Restacking the odds: A new approach to address digital gambling’s collision course

Last month, Insight & Innovation Lead at Verj, Max Wiggins, gave a presentation at the (online) Festival of Consumer Sciences. Other speeches were given by academic and industry experts.

From a bedroom in Balham, Max told the story of the unusual research journey Verj have pursued to address digital gamblings state of play. He covered how our behavioural team are collecting innovative research to provide more protection for today’s digital gamblers.

Over the last decade, a societal car crash has played out in slow motion as the boards of gambling companies seek to push more business online while the protections offered to vulnerable customers within those digital environments remain poor. Cambridge Analytica moved the big data approach to ‘consumer insight’ into unsavoury territory that regulators are increasingly concerned about.

So what is left to protect at risk and/or vulnerable gamblers using laptops and smartphones from ruining their lives?

At the Festival, Max outlined the new approach that Verj has proposed to address these gaps. An approach developed by harvesting wisdom from human-computer interaction, cognitive neuroscience and Verj’s own experience in digital psychology. We all realised the same thought early on: why can’t consumer science designed for conversion also be used for protection?

The journey probes at the digital residues of personality that are deposited inside gambling purchase funnels via different keyboard, mouse and smartphone use facets. And whether these can be used to tag and adapt experiences. As well as this, Verj revealed their own insights on how they’ve equipped Comparative Linguistic Analysis to understand the unexpected nuances in the ways that problem and recreational gamblers think and talk uniquely about their behaviour.

Does the house always win?

All research, however, is only as good as the likelihood that people will actually engage with it. Any experienced behavioural economist will tell you that it’s not the house but the biases that always win. With this in mind, Max went through some of the novel ideas, such as non-intuitive UX and positive friction, that could be used to nudge vulnerable gamblers away from harm and towards protection.

With the current state of lockdown, the trajectory for online gambling might get even darker. The combination of elevated boredom and no live-play betting might slowly tip recreational gamblers into more risky behaviours. Interventions (e.g. self-exclusion) that fail to resonate with customers will be like a slippery slope with no safety net in this time.

There is plenty to investigate but we’re happy to have made a start at Verj. If you want to hear more about the direction we’re moving in on this, let us know. We’d love to share our thoughts, as well as pick your brains on the open questions still out there.