NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 13, 2006

Internet Accountability: Responsible Gaming in Cyberspace

As the moderator for this afternoon’s panel on responsible gaming in cyberspace, Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM MIRAGE, gave attendees a brief overview of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 signed into law last month by President Bush. Among an assortment of reasons for the creation of the new law, Feldman pointed to the commonly held belief that problems that affect gambling are even worse on the Internet as one of the primary factors, but then posed the question, “Is this assumption true?”

Wolfgang Schwens, Mag. theol., M.B.A., corporate social responsibility manager at the Vienna, Austria-based Internet gaming company bwin Interactive Entertainment AG, discussed the responsible gaming practices bwin has undertaken as well as a relatively new research project his company is participating in that they hope will shed light Feldman’s question.

In 2004, bwin began a joint research project with Harvard Medical School to investigate addiction to online gambling. Currently, there is no other project like it in the field. According to Schwens, the cooperation between bwin and Harvard Medical School allows for a unique combination of theory and real-life situations that benefits scientific research and bwin’s online customers. Schwens says bwin will make the project results a “role model” for the industry, providing the early identification of addicted gamblers and state-of-the-art intervention strategies.

In the long-term, says Schwen, bwin hopes the research project will result in both partners (bwin and Harvard) to respond to questions regarding public order policy in the context of gambling addiction, research to support bwin’s notion that online gambling is a customer friendly and safe form of entertainment, the development of tested scientific models allowing bwin to observe and analyze gambling behavior, and research results that will put in place systematic measures for the protections of online gamblers who are at risk for addiction.

The company already has adopted a number of policies to minimize gambling-related harm, including self-exclusion tools, immediate account closures for customers saying they have a gambling problem, intervention strategies, company and customer determined betting limits (including a 72-hour waiting period for raising limits), internal monitoring systems to track conspicuous gambling activity, employee training programs, self-help kits and more.

“We have to walk the fine line between the customers’ responsibility and the company’s responsibility to reduce harm,” Schwens said. “We don’t think these programs are in the final stages, but they’re on their way.”

Presenting findings from a pilot section of the longitudinal study of bwin customers being conducted by Harvard Medical School, Richard LaBrie, Ed.D., put the study into context by explaining that there currently isn’t any information about online ambling and its relation to addiction. LaBrie, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the associate director for research and data analysis of the Division on Addictions at the Cambridge Health Alliance, is leading the research team conducting the study.

According to LaBrie, the current body of knowledge on Internet gambling consists of small surveys of special populations, and relies largely on self-reporting and anecdotes. The new information they’re collecting in this study will begin to fill the information void by describing the actual gambling behavior over a long period of time of a large sample of European sports gamblers.

In the pilot group, the research revealed that the large majority of sports bettors wager moderately, incurring a “cost” of between two to three U.S. dollars per day they gambled. The data also showed that the “high rollers” didn’t lose as much money (8 percent stakes lost) as those betting smaller amounts (13 percent stakes lost).

LaBrie offered the following examples for future research: seek patterns of betting that are predictive of the progression to more disordered behavior; investigate the utility of company- and self-determined limits on promoting responsible gaming; study interventions that can remediate problem gambling behavior; and, identify risk factors general to disordered gambling in general and specific to the Internet environment.

LaBrie and his team currently are in the process of analyzing the data from the larger, 18-month longitudinal study of bwin’s customers, but their findings have not yet been published.


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