“My Account” displays a balance sheet summarizing the amount the player has spent for any day, week, month or year. “Money Limit” allows the person to set a ceiling on spending for those same time frames. The third information tool is called “Live Action,” which shows in-progress play, including the amount put into the machine and the amount cashed out. The fourth element is “Play Limit,” which allows players to control the time they can play in a day, week, month and year. The fifth and last tool allows players to immediately stop play, says Xidos, “The Province wanted a ‘cooling down’ button, so, if a player lost all his money he could actually lock himself out immediately for 24, 48 or 72 hours.”
Giving players everything they need to make informed decisions is key, according to Marie Mullally, CEO of NSGC, “At the end of the day, many experts say it’s up to the player to decide what their behaviour or actions will be. We believe that concept or that philosophy very much. What we also believe is that we have a very important responsibility to provide players with the tools, the information, so that when they make that decision, which is theirs, they can make an informed decision. And, the experts say that when they players are armed with the tools and information, that will help them make an informed gaming decision; it will help to facilitate and maintain responsible gaming behaviour.”
A pilot study in Windsor/Mount Uniacke, NS, tested the features during a two-year research phase between 2005 and 2007. The research concluded that the features helped certain categories of players spend less, exercise more control and make more informed decisions. According to Xidos, one feature stood out that players accessed most, “the big one, the one that was used over 52% of the time during the trial in Windsor, is “Money Played.” And, it shows you how much money you actually put in for the day/week/month/year.”
Now that the pilot has long concluded, the next milestone and phase for the IPCS is a field test in Sydney, which started in July, with about 30 retailers and 240 VLTs, explains Mullally,” The IPCS is a very complex information system, and, typically what you’d find with this type of system development is a very comprehensive ‘live’ testing requirement to ensure that any technical issues are resolved before rolling out the system province wide,” Mullally goes on, “...the primary purpose is to identify any technological problems, fix them, so that when we move to a province-wide roll out to approximately 400 sites, involving 2,800 VLTs, we know the system is going to operate effectively, consistently and reliably.”
The field test is going to take about three months to complete; by the end of September NSGC will know what, if any, modifications are needed before the province-wide rollout, which is slated for the remainder of 2009 through 2010.
So far, Mullally says, the field test is going well. “What I do know from the first week of the field test, that the players, the take-up rate was very good and that they were actually using it, and, interestingly, the players were very comfortable using it. There was a fair amount of perception, for example, that players would find it difficult to use a card, or reluctant to use a card, and I think that stems from the continued issue of a concern of privacy; the fact that a government-operated business now would appear to have access to information, when, in fact, that is not correct. There’s no personal information retained on the system. Personal information is used to create a ‘unique identifier,’ but, once that’s been done, there’s no way to identify that it’s John Smith at 123 First Road as the player.”
Protecting player information is a priority in the anonymous, prevention-based system that research, according to the NSGC, has shown mostly benefits the ‘No’ or ‘Low Risk’ players. They are considered the primary target of the IPCS system. An NSGC backgrounder states that “some portion of the moderate risk player group may also benefit from the features if they have the will to change any play characteristics that are harmful and indicative of a problem.”
CEO Mullally explains, “It means over time, you can potentially reduce the future incidences of problem gambling. Is it going to help the existing problem gambler? No. Because the existing problem gambler, like any addict, is at the point that some kind of realization is going to be needed by the person to want to change their behaviour – then they’re going to need some kind of treatment and recovery program in which to deal with the addiction.”
This system will be a ‘reality check’ for many players, according to Xidos, “This is almost like your VISA card. You get the statement at the end of the month. You remember the big screen TV, but you kind of forgot about the suit and tie.”
But, this social responsibility wake-up call doesn’t come by ‘snail mail,’ it’s there for the player in an instant swipe of the card. “The real-time interactive aspect of the system is what makes it truly powerful”, says Mullally.
And, as the IPCS testing phase continues, Xidos is making sure all his I’s are dotted and T’s crossed because, as a world-first, the eyes of the gaming world are watching, “I started with myself in my home basement. We now have 80 employees. We’ll have 100 by Christmas. We will have 300 in the next two to three years, and, we are now in discussions with 14 jurisdictions on deploying this technology: Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Cyprus, the Caribbean.”
Its potential enormity for responsible gaming is summed up by NSGC’s Mullally, “When I put it in the realm of all the things that we have done, it’s definitely a very significant undertaking. It is certainly one of the top five initiatives that we have pursued on the responsible gaming front, and, it is something that has taken enormous resources for both NSGC but also our video lottery operator Atlantic Lottery Corporation. And clearly, it’s a cornerstone piece of Techlink’s business. So, everyone has a very high vested interest ensuring that this system is implemented well; that it achieves the benefits that we believe it will achieve for this province.”
By Janice Landry