Playtech: Regulation will come into place everywhere eventually

Francesco Rodano of Playtech discusses the benefits of AI to ensure responsible gaming and a modern and empowered regulatory approach.
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In the second part of the interview with Francesco Rodano, Chief Policy Officer at Playtech, SBC Noticias discusses the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure responsible gaming and a modern and empowered regulatory approach in gaming and online betting industries.

To read part one of the interview, click here.

SBC: Why is AI currently a “must” in the gaming and betting industries? What’s the biggest accomplishment that Playtech has achieved with AI regarding responsible gaming?

Francesco Rodano: AI offers an invaluable opportunity to try to ‘read’ millions of people’s minds in a very short time.

In 2019, an AI poker bot developed by Facebook and Carnegie Mellon beat some of the world’s best professional players. Using AI, the software learned to understand when the human players were bluffing and outsmarted them by bluffing itself.

Our proprietary AI software aims indeed at ‘reading’ the players’ behaviors to spot the ones at risk. It relies on machine learning models that process millions of data points every day, with the objective of pattern-matching the entire player base with those players who are known to have experienced harm (eg, regular players who eventually decide to self-exclude or declare to suffer harm). The models are supplemented with ‘expert rules’ to further improve the data-driven approach, and, most importantly, are fully explainable.

Several of our clients have been using our AI tool to improve their responsible gaming practices. I like to mention OLG, the Ontario lottery, which is considered one of the most responsible gambling companies in the world. They have been relying on BetBuddy to offer their players an insight on their own gambling behavior since 2014, and have recently further extended their cooperation with us. This kind of loyalty, especially from a company so reputable, shows us that we are going in the right direction, and encourages us to do even more. And we have a roadmap of further improvements in how we use AI for responsible gaming that will keep us busy for years.

SBC: How does Playtech address new markets to ensure responsible gambling with local operators? What can these companies do to spread educational tools in the markets?

FR: We, as a supplier, have a sort of neutral role. We work with hundreds of B2C operators, who often compete against each other, but this competition doesn’t affect our ability to invest time and energy in safer gambling research and development. We also benefit from a privileged observation point.

Our responsibility is essentially two-fold. On one hand, we want to develop safer gambling solutions that actually work, supported by evidence and extensively trialed, which are focused on the individual player’s wellbeing and not generically on the entire players’ base, since we are all different.

On the other hand, we need to educate both policymakers and industry peers on the potential of this approach.

Over the years we have been engaging in conversations with many regulators across the world, and as a result, several of them are introducing regulatory requirements on behavioral analysis and personalized intervention. There are now examples in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, for instance, and even in the City of Buenos Aires.

At the same time, the industry is realizing that a more proactive and personalized approach to responsible gaming not only can improve the sustainability of the sector in the long run but also offers a commercial opportunity in the short term, as they can now use technology to more accurately detect vulnerable players, without the need of putting a restriction on the entire players’ base.

SBC: Why is it important for gaming companies to work alongside the local authorities? How can this improve social responsibility in markets that aren’t willing to regulate?

FR: The gambling ecosystem is composed of three main parties; the state, the players, and the industry. A regulatory framework has a better chance to succeed if all three of them achieve their respective objectives. For example, in controlling the sector, the state must generate tax revenues while protecting its citizens and keeping gambling free from crime.

Likewise, those citizens should have access to the entertainment products they want while simultaneously feeling safe and protected from fraud, crime, and unfair practices.

Finally, the industry — and by that, we are talking about the entire supply chain including, for instance, media companies — must make a fair profit while operating under clear and reasonable rules.

Working together is the best way to understand each other’s objectives, which in turn can help achieve a more effective regulatory system.

Regulation will come into place everywhere, eventually. In 2008 the only locally regulated market in Europe was Italy. Today practically all countries in the region are. At some point, governments realize that often unregulated operators have no obligations, no commercial interest, in promoting a responsible way of gambling, let alone in paying taxes. The Internet, as we know, can’t be blocked, so the only way to improve players’ protection is to establish an alternative regulated offering that is attractive enough to convince the players to move onshore, and at the same time have safe, controlled, and safer gambling tools in place.

SBC: Can you mention an example of a well-regulated market in Latin America? Can this be replicated in other countries?

FR: As an ex-gambling regulator myself, I am well aware that each territory, due to legitimate cultural, social, or political reasons, adds its own local flavor to regulations, and even when taking the lead from an existing good practice, there should be an appreciation of each country’s own specificities. Every country, and every province, like in the case of Argentina, is different and gambling can be an emotive subject with various considerations at play. It should not be expected that one set of regulations can be lifted to fit squarely into another’s.

I might say that, for instance, Colombia represents a successful example of a functioning market, but also the City or the Province of Buenos Aires have the potential to succeed, even knowing that they are not the same. Even when Peru or Brazil will introduce their own frameworks, they could prove effective while still being different from all the other ones.

Finally, as the many experiences in Europe show us, regulation is never set in stone. Over time there are continuous improvements, both to fix aspects that needed to be improved, and especially to adapt the frameworks to the evolution of the respective markets and consumers’ demands.