m not an economist, but this just seems really backwards.

How to be a responsible gambler

This is not as hard as it sounds. In fact, in today’s day and age it’s rather difficult not to be a responsible gambler. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Research – Before you sign up with any online casino, do a bit of research. Find out if the casino you’re thinking of signing up with has been in the news for not living up to responsible gambling requirements. And read reviews about the casino to find out what their approach towards responsible gambling is.
  2. Policies – Every licensed online casino has a section where you can learn more about them and their responsible gambling policies and available tools. Check out the terms and conditions where it talks about self-exclusion. This stuff is important.
  3. Limitations – Use all the tools available in your account settings to minimise the risk of overextending your budget. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose, and never chase your losses. These are very basic rules, but too often overlooked.

If you follow these steps, I can promise that you’re much better off. Everyone has 20/20 vision in hindsight, but the problem is that then it might be too late. If all else fails, self-exclude. Put online gambling behind you for a while. I’d say 6 months at least. That’s ample time to reflect on your decisions and make adjustments.

One service that I have seen out there, which I firmly believe should be mandatory, is the “withdrawal lock.” This prevents you from cancelling a withdrawal and lapse into gambling. In my honest opinion, this option should be made mandatory.

If you ever play in a casino with this option, USE IT! There’s nothing more detrimental than cancelling a withdrawal in process just to lose the money rather than seeing it in your bank account.

Third-party software

Online marketing is extremely sophisticated these days. A quick visit to a random website may result in continuous ads about their products or services no matter which websites you go to after. This is a technique called re-targeting and it’s used by a lot of online gambling companies.

An easy trick to limit yourself from this exposure is to install software on your computer. I know this may sound drastic, but it may help. You’re familiar with the expression out of sight, out of mind?

For obvious reasons I can’t really suggest any specific programs for you to put on your computer since I don’t want to be held responsible if something goes wrong. I would suggest you do a bit of research. Why not start by reading up on the type of blocking software you can find on these sites:

  • Gamban.com
  • Gamblock.com
  • Betfilter.com
  • Betblocker.org
  • Netnanny.com

Again, there’s no universal solution if you want to use this technique and it may even cost you a bit of money to subscribe to some of these programs. But whatever helps, helps. Right?

Responsible Gambling in different jurisdictions

This is where it gets a bit confusing for players for obvious reasons. A jurisdiction is confined by boarders and dictated by national laws and regulations, while the Internet is a global network that’s uninhibited. There’s clearly an interesting case of juxtaposition going on here, but to understand this we have to take a look at how different countries have chosen to regulate online gambling.

You may already be aware of different authorities like the Malta Gaming Authority, United Kingdom Gambling Commission, the Swedish Gambling Authority, Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association, Curacao, Germany’s Interstate Treaty of Gambling, and many more regulating authorities.

There are many similarities between these jurisdictions, but there are also a lot of differences that you should be take into consideration before you register your online casino account. The main thing you need to know is that an online casino needs to be licensed by the relevant authority before it’s allowed to offer its services to players in that jurisdiction.

Going through some of these regulators will also give you an idea of how restrictions have evolved over the years. The most recent one is the highly anticipated German Interstate Treaty of Gambling, which may become a prime example of what might happen when a regulator goes too far. Might.

Malta Gaming Authority

Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) was established in 2001 to regulate gambling by ensuring transparency and safety to players, but also to prevent money laundering and other criminal activities often associated with gambling.

MGA was one of the first regulators to offer licenses to online gambling companies and is to this day still considered the gold standard. You can rest assured that casinos with an MGA license are safe to play at. These casinos must maintain a high standard when it comes to responsible gambling.

Their philosophy is that as a regulator they have a duty towards the players targeted by companies operating under their licenses, and to make sure that players are adequately equipped with all the necessary tools possible to gamble as a leisure activity.

United Kingdom Gambling Commission

This regulator is usually referred to as the UKGC or Gambling Commission and came into being in 2007, taking over all responsibilities of the Gaming Board for Great Britain. The UKGC more or less took all the rules and regulations already implemented by MGA and expanded on them to include which language online operators could use in marketing.

They also added new rules regarding terms and conditions and made it necessary to include all specific terms directly connected with the offer. You may have seen a Welcome Bonus by a UKGC regulated casino where you’ll have a fine print of all the major rules of the offer.

