Responsible Gambling Tool Focuses On Positive Play To Beat Problem Gambling

Written By Robyn McNeil on February 16, 2023 - Last Updated on March 13, 2023
positive play offers operators opportunities to meet the player where they're at

We’re doing responsible gambling wrong.

While not a direct quote, that’s the message from Gamres’ Dr. Richard Wood, a veteran research psychologist with decades of study into harm reduction and RG.

“The problem with responsible gambling has been that it’s predicated on problematic play,” Wood told PlayCanada recently over Zoom.

“And for a lot of people, they just don’t feel that’s relevant to them because most people don’t have gambling problems. And if you wait to the point where somebody has a gambling problem, it’s kind of too late.”

Positive Play Scale benchmarks positives to tackle problems

Considering positive gambling behaviours, not just problem ones, offers the chance to promote healthy gambling habits more effectively and identify problematic behaviours sooner, said Wood.

To do that, Gamres developed its Positive Play Scale, the first scale for measuring players’ good gambling habits. Wood worked with Dr. Nassim Tabri and Dr. Michael Wohl of Carleton University to create the disruptive measure.

With PPS data, operators and RG advocates can better understand the attitudes and actions behind healthy gambling, said Wood. And that could lead to earlier, more effective interventions as we learn to identify risky behaviours before they become more than bad habits.

“The positive play approach,” added Woods, “was instead of focusing on the people that have gambling problems, why not look at all the players and see how responsible they are.”

“So, instead of looking at what players do wrong, we measure what they do right.”

The mental shift, he said, offers invaluable data for entire player populations. That, in turn, provides a foundation for more effective positive play campaigns. And it can help earlier identify players — individuals or groups — that need direct intervention.

When you study responsible play, you can identify minor issues before they become harder to tame, offered Wood.

“And you can reward players for doing the right thing.”

The power of positive persuasion

People like to feel good.

We know from the science of persuasion that, generally, people respond better to positive messages and reinforcement than negatives.

So, doctors Wood, Tabri and Wohl developed a scale to measure what players — gamblers — do right. And what they found could revolutionize responsible gambling ideology.

“It allows gaming companies to understand their player base a lot better,” said Wood. “Because you’re looking at a big sample.”

From there, researchers can further segment players.

“Younger players tend to score a lot lower than older players,” added Wood of PPS results.

“Players who play on a range of games tend to score lower than those that just play on one or two… So you can start to target your responsible gambling strategy to those people that need it the most.”

Key findings and recommendation of Positive Play Scale studies. Image credit: Gamres

The PPS can also help identify the messaging that will be most beneficial to particular groups.

Traditionally, said Wood, with RG, a lot of messaging prompts players to “play responsibly.”

However, the PPS measures personal responsibility, namely whether players feel responsible for their gambling behaviours.

Overall, PPS results have found players tend to score quite high in personal responsibility.

They score lower, however, in gambling literacy (understanding of the nature of the games). The scale also shows players tend toward lower scores of pre-commitment.

Pre-commitment could be using limit-setting tools, said Wood. But, really, it’s just about thinking about what you can afford to spend (in time and money) before playing.

“We’re able to identify (in player populations) where these sorts of deficits are,” said Wood.

As a result, many of Gamres’ PPS clients have shifted focus to boosting gambling literacy and encouraging pre-commitment strategies.

“It’s a way to kind of optimize Responsible Gambling strategy,” Wood added. “Focus on the things where you need more support.”

Positive Play Scale a natural evolution

Originally from the UK, Wood began researching gambling addiction nearly 25 years ago.

In addition to research, he consulted for gaming companies, helping make products safer and identifying problem gamblers. That’s something he still prioritizes.

However, today, responsible gambling is something every organization does, to a greater or lesser extent.

At one time, however, ‘responsible gambling’ was kind of a dirty word, Wood said. But as ideas around RG evolved and spread, Wood’s work continued to shift similarly.

In 2007, he introduced Gamgard, his first significant contribution to responsible gambling innovation.

Gamgard is a responsible game design tool that assesses whether a game will be risky to vulnerable players.

