Responsible gambling messaging in a multicultural Canada

OLG's Aaron GlynWilliams spoke at SBC Summit North America in New York

Practicing responsible gambling is not only about getting the message out. It’s about ensuring that message lands in an impactful way and engages players by supplying them with the tools they need.

In a jurisdiction like Ontario that has a multi-cultural and multi-faceted player base, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

At this year’s Player Protection Symposium at the SBC Summit North America, several experts discussed the issue during a session entitled Conscious Commerce: The Interplay of Branding & RG. One of the speakers was Aaron GlynWilliams, Director of Policy, Research and Strategy at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

He noted that appealing to a varied audience like Ontario’s is a delicate act.

“How do we appeal to a very multicultural under-35 audience?” GlynWilliams asked during the panel session. “It’s important to first understand those elements in your player base.”

To that end, OLG conducts a quarterly survey of its users and has done so for the last five years. It’s all about understanding who the corporation’s users are, how they play, and what they need. Just as it has been demonstrated that the level of knowledge and comfort with online gaming differs by participants’ age, it can also vary by ethnicity or socio-economic factors.

The OLG director noted that the majority of the under-35 cohort that makes up a core demographic of the lottery corporation’s player base consists of multiple ethnic minorities. The OLG’s research has found that gamblers from certain ethnic backgrounds tend to have a lower understanding of gaming.

“One of the key concepts in responsible gaming is to ensure how the games work, they don’t have misunderstandings over odds, how to win, or the mechanics of their games.”

RG is part of the parcel

Actually giving players that understanding is tough. It’s certainly not a single-stakeholder issue.

While the OLG is proud of the PlaySmart-branded toolkit of resources it offers its players, GlynWilliams made a point to shout out some of the numerous partners the lottery corporation works with, including organizations like the Responsible Gambling Council.

“You can live and die by your vendor relationships and they need to be taking things as seriously as you are,” he said. “It also involves supporting the community organizations on the ground in your jurisdiction. You can have a great program as an operator but those supports in your community are where the really great work is done.”

Although OLG’s remit is Ontario, it’s also important to cast the net wide by working closely with nationwide organizations and lottery corporations in other provinces. “It requires continuous evaluation and research,” said GlynWilliams.

Above all, stressed GlynWilliams and his fellow panelists, ensure that responsible gaming practices and messaging isn’t presented to players as an afterthought.

Fellow panelist Dr. Jennifer Shatley, Executive Director of the Responsible Online Gaming Association (ROGA), stressed that operators shouldn’t think of RG as a compliance program but as a component of their marketing and a customer service work. Approaching things that way can improve efficacy and sustainability, she said.

This has become a more pertinent issue in light of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario‘s changes to the advertising regulations around sports betting. Previously, sportsbooks were able to use former and current athletes to advertise their games, betting offers, and other products and services. Now, sports stars can only be used to directly promote the brand’s responsible gambling, something the likes of BetMGM and their brand ambassador Connor McDavid have used to prominent effect.

GlynWilliams emphasized that one of OLG’s primary goals has been to present its PlaySmart program as part of the wider player experience package rather than a separate strand of operation.

“We’ve done that to try to ensure this is a de-stigmatized, part-of-the-fun tool,” he added. “One of the challenges of opening up to a competitive market from a monopoly is making sure the customer understands that Play Smart is OLG’s RG program. That’s required some creative thinking to tie it directly to the brand and all year round, not just for RG Week. Make sure it’s integrated within the player experience… make it fun, make it activating.”

The role of targeted marketing

It also requires being savvy with your marketing spend.

The multicultural factor means that one advert or social media tagline that may resonate with one demographic may completely bypass others.

Knowing how to effectively segment your audience and market the right way to the right people is key to the efficacy of responsible gambling communication.

“These days, you can be a lot smarter with your media buy in a way that allows you to craft those messages particularly for that audience,” added GlynWilliams. “The effective strategy has been to speak directly to players. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work, it probably never did. Personalization is key. It’s not easy to do.

“Player education campaigns and messaging, we can monitor whether we reached the right targeted audience. That’s measurable. Broader RG is trickier. Evaluating the impact of individual components of your RG program is something that any operator in the room is likely struggling with. It’s always a work in progress.”

Over the coming years in the responsible gambling space, GlynWilliams expects to see RG messaging integrated even more inextricably into operators’ gaming offerings, hooked largely on personalized messaging and marketing. That could be facilitated using tools such as AI in combination with research findings and data points.

While OLG has had a new landscape to contend with since its monopoly on legal digital gaming vanished. They’re now just one operator in a sea of competitors. That poses them challenges but it can also be a good thing.

“We’re going to see a lot of competition in this space and that will help things,” concluded GlynWilliams. “Operators have come in and raised the bar with their own responsible gambling programs and that’s something we can learn from and build from.

“We’ve seen that passive approaches to responsible gambling see a decline in engagement with your program… Finding the right time to present the tools to the player and making sure the messaging is right and effective to drive the results you want to see is an area where we as an industry need to get better.”

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