UKGC was the first regulator to encourage a national register where players could self-exclude from all UKGC-licensed casinos in one fell swoop. Practically, a player can go to GAMSTOP’s website and ban themself from all UKGC casinos for 6 months, 1 year or 5 years.

Swedish Gambling Authority

Not to be outdone by the MGA or the UKGC, the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA) took a long hard look at the aforementioned regulators, decided that they weren’t strict enough, and introduced even more austere measures for operators.

For example, players residing in Sweden cannot be offered more than one bonus per gambling license. This means that companies that operate more than one casino have to have multiple licenses just to be able to offer a Welcome Bonus.

Beyond this offer, online casinos aren’t allowed to offer anything that resembles a bonus. Effectively, any offer or promotion that could be seen as encouraging gambling were banned.

When Sweden was hit by the global COVID-pandemic in 2020, the government slapped casinos with new rules as of July 1 that limited player deposits to SEK 5,000 per month, and a loss limit of the same amount. This was meant to be a temporary action for 6 months to keep players from gambling too much during lockdown.

It has since been extended to June, 2021, but it looks like there will be another extension until November 14, which will also include a strict limit on bonus offers to SEK 100. How online casinos are supposed to be competitive when all they can offer is a one-time Welcome Bonus for a maximum of €9.90 is not taken into consideration.

SGA is currently working on a proposal that will force licensed casinos on the Swedish market to protect players from exaggerated play and help them play less. Licensees must come up with an action plan that shows how they plan to live up to these expectations.

Online gambling companies licensed by SGA have voiced concern that if regulations on the market become too draconian, Swedish players will seek to gamble outside of the jurisdiction. A report already suggest that 25% of all money gambled by Swedish players go to non-SGA-licensed casinos.

Germany’s Interstate Treaty of Gambling

As European regulators seem to be locked into some kind of competition for how much a market can be regulated, Germany is set to go for Gold in this category. Granted, no one knows what the exact wording will be, but here’s what we know so far.

Bets on slots are to be limited to a maximum of €1 per spin and players are not allowed to deposit more than €100 per month. There will also be a delay of 5 minutes when switching between different gambling sites.

This is of course on top of all the restrictions already in place in the UK and Sweden. Critics of the German regulations have warned that all of this will just lead to a massive black market with players going to unlicensed casinos.

Non-profit help organisations

In the wake of any activity where there’s even the slightest chance of addiction, you’ll find non-profit organisations lobbying for tougher regulations while offering help to overcome gambling problems. Every licensed casino is obliged to link to these organisations on their websites, proving yet again that online gambling is more regulated than tobacco and alcohol.

I’m all for seeking help as long as it actually works. Here are some non-profit organisations which players can turn to if they feel like things have gone out of hand. As you will see, it’s not only online gambling that’s a multi-million-dollar industry, helping those who develop a problem is also a multi-million-dollar industry.

You may also notice that it’s a lot easier to find information about some of these organisations’ finances than their actual success rate when it comes to treating problem gamblers.

Gamblers Anonymous – GAMANON

Gamblers Anonymous (GAMANON) is a global organisation that operates very much like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). Not much of a coincidence since it was founded in 1957 by Jim Willis, an alcoholic, who basically took AA’s 12-step program and applied it to problem gambling.

I don’t know why this organisation isn’t mentioned more predominantly on gambling sites in Europe. They are available in most countries and can easily be found with a quick search in Google.

GamCare

GamCare is an independent charity initially available only for UK players. It was established in 1997 and have since grown to offer their services in multiple languages across Europe. They seem to be doing alright with a total income of £9,634,800 for the financial year ending March 31, 2020.

With expenditures totalling £8,296,418, I’d say they had a very good year with a profit of £1,338,382. It’s actually easier to find information about their finances than success rate when it comes to helping problem gamblers.

GamStop

This brings us to GamStop. This is a national registry in the UK where you can self-exclude from all online gambling companies with a UKGC license for a period of 6 months, 1 year or 5 years. You will not be able to cancel the self-exclusion until your chosen period has elapsed.

All you have to do to register is to go to their website and fill out a form with your full name, current address and postcode and any postcodes you’ve lived at previously, your date of birth, any email address you’re currently using or used in the past and the same goes for your mobile number and past mobile numbers.

