Responsible gambling was the theme of the Discovery 2011 conference, organized by the Responsible Gambling Council of Canada. The conference was held in Ottawa April 5-8 and had around 200 participants. Most of them were from Canada and the United States, but researchers, regulators and industry people from other countries around the world were also attending. I was invited as a speaker and presented my research on a mutual support group for young problem gamblers in Sweden.
Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is a Canadian nonprofit organization. RGC has developed a standard for responsible gambling (the RG Index) and has developed educational materials about gambling, which is used in schools. RGS also organizes national campaigns for responsible gambling and initiates research on gambling and problem gambling. Every year the conference Discovery is organized.
A recurrent topic of this year’s conference was how technology can help gambling companies to be responsible. For example, speakers presented computer systems for online gaming that can warn of excessive gambling among the customers. Such systems can also alert companies about suspected cheating. Another issue discussed was the need for a shared database for players who want to self-exclude from online gambling. If they self-exclude from one company, they should not be able to continue gambling at another. Still another topic on the conference was how slot machines can be designed to reduce the risk of excessive gambling.
Possible negative consequences of the technological developments in the gambling market was also addressed. Sociologist Daniel Sahl from the University of Las Vegas spoke about the new generation of gambling machines. He presented a survey of the machines at the Global Gambling Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, last fall. I found this particularly interesting since I visited the G2E myself and wondered what the consequences might be of the quite astonishing technological inventions that were on displayed. The new machine designs borrow from games that are popular among young people, such as World of Warcraft and Farmville. Is there a danger that young people are enticed to play excessively on such machines? Many of the new gambling machines also emphasizes social interaction. You can play with others, interact and get communal bonus rounds. Is it good that gambling machines becomes more social? Or does it to attract new categories of players to one of the most problematic forms of gambling? Gambling-like phenomena of social networking sites like Facebook were also discussed.
Perhaps the most appreciated session of the conference was a panel of “ordinary” players. It was a group of men who were very interested in betting on sports and horse racing. They sat in a separate room adjacent to the conference hall. They formed a focus group that under the guidance of a very competent moderator told the about their sports betting. A camera crew was filming the group and the participants in the conference could follow the discussions on large projector screens. After about an hour of discussion the moderator briefly returned to the conference hall and received questions for the group of sports bettors. For example, if their gambling had a negative impact on their family relationships, if they taught their children to gamble, and if they felt that something was problematic in their gaming habits. Then all at the conference could see and hear the gamblers discuss the issues. Very interesting and also entertaining!