By Martin Lycka
Around the world, the popularity of legalized sports betting has soared with millions of consumers betting billions of dollars, euros, and other national currencies. It is a dynamic trend that is expected to continue, with more countries, states, and provinces setting up their own protocols for wagering on games, players, teams, and statistics.
Ontario is no exception, as many operators are competing for players and government policymakers examine the best ways to regulate betting markets that heretofore often resided in the shadows. Indeed, as countries have embraced legalized sports betting, they have also embraced the legal and regulatory protocols to ensure consumer protection and financial transparency among gambling operators.
These are essential for the long-term success of a business that ultimately relies on consumer confidence that the system is fair, honest, and transparent, and that someone is looking out for the little guy.
More recently, the growth of the omni-channel sports betting market provides a wealth of opportunities to enhance consumers’ experience. An omni-channel approach prioritizes the consumer’s ability to make choices, and a consistent vision between retail and online gaming allows players to migrate seamlessly between both environments.
Not only does the omni-channel market provide a satisfying user experience, but increased engagement allows for closer monitoring and protection of players.
In just a short timeframe, we are seeing the confluence of incredible technology meeting the evolving entertainment needs and preferences of the consumer market. It is a classic tale, yet it is hard to think of another market that has grown so fast, driven and supported by dazzling innovation that seems to get better by the day.
Besides regulatory oversight and stunning technology, there is another factor required for the long-term success of sports betting, whether it is multi-channel or not. That factor is responsibility, and it extends to all parties in the sports betting world.
Of course, responsible gambling starts with the consumer, who needs to decide his or her personal limits. Every user of a sports betting platform needs to know how much he or she can play before getting in over their head. But it does not end with the individual customer. Government regulatory authorities should enact robust responsible gambling programs as part of their oversight, and to ensure that such programs are funded consistently. It takes much more than a toll-free helpline for someone to call after they have racked up losses.
Responsible gambling extends to operators, too. Operators need to apply their tech wizardry to protecting consumers from going too far. Today’s technology, and the data that operators know about their customers, can be harnessed to track customer behaviour, to spot patterns of excess, to intervene when limits are approached, and to suspend access to the operator platform when warranted.
Under its nascent Advanced Responsibility and Care program (ARC), Entain has monitored customers using markers of protection such as frequency of play, changes in spend patterns, and length of time of online play. The new markers being tested include additional checks on fluctuations in stake levels, erratic play during a single session, and signs that a player might be chasing losses.
And, beyond such amazing technology, operators need to provide personal resources to consumers, to provide education awareness – and even one-on-one, personal counselling – to prevent losses that affect individuals, families, businesses, and communities.
Entain has taken the lead in responsible gambling, reaching out to partners, trade associations, regulators, and policymakers worldwide to go beyond the minimum in protecting consumers.
For example, Entain this year joined former Toronto Raptor Charles Oakley for his ongoing OakOut Hunger tour of major cities. OakOut Hunger reaches out to underserved, disadvantaged communities in urban centres, providing free meals often served personally by Oakley himself. Oakley’s team also serves the same audiences with positive guidance and education about avoiding alcohol and substance abuse. And now, Oakley includes an important message about responsible gambling to prevent at-risk youth from developing risky habits that could have serious short-term and long-term consequences.
As a sponsor of the OakOut campaign, Entain provides both funding and expertise in preventing and mitigating problem gambling to the Oak Out Hunger initiative. It means that, for the first time, education in responsible gambling sits alongside other valuable and worthwhile community services provided by the Charles Oakley Foundation, including anti‐addiction and education programs.
These are just a few of the many creative initiatives that help to protect betting customers, and Entain is just one of many organizations advocating for these. And they are evidence of a core business strategy: a business that does not look after its customers will not be around long if its business model is unsustainable or if customers do not trust the integrity and safeguards of the online betting platforms.
It is really in the best long-term interest of operators, regulators, and consumers to ensure that responsible gambling shares the priority with oversight and technology as sports betting markets evolve.
Ontarians deserve no less.
Martin Lycka is SVP for American Regulatory Affairs & Responsible Gambling at Entain, a leading global sports betting, gaming, and interactive entertainment group which operates in the U.S. through BetMGM, jointly owned with MGM Resorts International.