The gambling sector, the online element in particular, has always been fond of making big claims about how new technologies can be harnessed to improve returns, profitability and margins. In 2020 however, artificial intelligence (AI) is very much talked about with the perspective of how it can improve the social responsibility and the responsible gambling (RG) credentials of the industry.
And with good reason. Reducing rates of problem gambling and demonstrating that its best business practices adhere to the highest levels of player protection and social responsibility are the best and, in truth, only way operators will avoid fines or further regulatory clampdowns.
That is why the matter is so topical amid a regulatory atmosphere that is reaching boiling point when it’s combined with mainstream media coverage that is so strongly anti-gambling.
That is the case for European markets like the UK, where it is near certain that the Gambling Act review that will be taking place in the coming months will bring with it further prescriptive regulations; along with other EU countries like Spain, Italy or Sweden, which have been harsh on operators recently.
The industry to a large extent has acknowledged that it has come up short on its RG failings over the past decade and more, which is why it is looking at technologies like AI and facial recognition technology (FRT) to help it recognize, classify and manage problem and at-risk gamblers.
For all the talk of brave new technological worlds however, there are pitfalls to AI and FRT. In addition, much of the use of AI so far has centered around predictive technology and how it can tailor and offer yet more markets and gaming content to players, rather than how it can help operators fight problem gambling, money laundering, improve due diligence or ensure provenance of funds. Needless to say, that isn’t the ringing endorsement for RG that the industry is so keen to promote.
Sally Gainsbury, Associate Professor and co-director of the Gambling Treatment & Research Clinic at Australia’s Sydney University says that artificial intelligence, like all gambling technology, needs to have its risks understood from a responsible gambling perspective.
“Technology is transforming how people gamble, bringing advantages to operators and customers in terms of products. However, it is essential to understand the new risks for customers based on these changes and how to use technology to offset these and ensure that any harm coming from gambling is minimized.”
Gainsbury’s department at the University of Sydney has been using machine learning to identify problem gambling amongst online wagering customers in Australia. “If we can identify clusters of players and identify risk factors for problematic gambling we may be able to detect players who are at risk of experiencing harm before these become serious,” she explains.
Hervé Roussel, founder of Ho Chi Minh City-based start-up Quod AI, says: “It is possible to identify and classify gamblers based on amounts gambled, time and location of the activity, type of gambling: whether it is sports betting and if players bet on the same team, in the same type of competition (i.e. FA cup or league matches), what type of bets are placed: pre-match, in play or half-time, Asian Handicap, 1X2 and so on.
“The same applies to casino: slots vs. table games and it can be classified according to how much customers bet and whether they are displaying aggressive/passive betting patterns or loose/tight betting patterns, these criteria can also be applied to poker.”
Gainsbury adds: “This would enable various levels of interventions depending on the risk level identified – for example ranging from a personal email suggesting use of deposit limits or a time out, to a phone call to check in and assess other potential risks such as gambling beyond affordable levels.”
The pitfalls centre around the fact that AI removes much of the human element and judgement capabilities that can be so important in assessing cases, in real time or after an event. As Joe Pisano, co-founder and CEO of AI responsible gaming start up IMAGINE, says: “AI, like any technology, is a double-edged sword. It has the ability to solve problems and increase efficiencies - but at the same time, it could take away the very element that makes our industry human.”
Quod AI’s Roussel adds: “AI models have been built to approve or reject players based on demographic profiles, but this can also lead to issues like not explaining how or why certain decisions are reached, whether there is any element of human bias in formatting the AI and of course the quality of data has to be there.”
In other words, for all the possibilities AI offers to the gambling sector, there is much to be said for the human element. Despite all its imperfections it will surely continue to play a key role in determining how much of an impact AI has on the gambling sector - now and in future years.
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