The Current State of Self-Exclusion in 2022
1.6 billion, or roughly 20% of the world's population, was the amount of people participating in gambling worldwide in pre-pandemic times. That number has been steadily growing year by year, amplified by the pandemic, with the average age of players dropping, and gambling revenues reaching new highs every year. The pandemic has changed many industries, and gambling was not an exception.
Not only did the possible ways of playing increase, thanks to the ever-developing new technologies, but the pandemic brought along an explosive growth of online gambling operators, making gambling more accessible than ever. The metaphorical barrier of only being able to play at an establishment within your proximity was fully eliminated, and players can now use online gambling operators all around the world from the comfort of their couch, provided that they have Internet access.
The accessibility of online gambling opportunities poses several challenges and highlights the importance of responsible gambling tools and safer gambling practices. To present some of the alarming data, ½ of UK's adult population gambles, 2021 gambling revenues reported by the US show the country has had its most successful gambling year ever, and Africa is currently experiencing a rapid growth in online gambling.
Men tend to gamble twice as much as women, which, combined with the fact that men are also more likely to develop symptoms of gambling addiction, raises a warning finger. The bad news is that these increasing trends show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
The Problem with the Current State of Self-Exclusion
Out of the 1.6 billion individuals engaging in gambling activities, approximately 1-2% continues to struggle with problem gambling symptoms. And though that number may seem insignificant at first glance, it represents 24,000,000 real people, with their families, livelihoods and quality of living at a constant risk. What's more, the rate of problem gambling reaches over 6% in some countries, and the WHO estimates the total number of problem gamblers to be closer to 350 million – a staggering number. However, because of the differences in tools, schemes, methods, and survey timings used, it's incredibly difficult to compare individual countries.
A self-exclusion scheme was developed to help these at-risk individuals and create an effective barrier between struggling players and online gambling opportunities. Unfortunately, in its current state, self-exclusion has proven to be insufficient to combat problem gambling, considering the global gambling opportunities of players today. Millions of problem gamblers continuously fail to successfully overcome problem gambling due to the fact that no matter how big their efforts to self-exclude from all gambling opportunities are, they can easily find an operator to play at should the urge arise. There are two major issues which sabotage the scheme's intended effectivity:
The Issue of Scale
At this point in time, a person struggling with some form of gambling addiction can self-exclude on one of two scales. The first one is a self-exclusion at a single specific online gambling operator, which is an insignificant precaution against problem gambling at best since players who self-exclude at a specific operator can easily create an account with another one.
The second possibility is self-exclusion on a national or license-wide scale, which blocks players out of all gambling establishments operating in their country or with a given license. Though much more significant, this solution is in the grand scheme of things insufficient, as it can't possibly cover the outer space: a true chronic gambler can easily bypass these self-imposed measures by visiting unlicensed and often subpar gambling operators, or foreign operators that cannot participate in the local system for various reasons.
Although there are now additional ways to block one's access to gambling sites, such as gambling blocker apps like BetBlocker or GamBan, players who find themselves in an urge to gamble can indeed bypass these self-imposed precautions, if they try hard enough.
The Issue of Standards
Because no global standard is currently in effect and every jurisdiction has its own set of self-exclusion rules, big differences among individual countries and their self-exclusion policies can be found. Using the European Union and data from November 2021 as an example:
- There are still 3 countries (Bulgaria, Czechia, Lithuania) where no self-exclusion tools from the operators' side are enforced, although Bulgaria's self-exclusion law should come into force in 2023.
- Only 14 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Spain) allow for the self-exclusion process to be performed by a third party, such as the family member of the troubled individual.
- Only 16 Member States use their own national self-exclusion databases (Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden), while Bulgaria is currently undergoing a transitional period, meaning that no self-exclusion database is enforced until the new database comes into force in December 2022. Finland has their own version of the database.
