March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) and a good time to reflect on lottery leadership in responsible gambling. The lottery industry has made great strides in responsible gambling programs. Responsible gambling (RG) is a natural fit for state agencies who are charged with maximizing public benefit and support for good causes. Responsible gambling is also becoming more important as lotteries increasingly move into higher-risk area of gambling such as video lottery terminals, online sales and sports betting. Two major areas where the lottery industry leads in comparison to other sectors of the gambling industry are in public awareness partnerships and independent assessment programs.
Public Awareness Partnerships
Lotteries have embraced public awareness partnerships in responsible gambling, including PGAM and the Holiday Lottery RG Campaign. Both events were created by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), the national advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families. NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all stakeholders on gambling issues. A number of lotteries and vendors—including TLF Publications—are members of NCPG and several executives from the lottery industry serve on NCPG committees and on the NCPG Board of Directors.
NCPG designates March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. This year’s campaign theme is “Awareness + Action,” which focuses on taking specific action, sparking conversations about problem gambling issues, and directing those who may be experiencing issues to resources that can provide help. This grassroots campaign provides virtually unlimited opportunities for lottery responsible gambling staff, marketing teams and vendors to utilize their public awareness expertise and assets.
For example, the Illinois Lottery released an educational video on the importance of keeping their lottery play fun by making informed decisions on how they play, with a new video campaign helping players understand how odds work. The Hoosier Lottery will launch a campaign to increase public awareness of how to keep play positive, including a Positive Play Quiz.
A half dozen lotteries have used the PGAM2021 hashtag to show their support on social media. Lottery vendors large and small are chiming in. The more participants the greater the opportunity to reach someone who may be struggling with their gambling with a message of hope and help.
A lottery-specific NCPG public awareness partnership is the Holiday Lottery Responsible Gambling Campaign. Each year, NCPG and the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University asks lotteries to support our responsible gambling campaign and help raise awareness regarding the risks of underage lottery play during the holiday season. Whether or not it is legal for minors to participate in lottery games in your area, a responsible gaming message during the holidays is always welcomed. The plays an important role in changing social norms and educating the public. For the second year in a row 100% of U.S. lotteries took part in the Campaign.
Overall, the lottery industry has really stepped up in partnership with NCPG on responsible gambling efforts. From webinars to sessions at the Lottery Leadership Institute, newsletters and articles, it is clear that RG continues to be a major priority in NASPL’s day-to-day operations.
Lotteries far exceed every other sector of the U.S. gaming industry in their use of independent assessment of their responsible gambling programs. NASPL is no stranger to the concept of external evaluation in pursuit of best practices. The NASPL Standards Initiative (NSI) is a collaborative effort to improve the quality and integrity of the lottery environment in areas from product development to requests for proposals, and now for responsible gambling.
The World Lottery Association first developed their Responsible Gambling Framework in 2006. While a number of US lotteries participated in this extensive process, in 2016 NASPL and NCPG teamed up to create the Responsible Gambling Verification (RGV) to provide an additional option particularly for smaller lotteries. NASPL pays the entire cost of assessment for its members, so RGV is free for every US lottery. RGV has 3 levels—Planning, Implementation and Sustaining—designed to help lotteries plan and implement effective responsible gambling in all aspects of their operations using a process improvement model. An additional goal of the program is to educate lottery executives, employees and the public about responsible gambling measures that are possible within lottery operations as well as the spectrum of problem gambling behavior and treatment.
Assessments are provided by a four person team, with one representative from the NASPL Responsible Gaming Committee and three independent assessors appointed by NCPG. For lotteries that have completed a WLA certification, we offer a Parallel Verification Process (PVP) that greatly reduces duplicative effort. There are now 20 lotteries that have gained NASPL/NCPG Responsible Gambling Verification. I hope we will soon reach a tipping point where a majority of US lotteries have either a WLA or NASPL/NCPG verification or both.
For lotteries selling online, NCPG also provides the Internet Compliance Assessment Program (iCAP). iCAP is the first and still only US-based online responsible gambling assessment program. Much like the RGV and WLA programs, the verification process requires detailed descriptions of policies, procedures, and user interfaces, with reference to each of the IRG standards, conducted by GamblingIntegrity, an independent specialist organization. These standards have been developed based on best practices in online responsible gaming from jurisdictions around the world.
The assessment includes guidance on necessary improvements, and the framework is regularly updated to ensure that approved operators are continually working to implement the highest standards of player protection. The standards contain specific recommendations in the areas of policy, staff training, informed decision-making, assisting players, self-exclusion, advertising and promotion, game and site features, payments, and research. Despite the rapid growth of online commercial casinos in the US, the majority of iCAP certificates are held by lotteries—Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania to date.
Independent assessment is increasingly important in a global climate of skepticism towards self-regulation. Bringing in an experienced and objective third-party to provide an impartial assessment ensures accountability, builds on success, identifies inadvertent blind spots and provides feedback to help correct them. A failure of responsible gambling for a lottery, especially in online gambling, may lead to a cascading series of negative consequences for players, staff and the lottery itself.
Whether its in public awareness partnerships or independent assessment, this March is a great opportunity to recognize the progress made by the lottery industry in responsible gambling. As NASPL President Gretchen Corbin recently wrote in Lottery Insights: “Every March our industry observes Problem Gambling Awareness Month. However, responsible gaming is an ongoing commitment to which we adhere and promote every day of the year.” It is important to acknowledge there is still a lot of room to grow, but if the pandemic taught us anything it is that we are strongest when we work together.
Written by Keith S. Whyte, Executive Director, National Council on Problem Gambling