March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month in the US, where operators raise understanding and point customers in the direction of resources available to help combat such issues.

Companies such as the customer marketing platform Optimove also play a role in helping to reduce problem gambling through how they utilise customer data.

In part one of this two-part interview, Tomer Imber, Senior Director of Sales, US at Optimove, spoke to CasinoBeats about how the igaming industry is tackling problem gambling, the models the company has in place to identify such behaviour, and the areas operators need to improve in.

CasinoBeats: March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month in the US. How well does Optimove believe the igaming industry as a whole is tackling problem gambling?

Tomer Imber: It’s definitely something top of mind for any operator that we talk to or that we work with. Everybody recognises the importance of that, especially in the context of regulators and kind of like making sure that gaming is expanding and is growing to different to more states and to more audiences. So, yeah, it’s definitely something that’s super, super important for everyone that we talked to. For us at Optimove, we want to facilitate that as well. 

We want to make sure that we empower our clients to make sure that they are adhering to the needs of the regulator, and making sure that they don’t, by any chance, do something that they shouldn’t be doing in terms of communication.

When you think about marketing, communications and promotions and at-risk players, it’s identifying them, making sure that they’re being excluded from communications, and sometimes even predicting who are those that are going to be those at-risk players that should be carved out of communication. That’s what we really focus on with our clients.

CB: Optimove offers AI-mapped predictive models to its partners to help them identify and react to problematic behaviour. How do these models work? How do they help partners identify problematic behaviours?

TI: What we really want to do is we want to both predict and also react to situations like that. When we say predict, it’s really looking into the data historically, and the customer’s data that the operator has and build models, and we have different algorithms that kind of like a built into the platform that can really help us predict a customer’s value and behaviour in the future.

In the same way, by the way, that we can predict, for example, who is a healthy player and potentially a VIP player, we can also do that for an at-risk player or someone that should potentially be carved out of communication. So it’s algorithms and it’s looking into the data. That’s kind of the proactive side of things that would help operators to really prevent things even before they occur.

The reactive side of things is almost like an operational aspect whereby someone is asking to be excluded from the communication through the platform or through just one of the channels, then making sure that there are no hiccups, that it’s captured that information on the user, and that we don’t, by any chance, communicate to them in any way, shape, or form that would encourage that problematic behaviour.

Making sure that every communication channel that we orchestrated as part of our technology is not communicating with that player and encouraging them to place a bet or a deposit when they’ve asked to be self-excluded.

CB: You briefly mentioned VIP players. How does Optimove’s models identify bettors with problematic behaviour vs VIP customers?

TI: The way this works is that you look into the lifecycle stages of the players. When you look into the historical data, and you know that for example, Tomer was a player that made a first deposit, let’s say a year ago started playing and then one year down the line, Tomer was self-excluded and kind of like flagged to be a problematic player. What did we learn about my profile? What were the unique characteristics of my profile that suggest that I am that kind of person?

It’s not necessarily that there’s like one secret sauce to that. It can be different between countries, states and different cultures, but the idea of the model is that when we look historically into the data, we train our model based on that.

We can input that in the model and say ‘Okay, so let’s go back now to the first month of Tomer and see, does the model predict that Tomer is going to be a problem gambler and one that should be self-excluded?’ So that’s how we kind of like tweak the model, and the model tweaks itself, if you will, to make sure that we can predict those situations versus the same mechanism that would go for a VIP. 

So again, Tomer became a VIP player, what were his earliest kind of signs, from when you just signed up, that we can use and what does the model predict and does it accurately predict that Tomer is going to be a VIP? 

By the way, this is a constant cycle that the model is doing as the algorithm does for itself. We talk about AI and that’s part of that because the ecosystem can change again, an operator is all of sudden entering a new state, maybe there are different nuances and different people in that state. The model is always adaptive and always challenges itself and improves itself, if you will, based on that mechanism.

CB: Does Optimove offer anything else to help combat problem gambling?

TI: I would say that these are the two main factors – one is the predictive part, the proactive part, and the other one is just more of like quality and operational aspect. You will be surprised how many operators are being fined primarily because they had a player that asked to be self-excluded, and still, the communication didn’t stop. That’s how you’re getting a fine.

Just to maybe double click on that, a lot of times what happens is that operators would have different channels through different providers – one for email, one for push, one for SMS – and then when someone is, let’s say, flagging themselves as self-excluded from email, maybe the SMS channel wouldn’t know that that happened and they’ll still continue to send text messages to that player, and that’s how they get a fine.

Optimove’s philosophy is having all the channels in one place with a single platform to orchestrate those communications, doesn’t matter whether it’s our native channels or a third party, but then we could really tackle the reactive side of things as well.

CB: You’ve just highlighted communication as an area that needs improvement. What areas of problem gambling is the igaming industry addressing well and what other areas does it need to improve? 

TI: In general, there are a few elements here. I think that regulators, especially in the US, have certain gaps or they need to catch up a little bit with other parts of the world. I think it’s a little bit more open, relatively speaking, a little bit more open at the moment in the US versus the rest of the world.

A lot of operators, rightfully so, are saying we should be more proactive, we should do those things, even though maybe the regulator may not per se ask us to do so in every state versus Europe, for example. we should try to do that, but sometimes they don’t do it well enough. That’s where I think we are falling short a little bit as an industry.

When we think about the optics of gaming in the US and convincing California in taxes and whatnot, that online gaming is good, and it’s healthy, and it’s good for the taxpayers, and good for taxes for the state and so on and so forth, this is the other side of things.

We want to make sure, as an operator, that we are holding ourselves to the highest possible standards when it comes to responsible gaming, and sometimes the regulator may not ask us to be to that level, but then operators should do that if they want to see longevity and again the scale and more states opening up for online gaming.

I think that’s where the gap is today with some of those operators and regulators. And again, this goes back to the example I shared earlier about the channels, this is a pretty basic one, but how many are proactive in doing it? How many operators are really proactively trying to identify players and put them into some sort of communication programme that asks them, and kind of like making sure proactively, whether they need help or not?

In part two of this interview, Imber discusses whether operators need to take more of an initiative and what are the next steps for the igaming industry in addressing problem gambling.