The GamStop registry is operated by The National Online Self Exclusion Scheme Limited. They seem to employ only directors whose sole responsibility is to prepare the company’s financial report. For the year that ended December 31, 2019, operating profit plummeted from £1,125,993 in 2018 to £51,071. I’m not an expert when it comes to these things, but I think it may have been affected by the administrative expenses in 2019, which shot to £2,020,074.

GambleAware

BeGambleAware.org is another organisation you can turn to if you feel that gambling has taken control of your life. Their site is action-packed with various self-help tools and tips for taking control of your gambling habit, and a free number you can call 24/7 – the National Gambling Helpline.

In June 2020, bet365, GVC, PaddyPower Betfair, Sky Betting and Gaming, and William Hill publicly confirmed their intention to provide £100 million to GambleAware between 2020 and 2024 to commission prevention and treatment services.

GambleAware also engages in lobbying, or as they call it in their financial report ending March 31, 2020, “influence policy making at national and local level.”

Stödlinjen

In Sweden, there’s a hotline for players to call. It’s called Stödlinjen (support line) and it’s also a website where players can go and get information about addiction. Stödlinjen is run by the Centre for Psychiatric Research, Stockholm County Council/Karolinska Institutet, on behalf of the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Funded by tax money, in other words.

Spelpaus

As part of obtaining a license from the SGA, casinos must integrate the Spelpaus.se service. This is Sweden’s national self-exclusion register and once you’ve gone through the process which can last for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or until further notice, you’re not able to gamble at any gaming company with an SGA license or betting shop or any of the real-world casinos in the country.

Self-assessment test – Do you have a gambling problem?

If you’re having thoughts about your gambling habits and wonder if you have a gambling problem, there is a self-assessment test you can take online. Even though several of the organisations mentioned above have “their” version of this test, it’s pretty much the same.

Basically, you read 16 statements and rate them from 0 (does not apply at all) to 16 (applies completely) and once you’re done you’ll get a free evaluation. How do you think you’d do if you have to rate these statements, and be honest?

  • Sometimes I gamble for longer than I intend to.
  • Sometimes I lose track of time when I am gambling.
  • Other people say that I spend too much time gambling.
  • I devote time to my gambling when I really should be doing something else.
  • Sometimes I gamble more money than I intend to.
  • Sometimes I try to win back money that I have lost gambling.
  • Sometimes I gamble with money that really should have been used for something else.
  • I sometimes borrow money to enable me to gamble.
  • I do no want to tell other people about how much time and money I spend on my gambling.
  • People close to me think that I gamble too much.
  • Sometimes I feel bad when I think of how much I have lost gambling.
  • Sometimes my gambling has left me short of money.
  • I feel restless if I do not have the opportunity to gamble.
  • Sometimes I feel bad when I think about my gambling.
  • My gambling sometimes makes me irritated.
  • Thinking about the last three months, do you consider you have any problems with your gambling?

Depending on how you rate these statements you’ll get an evaluation regarding time spent gambling, your money management, overall finances, relationships with other people, and how your gambling might affect your health.

The future of Responsible Gambling

In my opinion, the trickiest thing is to find a balance between player safety and online gambling companies’ ability to conduct their business. Too much regulation will drive players towards unlicensed gambling sites where they will have a lot less protection, and too little regulation may lead to more players developing problems.

If it would be up to me, this is what I would do:

  1. Ensure that there’s enough transparency when it comes to players’ real chances of winning. I think that far too many players gamble under the false assumption that it’s a lot easier to win than it really is.
  2. Ensure that every online casino provides account limitations when it comes to deposits and time spent on site. Also, I would make the withdrawal lock feature mandatory in all casinos.
  3. Remove certain restrictions when it comes to how online casinos are allowed to market their products and services. We live in market economies, for better and worse.
  4. Endorse clear guidelines from regulators when it comes to what is and what isn’t permitted under their gaming licenses. I have read some of these and they are all in legalese that leaves too much room for interpretation.
  5. Promote an international self-exclusion register that includes a list of all licensing authorities. I don’t think national registers are enough.
  6. Make third-party help organisations more transparent when it comes to providing actual help. Players with gambling problems should be encouraged to seek help only from accredited organisations with a proven track record.

There’s no magic bullet solution that will make sure that every player has a great online gambling experience, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Worst case scenario is that we end up in a situation where players gamble with unregulated cryptocurrencies in online casinos without licenses.