In recent years, the risk of addiction from online entertainment has been in the spot-light among government policymakers, and reasonably so. According to a report published by the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten), an overwhelming 70% of bet deposits of an online gambling sector (i.e. Online casinos and poker) originates from people with problem gambling in the country. Reports such as these demonstrate that a public health level policy approach should be taken seriously to produce potent impacts.
Last month, the Nordic Welfare Center conducted a research seminar that focused on improving governments’ public health policy tools. The Center is an institution in the Nordic Council of Ministers’ social and health sector. It aims to further develop and strengthen the Nordic welfare model. The Center has the mandate to compile and disseminate knowledge on welfare issues and tools for improving health and well-being in the five Nordic countries — as well as in Åland, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. As part of this effort, the Nordic Welfare Center called for novel ideas from both academic and private sector to shape and improve policymaking in the public health sector.
With five years of experience of serving the entertainment industry as a payment gateway, Zimpler has a more than decent knowledge base of gaming and gambling users’ financial state. With this knowledge base, Zimpler presented why government health policymakers should start focusing on the general gamblers financial well-being rather than the current laser-focus policy on problem-gamblers.
I sat down with our financial well-being lead Nathan Lakew to discuss his presentation and the overall research proposal.
Q. Broadly speaking, what strategies and tools do the industry or government agencies have at their disposal to promote healthy gambling?
Nathan: If we’re talking strategy, we can classify the approaches as local and population level approaches. You find local level approaches, for example, in gambling and gaming sites and operators. They are typically laser-focused on specific groups, usually problem gamblers. Note that they are local in the sense that their focus is not on the broader population. It is entirely possible to have a government policy that’s classified as a local level strategy. Then, you have the general populace approach which aims to reach a wider audience without making a distinction between problem and healthy gamblers.
As for tools, it depends on the overall strategy you follow. Currently, local level strategy are more popular, that’s why tools such as behavioural tracking, budget setting, and enforced breaks are commonly implemented at gambling and gaming sites.
Q. What was your research proposal for the seminar?
In brief, there are two parts to it. The first is about strategy. As you might imagine, the number of users who don’t have gambling problems is much higher than the ones who do. There must be a ‘safety net’ to mitigate the risk of users who ultimately cross the line and become ‘problem gamblers’. As such, the proposal is to formulate the gambling problem as a public health issue. This way, we can develop a strategy that is not just curative but also protective. It is like a vaccination program. You won’t only try to cure a disease, but also a vaccine to protect the healthy population, and ultimately to eliminate the disease itself.
The second was about the focus of our harm minimisation tools. Most of these tools aim to solve problems visible at the time of gambling. They track behaviours, enforce breaks or pop-up as notifications during the actual gambling session. But the life of gamblers is much more than a session they spend on gambling. And one big, rarely picked up issue is their financial health. Our proposal brings up Financial Well Being (FWB) as an vital focus area of research for gamblers.
Q. How was the proposal received?
I would say the reception was overwhelmingly positive! In particular, the need to adopt a public health approach commands a lot of interesting discussions. Naturally, the research area is moving towards a holistic understanding of gambling behaviour. Other proposals in the seminar also touch upon this approach from different perspectives. As online gambling and gaming proliferates at a rapid pace, policymakers need to act decisively by declaring gambling problems as a health issue and draft strategies from these perspectives.
Q. What is Zimpler doing in these areas?
As a payment gateway our priority needs to be our users’ financial health. We have different tools at hand to help users with their financial well being, like budget. And following the public health approach, we provide these tools to all of our customers. This way, we can be proactive in keeping users healthy, even though they are not identified as ‘problem gamblers’.
Currently, we are also working on developing a proprietor model to cluster users into different financial well being status. With such a tool at hand, I believe we can provide more personalised financial advice, and design behavioural-oriented features to change users’ spending habit towards a healthy gauge.