Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced the creation of 800 new jobs at the official opening of Paddy Power’s new headquarters in Clonskeagh, Dublin this week. The strength of this and other online betting companies shows how popular online gambling has become. Although some companies, like Paddy Power, adopt a socially responsible approach to their online gambling presence, addiction to such sites is a growing problem.
According to Professor Mark Griffiths, Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, gambling online is different to other forms of gambling because users inhibitions are decreased.
“Their emotional guards are much lower: When you lose money online, because you are gambling with e-cash , even though you might know you have lost 50 euro, it doesn’t feel like 50 euro because it’s money, one step removed,” explains Prof Griffiths.
“People are disinhibited online, when you lose face to face in front of people it’s a lot more guilty and embarrassing compared to when you lose online, because nobody can see your face. The whole point about the internet is that it is a non-alienating, non-stigmatising, non-face-to-face, non-threatening environment, so for people who are problem gamblers it’s a much more dangerous medium.
“There are lots of studies showing that the rates of problem gambling tend to be higher online than offline,” says Prof Griffiths, adding that it’s more dangerous for those who are already problem gamblers.
Griffiths explains that if one is an offline gambler who goes to the betting office all the time, the office closes for certain periods, whereas the internet sites are available online 24/7, 365 days a year.
If you are a problem gambler and you have a computer, there are over 3,000 gambling websites…
“It’s of course much harder not to log on to a computer in peoples day to day lives now … basically, if you are a problem gambler and you have a computer, there are over 3,000 gambling websites,” says Griffiths.
With respect to how vulnerable gamblers may be protected, Griffiths says he does most of his consultancy work with the online gaming industry to help develop social responsibility procedures, so potential problem gamblers can be helped.
“Obviously you need to make sure no minors are accessing your gambling site in the first place. Most responsible operators will have very stringent age verification checks … Weekly spending and time limits are often applied by responsible gambling sites,” says Griffiths.
According to Griffiths, some companies are using behavioural tracking tools to help people who are potential problem gamblers. “There are loads of things out there that can minimise the effect of people developing problems. The issue is that the vast majority of online companies aren’t actually using a lot of these socially responsible procedures and protocols,” says Griffiths.
Gambling-type games on social media sites such as Facebook, where people can use real money to buy points which they then gamble with to play games such as poker, have no age restrictions, says Griffiths. “If people like Facebook want to have a site with gambling where operators can have a portfolio of games, then they have got to do all the same things other socially responsible operators are doing in terms of age verification … they can’t absolve themselves of responsibility and say it’s totally up to the people who make the game.”
Griffiths says a lot of people think that it’s ok for adolescents to play gambling-type games if it doesn’t involve money. “There is some evidence to suggest that one of the predictors of problem gambling is children playing gambling games for free, they are learning how to play poker, they are learning how to play a slot machine online … that’s behaviourally and socially conditioning them to get into the gambling mode,” says Griffiths.
“I’m not anti-gambling, but I am pro-responsible gambling,” says Griffiths, who added that he is “anti-adolescent and anti-teenage and anti-child gambling: gambling is an adult activity. Companies, however, have a duty to look after their players and the very best and most socially responsible companies are doing that.”
Mr Paddy Power, spokesman for Paddy Power Plc, says they are “best in class” when it comes to responsible gambling. One service they offer is, if someone closes an account, they are offered the option of a responsible gambling closure. This means the account is closed forever and they can never reopen it.
Paddy says all the companies agents are trained by GamCare, a leading provider of information, advice and support for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. “They are trained to pick up on any phrases used by customers that correspond to or suggest a problem with gambling, for example ‘I can’t afford to lose’; this will prompt our agents into action and they will close down customers accounts that we feel have a problem, and put them in touch with GamCare,” says Mr Power.
When customers open an account with Paddy Power they are offered options to set weekly limits, etc. on their accounts. “I only want to allow myself to lose up to 100 euro each week, whatever it might be … you can decrease these limits straight away but if you want to increase there has to be a 24 hour cooling-off period, so you can’t just up your limit.”
The figures that Paddy Power have on the number of customers that close accounts due to problem gambling reasons are in the range of 1 per cent.
Legal requirements in Ireland
The Government decided last year to replace the current legislation on the licensing and regulation of betting and gaming with new legislation, referred to as the Gambling Control Bill.
The new Bill will update the current law in all respects. All licensing and enforcement functions will be transferred to the Minister for Justice & Equality, and every operator making a gambling service available to consumers in Ireland will require a licence.
The new law will provide for the licensing of remote operations (on-line, telephone, etc.). It will, for the first time, make provision in Irish law for the licensing of casinos, although the Government has decided not to provide for large-scale or ‘resort’ casinos. It also decided not to permit fixed-odds betting terminals.
According to a government statement: “The Heads of the Bill are being finalised and the Minister [for Justice] hopes to bring them to Government before the end of this year for its approval and agreement to have a Bill drafted. The Minister hopes to make the Heads available on his Department’s website once they have been accepted by the Government.”
The statement said the Minister is not in a position to give details of the Heads until they have been presented to the Government. However, it confirmed that “consumer protection generally, especially the protection of vulnerable persons, is among the new Bill’s core objectives. The Bill will contain numerous provisions in this regard. They will be far reaching and significant, but the Minister hopes that he can rely on the full co-operation of operators in this vital area, rather than having to rely on the new statutory powers.”
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