Once a game reveals itself as a potential problem, Gamgard advises on ways to tweak play and reduce the risk before it becomes real one. The tool is used by close to 60 gambling companies in 27 countries.

Next, in 2008, Dr. Wood launched GamTalk, a free online support service for gambling-related issues.

The site’s information, resources and community support get funded by (the majority of) Canada’s provincial lotteries and the US-based National Council on Problem Gambling. And also the Oregon Lottery. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Wood’s (and Gamres’) latest innovations revolve around the PPS, which, as noted, is the first scientific measure of responsible play.

But what does that really mean? And how does it work?

The Positive Play Scale, what is it, really?

What used to happen, said Wood, is we measured responsible gambling by measuring problem gambling.

But, basing responsible gambling theories on problem gambling numbers presents another problem, he added.

Because, generally, problem gambling affects a very small population.

Statistics vary, especially globally, but a recent Statistics Canada report found that of Canadians who gambled in the past 12 months, about 2% of men and 1% of women (nearly 304 000 people) were at moderate to severe risk of gambling-related harm.

Regardless, the take-home is problem gamblers are not a representation of most players. So, it’s difficult to see how responsible gambling strategies can reduce problem gambling after it’s a problem, said Wood.

“At that point, when somebody has a gambling problem, they need treatment and referral.”

Essentially, what the PPS does, is make responsible gambling more of an offensive play than a defensive one. And it informs strategies aimed at maximizing positive play experiences for all players, not only minimizing harm for a few.

Here’s how the PPS works:

Games identified three main problems with modern RG:

  • A lack of player engagement
  • A negative or patronizing tone, and
  • No concept of the player’s perspective

Whereas, Gamres suggests a focus on positive play:

  • Maximizes healthy and happy play (doesn’t wait for problems to develop)
  • Uses effective language
  • Has a soft, inclusive touch (utilizing normative feedback and nudging)
  • Offers RG with a player-facing perspective, and
  • Recognizes what responsible play looks like

But, to fully understand positive play, we must measure it. Providing those numbers is where the PPS comes in.

It helps answer three important RG questions:

  • How do we know if an RG strategy is working?
  • Which parts of an RG strategy work the best, and
  • What works best for different players?

To do that, the PPS considers players’ beliefs and behaviours. Specifically, it measures personal responsibility and gambling literacy (belief) and honesty/control and pre-commitment (behaviour).

For clarity: the honesty and control classification considers how honest players are about their gambling with others and how in control they feel. The others we’ve covered already.

In any case, using the PPS allows operators to group players in low, medium, and high positive play categories.

The findings create a benchmark for later comparisons that measure changes in RG-related attitudes and beliefs.

The Positive Play Scale’s Positive Play Categories. Image credit: Gamres

Findings lead to optimization of responsible gambling strategies

It’s important to note that the PPS is not a measure of problem or disordered gambling, through there is some correlation between the PPS and Problem Gambling Severity Index.

A low PPS score doesn’t indicate disordered gambling. However, lower positive beliefs and behaviours could contribute to problem play over time. And typically, PPS beliefs and behaviours are only moderately correlated with disordered gambling severity as measured by the PGSI.

Instead, the PPS found that monitoring positive play over time can identify changes to a player’s RG behaviours and beliefs.

Data also indicates gambling literacy and pre-commitment should be a focus of most RG efforts, as should younger players. It also found, overall, some games attract more players less inclined to play positively.

Knowing this allows operators to optimize their RG strategies and monitor the changes to offer all players a safer, more positive experience.

So far, industry reception of the PPS has been positive

“It’s been very well received,” said Wood, of the industry’s reaction since the PPS launched in BC in 2017.

Since then, every province has used the tool, alongside various lottery operators and RG organizations in the UK, US and New Zealand.

But there’s still an RG stigma, he said.

For many, responsible gambling means problem gambling, and therefore, ‘it’s not about me.’

“That’s one of the reasons we call it [the] positive play scale rather than the responsible gambling scale,” said Wood.

“I think we need to move away from the term responsible gambling. It’s not a fun term, you know? And when people gamble, they want to have fun; they play for entertainment. They don’t want to think about gambling problems. And why should they? Because for most, it’s not even relevant.”

