Behavioral monitoring for a safe and joyful gambling experience

words by Paddy O'Hagan / 6 Dec 2016

An interview with our Integrity Analytics Manager, Maris Bonello.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.

I have been working at Kindred for the last seven years.  I first joined when I was doing my MSc in psychology.  I never really thought I would work with an online gambling operator,  I had initially joined the Fraud Department at Unibet thinking that I will work for a few years in order to support myself financially during my studies.  Both before and during this period I volunteered in local treatment centers.  This involved working with people who were trying to get back into society after being in hospital.  I encountered a few cases where the cause was gambling dependency and associated problems.  My aim at the time was to work as a psychologist to help people.  Despite this, when I was gaining more confidence in my job at Unibet, I realized how rich the data and information is, and how gamblers can be helped through sound and responsible gambling practices.  What started out as what I thought would be a temporary role in Unibet, has become my passion. I realized that I could still help people and reach a wider audience through responsible gaming initiative’s.

What made you interested in behavioral studies in general, and gambling in particular?

As a psychology graduate, behavioral studies were always something that interested me. I always found fascination around how humans behave and why we do certain things instead of others. Behavioral addiction was always something that I found quite remarkable; how can someone succumb and become vulnerable to a specific behavior?  I never thought I would have a job in this area and therefore I took lectures in addiction studies and read about addiction more out of leisure.  When I was exposed to the rich information available on customer behavior in Kindred, I took a shot and advised Unibet to try online behavioral tracking to help the consumer play with reducing the chance of problem gambling. Luckily, Unibet trusted me and now I am lucky to be working in such a vast and interesting area.

You talk about behavioral monitoring, what is that?

Simple way of explaining this: when you are buying something online, let’s say a cooking book.  Most of the time, you will see suggestions for future reading or to add on to your cart, on the website.  The information displayed there is mainly what other people who bought the same book, bought as well.  So the website is making suggestions of what you would like to purchase compared to other people who are similar to yourself.  So behavioral monitoring is mainly making sense of the data available to be able to help consumers; this can be in advising more tailored choices, advising the more popular products or in the field of responsible gambling, being able to determine if someone is showing problematic signs of gambling.

The general perception seems to be that the more you gamble for the bigger the problem you have. Is this a fair perception?

This question reminds me of a story one gambling addictions counsellor once told me: There was a gambler who had come for treatment, and he came to treatment in the most luxurious car wearing a beautiful suit and seeing what looked like a very expensive watch on his wrist.  The counsellor took it for granted that the person had come to the treatment center due to someone close to him being with a gambling problem, but the gambler said it was for him.  He had enough money to support the most frivolous of spending, but the problem is that he was gambling in order to overcome personal problems, and gambling was making this even worse. Of course this is a rare example, and pathological gamblers will try to get money from any means possible to support their gambling.  The more money they borrow, the more problems they would have, but one cannot draw the line on what amount of money would substantiate a gambling problem.  If I afford to lose £50 a month, and I lose £200 as I cannot control myself, than it is a problem.  Despite this, if I afford to lose £300 a month, and I manage to control my finances and I am gambling for leisure, than this is not a problem.

Some gambling operators focus a lot on the amount spent per month, for example. Why doesn’t Kindred do that?

Not everyone affords to lose the same amount of money.  When companies focus only on the top spenders, there is a high chance that they are missing on customers who might not be spending that much but these would be customers that are spending much more than their disposable income. Moreover, there is so much research on the indicators of problem gambling, and so much transactional data that can be used, that using a cut off line based on an amount, and ignoring all the other possible more reliable indicators would be missing out on helping consumer protection.

Do you feel that your voice is valued within Kindred?

Kindred always valued sustainable business and long term customer relationship as one of the top factors on its agenda.  Therefore responsible gambling goes hand in hand with this, and I feel that within Kindred it is very understood and valued that responsible gambling helps achieve this.  What is also unique to working in Kindred is that my voice is not just valued, but also willing to take risks in different responsible gambling initiatives.  Such as examples include paying for Betfilter licenses (online gambling blocking software) so our customers can have it for free, doing collaborations with treatment centres for various projects and different research projects.  Up till now, I never had to reject a project or initiative because of an internal disagreement or disapproval.  When I speak to other responsible gambling employees in the industry, I understand that I am quite lucky to be working in a company where they actually care and allow projects of potentially sensitive cases.

How do you monitor behavioral changes?

Well mainly all customer behavior is passed through a scoring system and if the system ‘sees’ certain activity, the RG team is alerted.  For example, if a customer is showing chasing losses behavior, thus increasing his gambling expenditure in a specific manner, or getting deposits declined due to possible lack of money, the RG team will be informed.  The RG team will then build a file on the customer and see which RG tool is more beneficial for them and in which communication channel it should be promoted.

How effective is information towards customers and the tools you offer? Are they used?

The area of online gambling is still quite new so we try to get as much as possible information from our customers. We have seen that out of all the detected customers, 80% deposit less money after they are prompted with RG information.  40% of the detected customers also would take initiate in using an RG tool.  There is research on RG tools but this is still an area where more research would be appreciated. What we had seen was that customers were requesting for more self-exclusion time periods than what we offered online, and that some customers liked the idea of being able to close a specific product group.  Therefore, we have increased the number of self-exclusion periods and also introduced the online option to block product groups.  We will be supporting more research in this area as we want to be able to offer consumers the best possible tools.

Can you see any trend with regards to problem gambling? Is it increasing or decreasing?

When looking at prevalence surveys, there hasn’t been much change in my knowledge, but there has been an increase in people seeking treatment. It is very hard to determine whether or not problem gambling has been increasing as the rise in treatment seeking could also be a result of more awareness and less stigma around gambling problems.

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