Jonathan Michaels: Digital payments can revolutionize responsible gaming

Image source: Sightline

Jonathan Michaels, SVP, Strategic Development and Government Affairs at Sightline, suggests that digital payment technology has a big part to play in keeping gambling safe and fun.   

Tens of millions of Americans visit casinos annually. Nearly all of them need the same thing to be able to gamble: cash. Many players have their systems for budgeting responsibly – whether putting winnings in one pocket and gambling spending in the other or taking out the same amount of money for each visit. 

The typical responsible gaming message is that players who need to go to an ATM to get cash will “think about their actions” as they go to get more funds. And some might. But those who have a problem are unlikely to stop and think clearly about their behavior. While there are limits on ATM withdrawals from your debit account at a casino, individuals with a problem can usually find ways to get additional funds. 

Using cash also creates problems for tracking gaming activity over time. How do those guests know how much they have wagered? What did they win or lose last month? Last year? Unless those guests have meticulous records, they don’t have any ability to track their gaming spend, their wins, or their losses to ensure they are playing responsibly.

While casino staff does an admirable job of promoting responsible gaming, they aren’t clinicians who are able to diagnose addictions like problem gambling. Employees can check in with customers who appear to be unusually nervous about a bet or are very intense about their gambling. Floor personnel have no access to customers’ gambling activity to know if someone might need help. 

The casino industry must ensure that the number of problem gamblers does not increase, as well as help the estimated 1% who have an addiction. That’s why the industry is coming together for the inaugural 2021 EPIC Player Protection Symposium next week. 

Sightline is proud to sponsor the summit in partnership with SBC to support a robust gambling harm prevention ecosystem—starting with digital payments. 

Digital records can help players identify issues before they arise. Helping players monitor their play in real time is a more effective way to help guests than a pamphlet at a casino cage. Players can slow down their play via waiting periods or restrict their own play entirely. 

To see this in practise, look at an online sportsbook. When you open a sports betting app, you have immediate access to total spend, wins, and losses. A variety of responsible gaming safeguards including deposit limits, time limits, and spending limits are available. None of that is possible in a cash-focused casino gaming landscape. 

In fact, setting deposit limits is the most popular responsible gaming tool among players. At October’s East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole estimated that nearly 70,000 online players in the state utilized responsible gaming tools. 

In fact, roughly 50,000 of those players accessed deposit limits to help ensure they wagered responsibly. The reason for that is simple – encouraging players to set budgets is a core focus of all responsible gaming messaging.  

Digital payments data provides invaluable insight into player behavior. That’s why Sightline Payments and Global Payments have helped to create the Payments Collaborative, a research project run by UNLV’s International Gaming Institute

The project’s goal is to analyze payments data spanning millions of transactions to identify potential problem gambling behaviors via customer deposits. This data will help payments companies and gaming operators better understand how to build innovative tools to help customers ensure they are wagering responsibly. 

Promoting responsible gaming is not just our industry’s goal, it is our responsibility. Collaborative events like the 2021 EPIC Player Protection Symposium are a great start, but we must also give players the tools they need to identify potential issues before they become a problem. Unlocking the vast amount of digital payments data available will allow the industry to better understand problem gambling behaviors and how to better address these issues.