Casino cards targeted for real-time tracking

The Problem Gambling Foundation has identified two schemes it would like to see implemented

Casino loyalty card systems could be used to help identify and control problem gamblers if the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand has its way.

The Foundation is pushing government and the gambling industry to use technology to reduce problem gambling — and the core technology required could already be in place in the form of casino loyalty schemes and loyalty cards.

The Foundation’s chief executive, John Stansfield, says he is feeling “buoyant” that changes to the Gambling Act now being considered will clear the way for casino loyalty cards to be used to identify and help problem gambling in real-time.

Stansfield says casino loyalty cards are really about “distorted thought processes”.

“You lose $10,000 and get a free hamburger,” he says. “What’s the point in a loyalty card when there’s only one casino in Auckland?”

The Foundation has identified two schemes it would like to see implemented. The first is called “pre-commit”, where gamblers can upload their limits onto their loyalty cards and use these or a token to access gambling sessions. Gamblers would have to log on to a machine or game using their card and would be thrown off once their self-imposed limit was reached. They would then be stood-down from gambling for 48 hours.

The second scheme involves player tracking. Stansfield says in law, casinos are not allowed to operate in a way that allows people to become problem gamblers.

John Markland, manager of gambling policy at the Department of Internal Affairs, says he is unaware of any specific proposals for such schemes but there has been quite a bit of discussion about possibilities.

“DIA is always keeping an eye on developments and considering options to minimise harm,” he says.

SkyCity acknowledges loyalty data can be used for such purposes and says it is working on a solution.

“With the advice of international and local experts including Canadian company Focal Research, Skycity is developing a data model to assist in the identification of problem gaming,” spokeswoman Joanna Bleasdale said in a statement. “This model requires a robust process of identifying variables, developing new variables, testing and calibrating for accuracy — like any technology it has its limitations.”

She says loyalty data is one of a number of information sources used to assist in the identification of problem gaming. It is limited, she says, because it depends on the engagement of the customer to provide that information.

The Privacy Commissioner did not respond to a request for comment by press-time.

Work in Canada is now enabling real-time identification of vulnerable gamblers.

A trial project using what is called a “responsible gaming device” has been undertaken in Nova Scotia.

“The system was comprised of a unit attached to each video lottery terminal,” says a report on the project. “The unit included a confidential card enrolment process whereby a player inserted a card and was then prompted to select a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN). Once the system was activated, a player had to ‘swipe’ their card and enter their PIN in order to initiate each session of play. The unit was linked to a centralised database that recorded specified play activity for each card session and monitored system functions.”

The trial found gambling spending fell, especially during short sessions, when the devices were used.

Stansfield says casinos “hate the idea” of tracking, but the approach is all about host responsibility and would not be expensive to implement. He says casinos already hold data that will allow emerging problem gamblers to be identified. Regulators could also have access to this and when an issue emerges can use the information to ask operators about interventions they made in individual cases.

SkyCity was “shocked and appalled” when pre-commit was mooted, Stansfield says, but then offered to implement it voluntarily rather than having it imposed by regulation. He says the industry, by and large, will “play the Telecom, play the long game”, to delay such systems as long as possible, even though in private they concede these are coming.

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