- Out of those 16 Members States, only 6 (Belgium, Hungary, the Netherland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain) automatically check the national self-exclusion database upon an individual's request to open an account, and 4 (Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia) still don't allow troubled players to self-exclude using an online portal.
There are currently no international self-exclusion standards in existence. As a result, differences between national self-exclusion systems create an unequal level of player protection and make it impossible to successfully compare individual countries.
Based on our database of more than 3,400 active operators, which reflect about 99% of active operators in the world, we conclude that there are big differences when it comes to self-exclusion options. What's more, the ability to withdraw money during the self-exclusion period differs across operators as well.
Self-exclusion via e-mail is the most widespread method of self-excluding offered to players by 78% of active operators. However, since players need to provide a lot of information prior to the request being verified and approved, the duration of this self-exclusion process is significantly longer compared to other alternatives. The option to self-exclude through the account settings, which is, unfortunately, available only at roughly 50% of all operators, entails much less friction and we consider it to be a best practice. Self-excluding by contacting the customer support is available at 45% of operators.
To highlight another alarming fact, only 30% of operators allow money withdrawals during the self-exclusion period. This can prove to be discouraging for many problematic players considering taking ownership of their problematic behaviour. On the brighter side, there are several jurisdictions, such as the UK, where the operators are obliged to pay out all deposits immediately after a player self-excludes. Unification of self-exclusion standards would create a safe gambling environment where all players receive an equal level of protection and where the friction related to self-excluding is eliminated as much as possible.
The Issue of Implementation
According to our data, 99.6% of operators offer some sort of self-exclusion. However, many of them, especially the ones operating on less regulated markets and markets where only minimal self-exclusion requirements are enforced, tend to have a very lightweight self-exclusion implementation. More often than not, the protective solutions they deploy remain in an MVP (minimum viable product) mode. This is mainly because enforcing self-exclusion at a maximum possible level does not make much sense from the business point of view.
Moreover, there have been several reports documenting cases where an excluded player was granted access to the casino without any hassle whatsoever, which is an ongoing issue with many less-reputable casinos out there. It is also important to note that these cases were not isolated in nature and are widespread around the globe – since the number of less-reputable and exploitative casinos is large – so the importance of proposing a viable solution to the issues at hand is paramount.
The Necessary Guidelines
As for any self-exclusion solution, there are guidelines that would need to be followed to ensure the successful protection of all players struggling with problem gambling.
- Effective blocking – The main objective of the solution must be met and an effective barrier that blocks players from playing on websites they self-exclude from must be ensured.
- Reason for self-exclusion – When a player opts to self-exclude, casinos should try their best to obtain the self-exclusion reasons of such player and adjust their approach accordingly.
- Self-exclusion length – Given the nature of problem gambling, we advise to set the self-exclusion length to permanent.
- Sufficient selection of options – A sufficient variety of self-exclusion options and durations should be offered for individuals self-excluding for reasons other than problem gambling. These should range from self-exclusion for a set period – including a cool-off option for short-term blocking – to a permanent self-exclusion.
- Easy access – The process of self-exclusion should be fast, simple, and easily accessible, to streamline the user experience. Furthermore, all consequences of self-excluding must be sufficiently explained prior to completion of the process. This can also be supported by adding a panic button that immediately stops players from playing for a certain amount of time.
- Global coverage – A global option for self-exclusion should exist. This way, players who want to limit their access to gambling completely, and who would normally be able to self-include using only one of the above-mentioned self-exclusion options, do no longer have a possibility to simply register at a different operator and continue playing once their urge to play comes.
- Fast exclusion – As soon as the self-exclusion process is completed, players should neither be allowed to play on their existing accounts nor be able to create new ones. Any downtime or excessive delays in blocking one's access to playing may cause significant financial losses to problem gamblers.
- Cool-down period – As recommended by most specialists, in case the casino offers more than just a permanent self-exclusion, a certain waiting period should be implemented before the player's account can be reactivated.
- Privacy – The solution should ensure adequate privacy of self-excluded players so that their identity remains confidential, and no third parties gain access to it.
