Helping detect and mitigate harm from problem gambling

Setting the scene

Online gambling has become a significant part of the £14bn British gambling industry, and is set to increase from the current 34% to 50% of the total market over the next few years1. However, the Gambling Commission estimates that 4.5% of all adults in Great Britain are either considered to be 'problem gamblers'2 or 'at-risk'. To address this, the charity GambleAware has a remit to understand how to prevent players getting into trouble when gambling and how best to help them if they do.

As part of a programme of research, GambleAware commissioned us to explore the potential usefulness of industry-held data and behavioural analytics in the online gambling sector, primarily to indicate markers and patterns of harmful or risk behaviour, and then to recommend practical ways to address it.

1. Mar 2018 – Review of online gambling
2. Aug 2017 – Gambling behaviour in Great Britain in 2015

“The industry fully accepts that greater and better use must be made of the data it holds on individuals to identify problematic patterns of play and then intervene effectively to help the relevant customers. The PwC report on markers of harm was an important milestone in achieving that. We are continuing to build on its findings and have been grateful for PwC’s ongoing engagement as we move to improve and implement the necessary systems.”

Clive Hawkswood CEO, Remote Gambling Association

How we helped

In phase 1, we conducted a review of the literature and consulted seven British online gambling operators. Our report, published in April 2016, provided a review of markers of harm, and a comparison of problem gambler definitions and processes used for monitoring problem gambling behaviour1.

Phase 2 focused on developing industry-wide mechanisms that can minimise harm using behavioural markers of problem gambling from data available to all online gambling operators. We surveyed 10,000 British-based customers from four large operators, and linked the responses to every transaction and account behaviour over a two year period.

Our results were published in an academically peer-reviewed report in August 20172, which were distilled into recommended mechanisms to mitigate harm at different stages in the customer life-cycle: at account creation, as patterns of play emerge over time, and during play.

As part of our focus on solving society’s important problems, we then invested in a pilot with another online gambling operator to test the markers and framework on their entire British customer base in an operational environment. The approach outperformed their existing capabilities and, when tailored to their business, provided a more effective framework for detecting problem gambling behaviours.

1. Apr 2016 – Remote gambling research, interim report on Phase I
2. Aug 2017 – Remote gambling research, interim report on Phase II

Making a difference

We believe our approach is the most comprehensive and broadly applicable detection framework published for identifying problem gamblers across the online gambling sector in Great Britain. It’s been validated for the five largest online gambling operators, and uses data common to all those operators.

This work provides compelling evidence that more can be done across the industry to detect and mitigate harm from problem gambling, and helps provide a baseline for the industry on what detection mechanisms and markers of harm they should be using. This comes at a time when online gambling companies are facing increased regulatory pressure, with the Gambling Commission issuing multi-million pound fines for failing to protect vulnerable customers gambling online.

Online gambling operators in Great Britain will need to make responsible gambling a core part of operations across prevention, detection and intervention. However, with many problem gamblers using multiple sites, the industry needs to be coordinated to address this problem, which will require closer collaboration and strong leadership from the industry.

“This work has made an important contribution to the industry's thinking about online problem gambling and has provided compelling evidence that more can be done already to mitigate harm. However, there needs to be a greater sense of urgency and, for any change to happen, the industry will need strong leadership from the gambling operators and closer collaboration to ensure progress is achieved across the industry as a whole.”

David Trunkfield, Partner, PwC Strategy, Head of Gaming for PwC

Contact us

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Corporate Affairs, PwC United Kingdom

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