Charmaine Hogan: “I want to continue seeing a trend toward more adequate player protection”

Playtech now is the world’s largest online gambling software supplier with a focus on new and re-regulating markets. Charmaine Hogan, head of Regulatory Affairs at the company, in a recent interview with Ilya Machavariani, Senior Partner and CEO of 4H Agency, spoke about regulated markets, sustainable and responsible gambling, consumer protection, and new technologies in the industry. 

Charmaine has been working in the gambling industry for several years. Before moving to the UK in 2016, she resided in Brussels where she worked on EU legislation and policy development, and led discussions with European gambling regulatory authorities on national regulations and EU policy development such as consumer protection, as well as with industry. 

Let’s start with your view on the newly regulated markets / regulations / requirements / new market entrants. How has it changed so far?

As more markets regulate to take account of iGaming, there are more regulated markets with their own local flavor, even when taking the lead from existing best practices. I always say that there should be an appreciation of each country’s own specificities. That said, launching in any newly regulated market has become more of a challenge due to the bespoke requirements of each regulatory body. Every country and region is different, and gambling can be an emotive subject with various considerations at play. It should not be expected that one set of regulations can be lifted to fit squarely into another’s. Having the necessary market information and clear timelines to be able to comply with local rules is therefore key. 

At Playtech, we operate in many jurisdictions globally and are well-versed in regulatory complexities. On the basis of experience as well as a commitment to higher industry standards, we encourage better evidence-based policy, data, and collaboration with key industry players, not only within the industry but with academics, researchers, regulatory authorities, and healthcare providers.

We have been engaging as early as possible with policymakers, regulatory authorities, and with other local stakeholders influential in shaping regulations. We aim to be at the forefront of this. In sharing regulatory experiences and best practices, we want to create a more responsible and sustainable entertainment industry. Unfortunately, we are too familiar with the re-regulation in a number of European markets. Governments tend to react ‘fast and furious’ faced with negative public and media opinion, perhaps not taking the time they should to better assess policy solutions that will meet the intended purpose of protecting the players, particularly the more vulnerable. Most recently, the dutch gambling regulator stated it has a channelling rate of c.85%.

Let’s move on to the topic of engaging with policy-makers and stakeholders. Do you see any changes in attitudes towards online gambling and new technologies, at the policymaker level and consumer level in recent years?

I previously would have stopped at mature markets; however, tighter scrutiny over online gambling, especially regarding responsible gambling, is also the case in newly regulated markets. In Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, there is an increased focus on player protection, but equally so on more targeted and personalized player protection measures. Increasingly, new regulatory frameworks encompass provisions aimed at improving player protection, and hopefully, regulators will look more to one another to learn/better understand the benefits of these ‘new technologies.’ Using AI and machine learning allows that focus on the individual player.   

Regulations can, and in a number of cases, require automated means to detect signs of risky player behavior at an early stage, and then provide better, more individualized support accordingly. We are seeing more weight being put on tangible results, and regulatory authorities are looking at this more and more. So this is moving away from, or conversely, adding to the only traditional approach. This is more than only tracking player behavior. In my view, data will increasingly become more relevant. Let’s not forget that data should be useful for the regulator to assess market development, and for player protection more specifically.

So rather than the more generic methods, we are using artificial intelligence to analyze several different behavioral markers of each online gambler to flag those at risk and then carry out a personalized intervention that is tailored to the individual behavioral profiles.

BetBuddy, our proprietary AI software, aims at ‘reading’ the players’ behaviors to spot the ones at risk. Being able to adapt to these differences in player behavior quickly is key to ensuring that the safety net is there.

Do you see sustainable gambling as evolving or is responsible gambling still the only focus?

Today we are seeing safer gambling in larger parts of the industry. To me, sustainable gambling is also a culture change within a business, where different arms of the business will work closely together. Otherwise, it is also about efforts to keep raising industry standards, with more in the wider industry taking a longer-term view. We want to keep gambling fun but safe. As an industry, sustainability needs to be better placed at the center of our activities. For this, we must also collaborate more as an industry and engage in deeper dialogue with academia, charities, public health authorities, and regulatory authorities. And at Playtech, this is what we are striving to do.

In general, online betting and online gambling give us access to detailed behavioral data for every player. We use artificial intelligence to analyze all those data, according to over 70 different indicators, and identify those players who might show signs of risk at the earliest possible stage. Thanks to this invaluable behavioral insight, gambling operators can carry out truly personalized interventions with each player via pop-ups, chat boxes, WhatsApp messages, or even phone calls to help them not to lose control and make sure gambling does not become an issue. These interactions can be significantly more effective than traditional ones, such as generic emails.

Essentially it is about safeguarding the well-being of all players and the future of this industry. Most recently, in Europe, Malta, where I grew up personally and professionally, is also revisiting player protection measures. So I want to continue seeing a trend toward more adequate player protection measures rather than blunt ones.

Can you please share with us your take on the emerging up-and-coming trends and new technologies?

As one of the largest gambling suppliers, we feel we are responsible for leading by example the advances in the field of responsible gaming. Therefore, the availability of appropriate tools and measures to protect the most vulnerable players is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of our industry. I believe we will use artificial intelligence more for more targeted and personalized responsible gambling measures. For this, you also want a regulatory environment that encourages the use of data and AI, and looks at smart regulation. Overly restrictive regulations can dampen the incentives to innovate. We just spoke of sustainability. 

At Playtech, we strongly focus on regulated markets, and A well-functioning market needs healthy competition onshore. Players want good choices when playing in their market. Efficient regulation is essential to ensuring successful market launches, but I would also include education, and a better understanding of products, and this is why we have invested time and energy in research and development in this area and will continue to do so. Our ambition is to develop safer gambling solutions that work, supported by evidence and extensively trialed, focused on the individual player’s well-being and not generically on the entire players’ base.

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