Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked, an age verification provider for online businesses of age-restricted goods and services, explains how AV can and is being brought to bear in the mobile gambling world
Mobile gambling is a high-growth area. A Gambling Commissionstudy on the state of the industry last year reported that over half – 51% – of online gamblers had done so using a mobile phone or tablet.
Another report by the same organisation highlighted the ‘development of smartphones and tablets, allied with extensive broadband penetration, high speed mobile internet and availability of WiFi’ as key factors in the growth of the sector. Certainly as 5G networks are rolled out across the country, and smartphones get ever more powerful, the opportunities for gambling companies to offer more creative, innovative and immersive experiences will grow and grow.
A report by Technavio suggests that the global mobile gambling market will grow at a CAGR of nearly 19% from 2017 to 2021.
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Of course, all this comes with some caveats. Whilst for most users, online gambling is a fun leisure activity, an enjoyable element of downtime, a pleasant way of spending a bit of time and money, for a small minority it becomes something more problematic – and can ultimately have a devastating impact on mental health and wellbeing. Figures show that record numbers of problem gamblers were admitted to hospital last year, with calls to a UK-wide helpline increasing by more than 30%. The same Technavio report warns that mobile gambling in particular may invoke addictive behaviours, in part because of its speed and convenience.
As such, gambling businesses, like many others, have a responsibility to ensure that their customers are well-supported, and that problematic patterns of behaviour are avoided wherever possible. And such interventions become even more important as mobile gambling – which is, of course, uniquely flexible and accessible – grows too.
Protecting mobile gamblers
What kind of interventions are we talking about? For the small minority of users who develop a problematic or addictive relationship with gambling, it is critical that they get comprehensive treatment and support. This is why the recent announcement that five of the UK’s biggest gambling firms have pledged to contribute an extra £60 million a year to fund treatment for problem gamblers is so welcome.
William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power Betfair, Skybet and Bet 365 will all increase their voluntary levy on profits from 0.1% to 1%. Ultimately, this should result in a seven-figure contribution.
But prevention is always better than cure. It is just as critical that gambling firms take robust and comprehensive steps to help their customers avoid developing problematic habits in the first place. Tight restrictions on the marketing and advertising of online gambling are part of the picture. Then, when it comes to online and specifically mobile gambling, this means introducing mechanisms which proactively identify and prevent worrying patterns of behaviour, including enabling and even encouraging users to lock themselves out of sites and applications where necessary.
And prevention also means going back even further, and preventing certain groups from gambling altogether – particularly when it comes to children accessing gambling websites and mobile applications.
Mobile gambling and young people
The latest figures from the Gambling Commission suggest that there are an estimated 55,000 problem gamblers aged between 11 and 16, which are quadrupling of the numbers over the last two years. More broadly, 450,000 11 to 16-year-olds are said to gamble on a regular basis. And as mobile gambling becomes faster, richer and more convenient, it seems like that these numbers will increase. After all, whilst it may be difficult for a young teenager to walk into a betting shop on the high street and get served, it is often far easier for them to disguise their age online, and a smartphone or tablet can easily be taken away from the watchful eye of parents.
The upshot is that online age verification is a crucial issue for businesses seeking to take problem gambling serious. It needs to be robust and reliable – but also needs to be smooth and as frictionless as possible. After all, requiring adult customers to go through a clunky and convoluted age authentication process every time they want to access an app is a surefire way of losing legitimate, problem-free customers.
A delicate balance
The approach we have taken at AgeChecked is to provide customers with a simple, streamlined process which providers website operators with the means to determine that their customers are legally permitted to gamble.
The initial verification process works by allowing customers to verify their age securely via a unique username and password. In order to verify themselves, users can choose from a range of methods, utilising a mobile app, credit card or driving licence, for example. Once the set-up and initial age check is complete, the user will be provided with an age-verified account, to ensure logging in to any participating age-restricted site or service is easy – much better for user experience.
Striking a balance between usability and user protection, between customer experience and compliance, is a key challenge for all online businesses. But it takes on a particular weight when it comes to sectors like gambling, which have both an ethical responsibility and a commercial imperative to take customer welfare seriously. It is important for gambling businesses to take a truly comprehensive view of the challenges associated with providing their services safely, and whilst providing support for problem gamblers is a vital piece of the overall jigsaw, so too is preventing such problematic habits from occurring in the first place.