Operator Data Reveals Most Gamblers Pass on Available RG Tools

According to data revealed by DraftKings and Penn Sports International (PSI) during Monday’s Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) meeting, many Bay State online gamblers choose to pass on using available responsible gambling (RG) tools.

According to Draftkings’ Q3 presentation, fewer than 0.1% of their Massachusetts Sportsbook customers opted to set time limits. Further, DraftKings data showed only 0.4% used wager limits, 0.13% set spending amounts, and 2.3% set caps on deposits.

Similarly, Penn’s quarterly report noted that just 0.5% of “unique” Massachusetts accounts utilize a time-out. And only 2.3% of players took advantage of “at least one” RG tool.

In response to those numbers, MGC chair Catherine Judd-Stein expressed concern about the uptake of the available tools by Massachusetts gamblers.

During the application process, this was a very important piece of the application. We wanted to make sure that we had strong RG tools for individuals to use on their device.

We know we share this with other jurisdictions. This is not novel. But really, these tools are very critical to this particular commission. We’re very aligned on this. And I know that our director of research in responsible gaming has been concerned that the betters just are not utilizing them.

Data Confirms Low Uptake of RG Tools

However, Judd-Stein also expressed gratitude for the illuminating data.

I really thank you for this slide because it speaks to that.

She also shared her approval of  DraftKings RG messaging. The slogan—”It’s more fun when it’s for fun”—also got a nod from Penn’s senior compliance director, Adam Kates.

The only way to get Massachusetts consumers to take advantage of the available tools, Judd-Stein added, is to “make them cool.”

It’s like, I likened it, and I’ve said it publicly before, using a ski helmet.

You know, if you’re a really great skier, you wear a ski helmet… You want to be a fast skier, you wear your helmet. If you want to be a fast cyclist, you wear your helmet, and those are tools for protection…

I’m speaking for myself right now. I really appreciate the slide. And whatever DraftKings can do with all of its influence to get the folks to use these [tools], I know I would welcome it. I bet my fellow Commissioners would, too.

Critics: Messaging is the Problem

Others welcome the uptake data for different reasons.

Jamie Salsburg, founder of responsible gambling consultancy Dyve, has long believed RG messaging is lacking.

Salsburg spoke to Bonus over Twitter.com (X) DMs after posting about uptake data on the social media site.

As a marketer (and someone who was definitely part of the target audience for these campaigns when I was gambling), I’ve long believed the messaging to be ineffective. Now, we have the first bit of proof to support my belief.

The tools, he added, are fine. It’s the suggested implementation that is off.

Our approach has been to push people into using them without providing a compelling reason. That strategy fails in marketing.

Salsburg, notably, has over 20 years of marketing experience.

He said one simple switch would be to frame RG tools as something smart gamblers use.

However, that rebranding will be more difficult because of the currently widespread impression that RG tools are only for those with gambling problems.

Dispelling that myth would be a compelling story to tell, Salsburg said.

If you’re like most people, you won’t feel a need to set limits as you aren’t a problem gambler. And in many ways, you’re right. But keep in mind that problem gamblers were once recreational gamblers themselves. No one expects to become a PG. So setting limits is a smart thing you can do… even if you never think you’ll need them.

Current Messaging Often Exclusionary

Salsburg has long cautioned about focusing RG messaging too heavily on gambling as just entertainment or a hobby.

Gamblers in the target audience want to gamble, which includes a desire to win money, not just have fun, he said. That’s where the typical RG messaging breaks down.

You can’t say “only gamble for entertainment” to this crowd and expect anything that follows to be considered. It’s game over.

And that’s where the stakeholder’s appetite for change evaporates, he added.

Creating successful campaigns isn’t the hard part. Managing the humans that create them is.

The only way this happens is for some independent third party to create the messaging and prove the thesis. And even then, there will be a low chance of adoption. And there just aren’t the incentives to create it.

Salsburg would like RG messaging to evolve into “an honest conversation with the target audience where we spend less time telling them what to do and more time listening to their goals.”

Then, we can provide roadmaps and ideas to facilitate that success, he said.

He believes long-form podcasts are the ideal delivery format. Programs where actual gamblers discuss their best practices, but he feels there is little appetite for that kind of change.

Benefit of Gambling Limits Still Unproven

Salsburg also noted that, to his knowledge, there’s no conclusive evidence that limits work when they are needed the most.

His belief aligns with studies that have indicated the tools are less effective than hoped.

In one Bonus covered previously, Finnish online gambling operator Paf conducted a study with Stockholm University. Results showed that personal deposit limits are largely ineffective at curbing problem gambling. Instead, their use—and especially their subsequent removal—are more useful as diagnostic tools for spotting those experiencing a problem.

Specifically, the study found:

  • A one-time prompt for a voluntary deposit limit of optional size did not affect the gambling intensity of users.
  • Pre-commitment tools in gambling must be adequately evaluated before being promoted as tools for prevention.
  • Setting a deposit limit without a prompt can predict future unsustainable gambling patterns, as can removing an existing limitation.

Conversely, other tools that have shown promise—like Tipico’s experimental panic button—haven’t caught on.

Unfortunately, we simply don’t know the full range of effects. Salsburg said.

Do I generally think limits are a good idea? Absolutely. Do I think they are a good idea as a blanket suggestion with no context? Not really.

There are always tradeoffs, Salsburg added.

Our job should be to highlight the spectrum of thought rather than give one and only one path.

Unfortunately, the industry and stakeholders don’t seem ready for that nuance.

Watching an opportunity for change slip away while feeling like he has something unique and valuable to contribute is frustrating, he added.

It’s an important problem that needs discussion, warts and all.

Interestingly, despite his changemaker point of view, Salsburg doesn’t suggest his clients take his approach. At least not yet. It’s simply far too risky in the current climate.

To be viable, he said we would need to remove the red tape around what’s acceptable in responsible gaming discussions.

For now, staying in the middle lane and following current practices is the safest approach to avoid public backlash and regulatory scrutiny.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, adventure, and hoppy beer.
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