“We need to kind of flip the script a little bit and make it more positive.”

*PlayCanada asked ALC to share its PPS experience for this piece. While they agreed, we received no further details prior to publication.

Positive play correlates to increased satisfaction

Wood also believes the upbeat twist offers something new and positive for gaming companies to embrace.

Instead of looking at RG in a negative light, where all companies are ever doing is cleaning up a mess, the PPS’s positive focus helps operators mount an offensive to improve every player’s experience.

“After all, they’re in the business of entertainment,” said Wood.

“So gambling needs to be entertaining. By focusing on the positive aspects and encouraging players to do the right thing, it’s more in that vein.”

Of particular interest: Gamres recently started including satisfaction scales alongside the PPS to measure players’ satisfaction levels too.

So far, they’ve found the most responsible players rank highest in satisfaction.

Wood thinks the findings speak to those players’ overall psychological well-being. Gambling is just a form of entertainment. It’s not causing stres or conflict.

“I think that’s a really good message to show that responsible gambling isn’t just about spoiling the fun,” said Wood.

“I think that’s been quite refreshing for a lot of people in the gaming industry to realize that, okay, this is something that we can do and feel good about it. And at the same time, do some good as well.”

Draftkings becomes first multi-state online operator to tap the PPS

Recently, DraftKings announced it would incorporate the PPS into its US-facing responsible gambling strategy.

The partnership is a big deal for Gamres. Until now, the company primarily worked with lotteries.

But, the Draftkings deal marks Gamres’ first chance to harness the PPS to optimize safer play for a multi-state online operator.

DraftKings is “really keen to learn more about their players and promote healthy play,” said Woods of the new partnership.

“I think there’s more and more expectation among the public that, if you’re going to spend your dollars, spend [them] with an ethical company that cares.”

DraftKings, it seems, agrees.

“We’re grateful for this opportunity to team up with Gamres, which is renowned for its strategic consulting and research around the world, to bring the Positive Play Scale tool to DraftKings,” said Chrissy Thurmond, DraftKings senior director of responsible gaming, in a release.

“We believe that DraftKings’ responsible gaming program, which strives to be the industry gold standard, will be significantly enhanced with the addition of this scientific tool and will yield rich and actionable insights – helping us to us better understand and engage our players.”

Responsible gambling enters its legitimacy era

“I think we’re moving into an era of measurement,” said Woods.

“You know, a lot of responsible gambling in the past has been about ‘look at all this stuff that we do…'”

“Now I think it’s becoming a question of, does this tip actually work? Because if it doesn’t, it’s just a waste of money. It’s not helping anybody. So, using something like the positive play scale is a way to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

The PPS has individual gamblers covered, too, with the Positive Play Quiz.

Wood and company recently added to the positive play toolkit with the player-focused quiz.

While the PPS offers feedback on entire groups, the PPQ shows individual players how positive their play is.

Design-wise, the PPQ is more player-friendly, complete with everyday language.

With it, players can learn about their play and how it compares to others nearby. Then, at the end, they’re served collection of resources to keep learning vibe going, if desired.

These days, many organizations have self-tests or player quizzes, said Wood.

Usually, however, those tests are based on the PGSI (or like) and focused on problem gambling. So, for most players, it’s not relevant. The PPQ offers a something that is.

Wood said, overall, that he thinks centring positive play “bridges that gap between doing the right thing and addressing issues. But without being really negative and spoiling the fun.”

Integrating RG into the gaming experience

“Often,” said Wood, “responsible gambling is seen as a separate issue to the overall gaming experience.”

“And, often [on a website], you have to search to find the responsible gambling pages. And mostly, it’s just about problem gambling. We’re trying to make it more about the overall experience.”

Wood found that players like to learn about games and responsible gambling just by doing. Therefore, a great way to encourage responsible play and use of RG features is by building them into the game.

He likens it to learning a new video game.

“When you play a video game, it typically the way you learn to play is you start playing and [the game] kind of walks you through and guides you in certain directions. And before you know it, you’ve figured out all the things you’re supposed to do”

“I think that’s how we should approach gambling.”

Photo by Shutterstock
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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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