Gambling Commission

Innovating research to protect today’s online gamblers

Over the last decade, more and more people have slipped towards online gambling while protections offered to vulnerable customers within those digital environments remain poor. Despite the staggering growth in digital gambling, vulnerability remains hard to detect online without references to ‘big data’ sources.

In partnership with City, University of London, VERJ | LAB Group were awarded a regulatory settlement grant by the Gambling Commission to tackle this increasingly important topic.

We’re out to make gambling online safer with fresh thinking research and innovation.

  • Insights
  • Innovation
  • Research
  • Comparative Linguistics

The solution

VERJ used Comparative Linguistic Analysis to learn how vulnerable gamblers communicate in online forums. By analysing millions of words, this data-driven research enabled us to understand the factors that are typically missed: the thoughts, beliefs, triggers, fears, and topics that gamblers discuss.

This ‘big data’ approach allowed us to not spot not only emerging threats associated with online gambling, but also key opportunities for better intervention. Below are some of the original findings presented to the Gambling Commission:

  • Loneliness and boredom are strong triggers in at-risk/problem gamblers {this has become significantly more pronounced since the first national lockdown on 23 March 2020}.
  • Pay days are a serious milestone each month for problem gamblers with a rush
    of funds into bank accounts immediately following a period where lack of funds may have stoked ‘the need to win’.
  • Stock trading has become a quasi-gambling outlet for some gamblers with the associated danger that it feels more like a knowledge-based transaction (NB The recent Gamestop debacle may have fuelled this even further).
  • Social media advertising emerged as a medium of influence that may be especially harmful for problem gamblers. LAB Group believes that the semiotics of social media presentation and ‘click baiting’ may exacerbate this and warrants further research. The viewing of gambling videos is a behaviour also on the rise and we will be looking to investigate this further.
  • In terms of terminology, our Comparative Linguistic Analysis revealed a higher likelihood for problem gamblers – but not their friends and family – to refer to their own behaviour as an ‘obsession’ rather than an ‘addiction’, indicating a subtle positioning that places their behaviour reflexively within the realm of hobbies rather than problems or illness.

As well as this novel research, VERJ and City University have also pioneered a new way of thinking about protecting online gamblers: what if there was a method based on a ‘here and now’ assessment of vulnerability that can be employed preventatively, rather than reactively, to better protect digital betting customers?

We’ve been working to answer this tricky but enticing question. We’re combining computational psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and machine learning to understand how vulnerable gamblers behave online. But not by their gambling behaviour… We’re using machine learning to answer whether at-risk gambling can be reliably predicted based on patterns of browser behaviour (e.g. scrolling, clicking, typing, etc.).

If our upcoming findings prove significant, then dynamic ‘on-the-fly’ changes can be made to identify at-risk gamblers to help customers move away from harm and towards protection online, whilst not altering the journeys of ‘safe’ gamblers. In effect, it could be the win:win game-changing solution that the gambling industry is crying out for.

We’re innovating to make a difference.

Contact Max at VERJ (max@verj.co.uk) if you want to find out more!

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