A stitch in time saves nine.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
English, like many languages, is full of aphorisms about the comparative efficiency of early intervention. When it comes to current practices around responsible gambling, however, a different phrase springs to mind: Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Typically, external intervention comes only after someone’s gambling problem lands them in legal trouble. The industry relies on gamblers to take action themselves before they reach that point.
Few do, however. A study by not-for-profit Finnish operator Paf suggested that many responsible gambling tools are more helpful in identifying people struggling with gambling addiction than preventing it.
Part of the problem may be that most such tools limit or prevent the user’s gambling for an extended period. That level of commitment may lead some gamblers to shy away from activating the features.
The decision to use such a feature also has to be difficult or impossible to reverse. That means several layers of confirmation are necessary to ensure that only users who really want to limit their play do so. That, too, could be resulting in lower usage than we’d ideally see.
Fortunately, sportsbook and casino operator Tipico may have stumbled on a partial solution. The company has rolled out a new, low-friction, low-commitment responsible gambling tool in Germany, which it calls a Panic Button. In its 2021 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, Tipico says that users have been quick to adopt it and that it’s already showing signs of being effective at curbing excessive gambling.
Germany’s Number One Sportsbook Operator
Tipico has only a small presence in the US regulated gambling market at the moment. New Jersey gamblers have been able to play at Tipico Casino since November 2021, and its sportsbook is available both there and in Colorado.
Overseas, it is a much bigger name. It has been particularly successful in Germany and claims to hold a market share of over 50% there.
Many important European markets, including Germany, have undergone regulatory changes in recent years. Online casinos became legal there last summer. However, the new regulations (and regulatory delays) that accompanied this move have resulted in complaints from many sports betting operators.
Tipico’s experiment was born out of these changes. One of the new requirements imposed by the German government was for operators to implement a simple, readily-accessed way for users to enroll in the country’s nationwide self-exclusion registry, known as OASIS.
Introducing the 24-Hour Self-Exclusion Panic Button
Where other operators puckered at these regulatory lemons, Tipico attempted to make lemonade. Its solution to the new self-exclusion requirement was to develop the Panic Button.
This feature is always on screen, regardless of what the user does in the app. It only takes one click or tap to activate, with no need to tick boxes, complete forms or read through complicated explanations. And since it uses OASIS, the exclusion applies to all legal sites in Germany, not just Tipico.
However, the self-imposed ban lasts just 24 hours. Typical self-exclusion programs last much longer; Tipico describes one year as the default. Even sites that offer a milder “cool down” period typically measure it in weeks.
Tipico says it was the first to conduct an evaluation of such a feature. The results are impressive. It reports that about 10,000 customers per month use the feature, far more than traditional self-exclusion.
More importantly, Tipico says that most of these users activate the button only once and change their gambling behavior afterward. It illustrates this with a graph of a typical user journey. The user’s weekly wagers increase slowly over a few weeks before nearly doubling in two weeks. That leads the user to activate the feature, after which their weekly spending returns to its prior levels.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t make it clear if the data for the graph is that for one particular user or some sort of average. Bonus has reached out for clarification and will update when we receive a response.
Will Panic Buttons Become a Gambling Industry Staple?
If the Panic Button is as effective at curbing problem gambling as Tipico claims, one would hope to see widespread adoption of similar features.
After all, successes in the gambling industry tend to produce copycats, just as they do in any area of business. When it comes to slots themes, game mechanics or promotional ideas, it usually doesn’t take long for one company’s good idea to become the norm almost everywhere.
Unfortunately, when it comes to responsible gambling tools, what’s good for players may not be good for operators’ bottom lines. An addiction counselor looks at the graph above and sees a successful intervention. However, an accountant might only see lost revenue.
In the long run, problem gambling hurts the industry by fostering anti-gambling sentiment among lawmakers and the public. On an individual basis, however, operators are only incentivized to intervene just before users’ habits result in regulatory action. Preemptively helping customers to gamble less may cost too much in lost revenue for many gambling sites to adopt such a tool voluntarily.
For starters, we can watch to see if Tipico walks the talk and rolls the feature out in places where it isn’t mandated by law. For instance, seeing a Panic Button appear for users in New Jersey and Colorado would be nice. If that happens, it could inspire competitors to follow suit.
Failing that, it would be up to regulators to demand such a feature. Some of the industry’s criticisms of the German approach are warranted, and its regulatory approach probably shouldn’t be copied wholesale. However, if this particular requirement produces results, it’s something lawmakers and regulators in the US and elsewhere should take note of.