How can isolation affect our gambling behaviour?

Thu, 09 Apr, 2020

Interview with Maris Catania, Head of Responsible Gaming and Research.

At Kindred, we put great focus on gambling being joyful and therefore advocate that our customers use the range of tried and tested control tools available on our gambling sites. We inform customers about these tools and the importance of knowing their limits across all our channels, including our sponsorships and ambassadors. In the UK we have rolled out the #KnowYourLimits campaign together with footballer Wayne Rooney, through our brand 32Red.

Societies across the world are today experiencing a new reality with a pandemic forcing a vast proportion of the world population to quarantine. We are currently spending a lot more time at home which has put a new focus on activities that might increase in times of loneliness or boredom. Online gambling can be such an activity and as a responsible operator, it is our duty to ensure our customers continue to enjoy gambling in a safe and sustainable way.

We sat down with Maris Catania, Head of Responsible Gaming and Research at Kindred Group in order to shed some light over the current situation. Maris has a Diploma in Gambling Addiction Counselling and Psychology and is now completing her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Mark Griffiths. Her PhD focuses on analysing early signs of online problem gambling, responsible gambling tools and responsible gambling promotion. Maris has also been appointed to the advisory board of Gamban, which is the most effective self-help tool for restricting access at device-level to gambling sites and applications, assisting in gambling addiction recovery. 

Maris, how do people react when they are in the type of isolation we find ourselves in today?

Well, this is for sure a new time for everyone and the only thing that we can be sure of is that what we are experiencing is a high level of uncertainty. Problematic behaviour can exist through different activities and different situations in life. The current situation of isolation can indeed lead to problematic gambling behaviour, but equally there may be instances where this can have a positive impact such as more time with family and time for winding down exist in a way it usually doesn’t.

Do people tend to take more risks now in these times than they usually would?

This is a hard question to answer. I see it as a double-edged sword and cannot be confirmed and applied to the whole population because we react all so differently.

Some people take risks more than others, and this can be augmented during this time. Nonetheless, the current situation might be humbling us. Most people panic bought food and medical resources. Therefore, people have spent more money on taking fewer risks because of the uncertainty that might be present

What we, through our monitoring system PS-EDS have seen, is that fewer people have been detected for playing problematically, whereas we might have expected the opposite. There can be many reasons for this, and it is still too early to draw clear conclusions, but people might be saving up more for that rainy day which might become more of a reality because of this anxiety caused by the current situation

Through your expertise – what can we expect as this goes on?

From a gambling perspective, I believe that we might see people trying to get quick wins because they are worried that they need money. Having said that, I believe people will be spending more money on resources rather than entertainment. I also believe that when people now are spending more time with their families it might be harder to hide a potential problematic gambling behaviour. We should be worried about people that are lonely and alone during this time. This is also why we enhance our RG messages across our gambling sites with a Group-wide information campaign to customers next week reminding them of staying in control and using our RG tools.

How do people manage escapism?

Escapism is something that everyone does from time to time and is not only specific to a certain group of people or activity. We sometimes resort to scrolling endlessly on our phones or shop when we need to lose some steam. The problem occurs when people will turn to escapism in order to relieve some of the stress because of underlying issues.

The Khantzian self-medication model, for example, raises the issue that addiction, even behavioural ones, are done to compensate any underlying issues that may have not been handled or treated properly in the past.

So, if people have anxiety because of the current Covid-19 situation and they gamble in order to numb the pain, then it is an issue. If people gamble because they want to get money as they are afraid of running out of it, then it is an issue. If gambling is done for any reason other than entertainment, then it is an issue.

Is there a certain type of product people tend to bet on in situations like this?

I don’t think that problematic play or playing to achieve escapism can be pinpointed to one type of gambling as that would be too naïve. Of course, if you want to achieve a numbing feeling because you are worried, you might resort to gambling where no skill or thinking is required such as casino, but the same would be that if you feel bored, you might gamble in poker because you want to challenge yourself and involve some thinking.

How should we, as a gambling operator react?

All operators need to firmly integrate responsible gambling strategies into their business model. The current Covid-19 situation we are in is not a scenario that requires extra attention to responsible gambling. It should always be on the agenda where proactive outreach to customers through onsite messages, offering relevant tools and conducting calls and intervention when necessary are actions to ensure the wellbeing of our customers. A quick win is not a win for anyone – not the customer nor us as an operator.

How do we know this is the case?

We are a 100 per cent digital company that collects a great deal of data related to our customers’ gambling behaviour. This data ensures we can give customers the best and safest gambling experience. It also ensures that quickly can intervene when we see a change in behaviour. This data, in anonymized form, is shared with leading researchers around the world who help us develop the methods, tools and insights applied on our platform.