- Customer support – Expert customer support professionals with multilingual competencies should be available to players to answer any and all kinds of possible inquiries.
- Help organizations – As is often the case with solutions, although self-exclusion creates a barrier and limits access and exposure to gambling, it does not treat the underlying causes of problem gambling behaviour. To avoid relapses and falling back into the old pattern of behaviour once the self-exclusion period is over, the self-exclusion solution should provide sufficient exposure and encouragement to reach out to problem gambling help centers and treat the addiction.
- Reliability – Self-excluded players using their truthful personal details cannot be allowed to create an account once self-excluded under any circumstances. Once self-excluded, it is the system's duty to block every attempt of the player to sign up at all relevant gambling operators.
- Incentives to keep playing – Offering incentive bonuses or otherwise motivating self-excluded players suffering from problem gambling to continue playing would be considered an anti-protection act.
- Promotional content – Sending marketing messages on any channel after a player self-excludes is not considered to be a best practise.
- Change of mind – Because self-excluded players might experience withdrawal symptoms after a certain period of time, casinos shouldn't allow self-excluded players to cancel their self-exclusion unless a certain period of time passes, and only in case specific conditions are met.
- Automatic reactivation – In case operators offer definite self-exclusion time periods, opening an account after the period is over should be possible with a cool-down period but perhaps should not be automatic.
Our proposed solution to the outlined problematic areas and necessary guidelines is an implementation of a Global Self-Exclusion System (GSES), which will allow individuals to block their access to virtually all legitimate online gambling opportunities worldwide and therefore help minimize further gambling harm done to themselves or affected others.
As specified in the GSES blue paper, the main objective of the GSES is to have a fully functioning and reliable global self-exclusion system that will effectively check whether a person attempting to register at a participating operator is on the self-exclusion list or not. Based on the data received, the registration process is either stopped or allowed to proceed.
In short, players who wish to be in the database register at a dedicated website using their truthful personal information, which will be verified by the Know Your Customer (KYC) process. Once finalized, the self-excluded player will no longer be able to register at any participating operator. All participating operators will be connected to the database using an API connection that allows checks for one's first name and date of birth every time a new player tries to open an account with them. A match in the data will result in stopping the registration and additional steps will follow.
To ensure that the privacy requirements of self-excluded players are met, no personal data will be shared, and participating operators connected through an API will simply check their data with the information in the database. The system itself will be overseen by an independent organization, which will ensure its neutrality.
The GSES team believes that the System can become an industry standard used by operators worldwide. Not only does it have many benefits for the operators, it's also fairly easy to implement on their side. Based on these factors, the team behind the Initiative considers long-term exposure of industry professionals to the many benefits of the Global Self-Exclusion System to be the best approach in achieving its ambitious goal.
Thanks to such approach, operators will understand the benefits of GSES and ultimately join the system, which will persuade others to join as well. Once the tipping point is achieved, the remaining operators wishing to keep their reputation intact will be forced to join too, and an industry-wide self-exclusion system will be fully implemented.
The Road Ahead
There is still much to do before our solution can come to fruition. So, you may be asking yourself, how are we planning to achieve all of this? What have we managed to do so far, and what are our next steps and goals?
- In March 2021, Casino Guru has launched an initiative aimed at creating a global self-exclusion system and thus increasing player protection worldwide.
- Thanks to the work done in 2021 and the feedback we've collected, a blue paper outlining the proposed technical implementation of the Initiative was conducted by the GSES team. This paper was presented to the industry members on ICE London 2022 in April.
- In the first half of 2022, our journey of teaming up with subjects and operators that are in favour of the Initiative continued.
- For the rest of 2022, we believe that with the help of partners we get on board during this period, we can take the Initiative to another level and finally create a functional and sufficient solution for self-exclusion of players with problem gambling tendencies.
Want to get involved? Send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and let's discuss how we can work together to make the online gambling world a safer place.