Online Casinos, Gambling, Poker and Sports Betting Magazine

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Interview: Michael Smeaton of GamCare

GamCare is a national association and registered charity addressing the social impacts of problem gambling in the UK and internationally. You may have seen their kite mark on casino sites that promote responsible gaming throughout the world. GamCare’s success has come from their forward looking approach toward gambling and their acceptance of gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment. This insightful approach has brought them close enough to online casino operators to be an effective and welcomed influence on their policy making and treatment of problem gambling.

Gambling Online Magazine has approached Michael Smeaton of GamCare to get a first hand look at their policies and recommendations for gamblers and casinos.

Smeaton: Our key services are counselling, we have a counselling center based in London and we train other counselling agencies around the country. We also have a national help line and take a role in education work at schools to raise awareness.

The other arm of GamCare is working with the industry and the regulators to advise on social responsibility policies. We’ve done a lot of work in the past with the terrestrial gambling industry, like getting posters up in amusement arcades, leaflets in bookmakers and in casinos, all to inform customers on how to gamble responsibly and where to get help when they need it. Over the last five years we have been able to get to a position where we are a part of the mix of the gambling industry, government, and regulators.

GOM: What are you looking for from online casinos to promote responsible gambling and to help gamblers wager within their means?

Smeaton: What we’re doing with online casinos is very much coming from three angles, education, intervention, and prevention. The great thing about online casinos is that the technology is there to implement systems tools that relay messages and education that you can’t have in terrestrial casinos. The same, online gambling has problems and risks that can be associated with an increase in problem gambling or potentially could lead to more harm.

We’re moving more towards casinos being a lot more proactive in how they address social responsibility and that means intertwining it within their culture. The key is that you can’t enforce things on customers. In the old days, people used to think that the company should set things like credit limits. Gambling now is about empowering the customer, letting the customer have control over their gambling. If a customer is concerned that they’re spending too much, you can have facility to let them know how much they spent. Things like letting the customer set their own credit limit, where they can choose the amount per month, per week, per session, that they bet helps them control their gambling and enjoy gambling without imposing on them.

Obviously one of the biggest issues is age verification. It is absolutely crucial that systems are in place, which currently are lacking, to ensure as best as you can that under 18s do not gamble on your site.

GOM: What do players look for when they want to find the sites that are practicing social responsibility, what kind of kite marks and what kind of policies?

As far as what they should look for, I still believe that right now there isn’t an ideal model. GamCare is working hard to develop a certification process, it’s hard because there are so many kite marks out there, and it’s wrong to say you can trust any of them.

I think it’s important that you look at a site and see what it has available, don’t take what they say on the site at face value, look at what they actually do, a lot of sites just have lip service. Self-imposed credit limits are always very important to look at. Ask, do the casino care how much I spend and are they going to allow me to have control over that? But remember that the credit limits have to be enforceable. There’s no point in having a credit limit if you can just change it when you change your mind. The other things to look for are information links, how fast the casino games are and whether there are timers to remind you how long you’ve been playing. Online you’ve got the potential for an even harder, more addictive form of gambling so things like reality checks or a pause at some point in the game are crucial because the potential to spend too much money and to chase losses is great.

I think what the industry and government are trying to do in the UK will have the effect of creating a very well regulated environment. Hopefully there will be quite a lot of casinos that will come into the UK jurisdiction, but they have to meet very high standards. The regulation of choice from the customer’s point of view is where they feel safe, and where they are comfortable. All the operators in the UK will include that into what they’re doing and take an angle on social responsibility in order to compete.
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