A new study from Ipsos backs earlier evidence that multi-operator self-exclusion schemes can help counter gambling harms. Commissioned by UK gambling addiction charity GamCare, the study suggests self-exclusion is often effective in combination with other intervention strategies.
Researchers conducted 30 follow-up interviews with self-excluders who had participated in a previous study funded by GambleAware. Ipsos published the results of that study three years ago.
Notably, this is the first independent research looking at the impact of self-exclusion over time. Results offer valuable insight into players’ views on multi-operator self-exclusion and its longer-term effect on gambling behaviors.
Years Later, Participants Remain Committed to Self-Exclusion
Self-exclusion is when players voluntarily sign up to have their access to gambling cut off for a predetermined period. It’s a tool that empowers players struggling with self-control to ask for help taking a break.
Throughout the UK, players can self-exclude from individual sites or properties. Alternatively, they can enroll in multi-operator self-exclusion by product type, e.g., online gambling.
Ipsos found that many study respondents were still enrolled in one or more exclusion programs during the follow-up.
Additionally, most reported increased feelings of control over their gambling behavior, whether excluded or not.
How Self-Exclusion Works in the UK and the US
Once a player requests an exclusion in the United Kingdom, operators must take all reasonable steps to prevent that player from gambling. Lasting anywhere from six months to five years, self-exclusions can cover land-based betting venues, online gambling sites, or both. In the US, statewide self-exclusion registries maintained by regulators are now standard in states with legal online casinos.
While under exclusion, operators must also pause any direct marketing to the blocked customer. At the same time, by signing up for self-exclusion, the gambler commits to halting play for the agreed-to period. In the case of land-based gaming in the US, attempting to play while self-excluded can result in trespassing charges.
Self-exclusion from land-based casinos, betting shops, and arcades involves registering for the relevant exclusion program. A list of excluded players is then circulated to relevant establishments. For online gamblers, the gambling self-exclusion tool Gamstop is available to customers of any licensed UK online platform.
Players register their details with Gamstop, allowing operators to block access to existing accounts. The system also prevents self-excluders from creating new online accounts to circumvent the timeout.
Self-Exclusion: a Critical Tool for Gambling Harm Reduction
Some participants used other tools besides self-exclusion to address their gambling problem before or during their break.
Of those tools, counseling (talk therapy) and Gamblers Anonymous were the most common.
Participants were split on whether or not they found talk therapy helpful. In particular, access to such help was an issue for those with full-time jobs and parenting responsibilities.
Other participants used additional non-Gamstop software to block gambling-related ads, apps, and websites from appearing on their devices.
Some asked their banks to block gambling-related transactions. One 33-year-old man with an online self-excluding even changed banks after the first couldn’t accommodate his request:
I left [bank name] because they couldn’t provide that and moved bank to Lloyds and froze gambling via my card and online – so now I can’t use the card to gamble.
Still others enlisted family or friends to help manage their finances. That generally meant giving those helpers control over their spending or access to their bank accounts.
Distraction, in one form or another, was also a beneficial coping technique for many. Keeping busy with hobbies or work helped redirect attention from gambling.
One participant, a 32-year-old woman, replaced trips to betting shops, arcades, and online gambling with visits to friends:
I started to do different things like going out with friends and having dinner out. I need that time and we have a laugh; I’m trying to find a substitute – a healthier substitute.
Tweaking Self-Exclusion For Improved Effectiveness
Notably, the report identified ways to improve self-exclusion programs and give participants greater control over their recovery.
Ultimately, the study revealed that each participant follows a unique path to (and possibly through) self-exclusion.
As a result, users need more flexibility to build responsible exclusion programs designed to meet individual needs. Here are some of the highlights of the report’s recommendations.
Make Re-enrolling in Self-Exclusion Easier for All Players
Those that decided to re-enroll had mixed experiences. Some found that they could extend their exclusions online or over the phone. That was beneficial, as it avoided the need to visit a gambling property and face temptation.
Those who had to re-enroll at land-based casinos sometimes had a bad experience.
Some participants said they felt highly cared for and supported. However, others reported being urged to let the exclusion lapse.
One 65-year-old woman visiting an arcade to extend her self-exclusion was offered a birthday bonus:
They always say to you ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come back?’ and they said, ‘Why don’t you exclude after your birthday?’ because you get a free £5, you see.
Several participants suggested an option for a lifetime exclusion. However, there’s an argument to be made for flexible durations. (One operator, Tipico, has even experimented with a 24-hour self-exclusion ‘panic button’ with good results.)
Other participants suggested automatic re-enrollment, but how this might work best for users while complying with GDPR guidelines needs to be assessed.
Lastly, participants suggested they should have easy access to their self-exclusion information. This would prevent enrolled users from being unaware of exclusion details, including; sector, region, or end date.
Make Users Intentionally Re-Opt-in on Marketing
Fortunately, most participants reported few instances of receiving gambling marketing materials during their exclusion periods.
However, those who chose to have their gambling opportunities restored said marketing messages quickly resumed once their self-exclusion lapsed.
According to existing UK operator requirements, no marketing should reach the participant after self-exclusion until they’ve given the okay. Consequently, the study recommends that operators and regulators work harder to meet this standard consistently.
Use Innovation to Combat Self-Exclusion Breaches
Self-Exclusion providers should continue to innovate against breaching, including considering facial recognition technology.
Additionally, more collaboration and standardization between UK self-exclusion schemes is recommended. For example, registering for multiple programs simultaneously should be possible.
Another recommendation is providing self-excluders with free gambling-related ad-block software. Ads often overwhelm during sports events, plus sports and gambling advertisements on radio, TV, and social media are at an all-time high.
Even the sounds of slots used in radio contests can be an addiction trigger.
Lastly, the study argues organizations like GamCare need continued support to offer layered support alongside self-exclusion. Developing new tools to improve accessibility, like offering counseling via secure live chat, should be a top priority.
Working Toward a Universal, Nationwide Self-Exclusion Program
Overall, study participants supported developing a cross-sector, multi-operator self-exclusion program. Respondents cited the limitations of the current programs, like geographical boundaries.
Even those who didn’t require that high level of intervention recognized the benefit to those who might.
At the same time, many also recognized the logistical difficulties of making a universal self-exclusion program work across the UK.
One 45-year-old participant, who’d excluded himself from betting shops, remarked:
Every shop should be notified of all gamblers that want to ban themselves. But, I know that’d be more or less impossible to roll out.
A national self-exclusion registry is a concept occasionally floated in the US as well, where self-exclusion is currently state-by-state.