Gambling Addiction: Looking AheadBy Luke Haward, CDC Gaming ReportsJanuary 10, 2018 at 10:31 pmThe New Year is a time for pulliing up the trousers we’ve found that still fit us, and resolutely making a list of things to improve ourselves – a healthier diet, getting some exercise, perhaps even undertaking to have a dry January. It’s also a time for balancing the books, budgeting for the year ahead, and aiming to live within our means after our Christmas excesses.This year looks to be a time of reckoning – and making resolutions – for the gambling industry as well. The sector faces mounting pressure, criticism, and the looming threat of regulation over its handling of problem gambling, underage gambling, money laundering, and overall social responsibility.The UK Gambling Commission is flexing its muscles, and has already stated quite bluntly in an open letter to the country’s 195 licensed operators that things do not stand quite as they should. Seventeen operators are being assessed for failings with regard to either money laundering controls or customer due diligence, and five are being evaluated as to whether their licenses will be reviewed. This could very well be just the beginning of a clampdown on an industry which is prone to have endemic failings in its duties of care.The writing has been high up on the wall since last year, with the government recently lambasted in the press for its National Health Service having no systematic ways of reviewing and dealing with gambling addiction as a medical problem, nor even any clear sense of the costs to the health service. On a larger stage, the World Health Organization drafted their 11th guideline for the International Recognition of Diseases at the end of December, amongst which was included, for the first time, the term “gaming disorder”, defined as a “pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” with people prioritising gaming over life and daily activities despite negative consequences.The UK press has been hotter than ever on this issue as well, especially in the wake of the UKGC’s recent report into child gambling, citing 25,000 problem gamblers between 11 and 16 years of age. The wheels are turning for a real regulative weighing in, unless the industry is a lot more proactive.But just what is being done to help treat gambling addiction? We’ll look today at some recent initiatives both within and beyond the UK, to get a better sense of the range of treatments out there, and how effective they are.The major option on the table at the moment is to enhance the existing work already done by gambling charities such as GambleAware, by imposing a mandatory 1% levy on operators. The latest on this comes from independent body The Senet Group, set up in 2014 by major operators William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral, and Paddy Power, in response to public concerns around gambling and gambling advertising. The Senet Group offered a thumbs-up to the proposed levy, telling SBC news, “If a statutory levy on gambling businesses is the only way to generate the money needed … then this change has our support”. By the end of last year, the Association of British Bookmakers had added their voice to the campaign.There are a couple of up-and-coming initiatives on self-exclusion and self-monitoring for gamblers, empowering them to track and be more conscious of their gambling, or simply giving them the means to opt out. This is critical in the UK at the moment, with some betting shops exposed by a BBC report as having failed to in fact enforce their existing self-exclusion systems.GamStop, set to launch in the spring of 2018, is being developed by the Remote Gambling Association in conjunction with their partner KPMG. It offers a service to sign up on a list which all licensed operators must check before allowing a customer to register or to log into an online gambling service. Those who sign up with the service will be able to choose the period of their self-exclusion. But some fear that the implementation of this service will be ineffective, given the availability of physical gambling in shops and at casinos and arcades.Gamblewise is a new service for mobile use spearheaded by none other than our own Andrew Tottenham, which aims to give consumers the means of tracking their own play time. In includes the option to set limits with different operators, who will then inform the player when they have hit those limits.Applications to help either the consumer, or the operator, with a robust approach to problem gambling are likely to multiply in the coming year or two, as this issue gains increasing traction.One pilot scheme of note took place recently. It was delivered by BetKnowMore UK and sponsored by GambleAware. A customer referral program was created across 59 betting shops, and training was provided to numerous staff in over one hundred betting shops. A multi-tier referral system was created, with the first tiers consisting of informal face-to-face or phone-based meetings and conversations with self-referred customers, or friends and relatives who contacted the service. Tier three consisted of mentoring and group therapy; tier four of more complex, tailored responses, including counselling.The innovative aspects of the pilot include an emphasis on improving referral accessibility, simplicity and speed, and a focus on positive alternatives to gambling behaviour. Initial evidence from the study shows that it was remarkably effective, with 60% of tier three and tier four clients in control of their gambling on completion of the programme, and most others showing some improvements.One fascinating approach from the other end of the spectrum focuses on directly controlling the brains of problem gamblers, chemically. Researchers in Finland are launching a study into a nasal spray containing naloxone, commonly used in an emergency for an opiate overdose. Naloxone blocks dopamine production, a neurotransmitter which is very involved with the pleasure centres of the brain, and which is closely linked to addictive tendencies. A previously-tested pill was found to help with addictive behaviour in gambling, but it acted too slowly to be useful in many circumstances.Chemical approaches could play a useful role in urgent or extreme cases. Perhaps there are times when we need to put the brakes on a vicious downward spiral. Whether the cost of the side effects is too great is another question. While it’s clear that such treatments don’t tackle the underlying causes of gambling addiction, they may be able to slow things down enough for someone to take stock and redesign their lives through therapy and other forms of treatment.In the long run, what we need most is an industry attentive to the perils it exposes players to, an industry that actively seeks ways, and redirects profits as needed, to help keep those players safe and healthy in their play.