Gambling and its accompanying issues are both on the rise globally. In the United Kingdom alone, the Gambling Commission estimated that the number of problem gamblers in 2019 (rated from low risk upwards) was over two million. In the United States, it is over ten million, and these figures are from pre-lockdown. Today, due to a range of factors largely related to the onset of COVID-19 and its resultant lockdown, the figures will only be getting worse.
These staggering numbers are in spite of a number of precautionary and preventive measures implemented worldwide in order to help players control their gambling. Casinos have rolled out a few features such as loss limiting, but it’s not enough – time-outs, self-exclusion, markers or harm, and even the UK’s credit card ban have all been somewhat effective, and yet the statistics still paint a grim picture. But could artificial intelligence succeed where others have failed?
What Is Mindway AI?
Mindway AI was established by professor Kim Mouridsen in Denmark in 2018 and is thought to point to an answer. Mouridsen’s system, partially developed through research at Aarhus University, analyses player data using artificial intelligence and neuroscience; leaning upon the behavioral expertise of psychologists and researchers, the AI then identifies potential problem gamblers and enacts various solutions to help them.
Its two recently released demo tools are called GameScanner and Gamalyze. The former is a behavioral program that identifies problem gamblers through psychological methods, then tells them which risk level they might be in and why.
The latter is a card game that tracks the in-game decision-making by the player using neuroscientific techniques, measuring their strategies and changes in thinking when they are presented with wins or losses – as well as their sensitivities to outcome sequences. Once this is complete, it provides a personalized report to that player, along with advice for what to do given their measurable predispositions.
Crucially, Mouridsen’s technology manages to sidestep the counterproductive tension between profit and safety that typically faces gaming operators. “If a player has a high probability of being addicted, the [gaming] operator needs to communicate that to the customer,” he told Gambling Insider. “[This] is difficult because you want to keep the customer but also protect them.”
In delivering information on their own gambling profile straight to the players and giving them direct advice, Mindway AI takes this dilemma out of the hands of the operators, who despite the best of intentions might not always act according to the best interests of problem gamblers.
Increases In Online Gambling Due To COVID-19
With self-isolation from coronavirus causing a surge in online gambling all across the world, it is now more urgent than ever to confront these problems. “We know from a lot of research that the brain can become more sensitive to quick fixes,” Mouridsen says. “When the brain becomes stressed, some changes can motivate the behavior where it’s looking for artificial rewards and gambling can be one of them.
And for the mere fact people are getting bored so are seeking out gambling, but this can be more serious as gambling can then become self-medication if the stress becomes more severe.”
Unfortunately, the primary method of dealing with increasingly problematic gambling behavior is still self-exclusion, whereby the operator closes the player’s account at their request. Creating a situation where the player is NOT gambling is, of course, good in the short term, but doing so makes no progress in improving the player’s behavior should the opportunity to gamble return; in effect, if the player were to start up again, their gambling would be just as problematic as before.
Mouridsen also emphasizes that only 20% of self-identified problem gamblers use the self-exclusion method at all; this all-or-nothing solution simply isn’t that popular, and by itself, it is not an adequate, comprehensive solution, despite its immediate benefits.
GameChanger For Problem Gambling
This is one of the reasons that Mindway AI has introduced GameChanger, a training game in which players are shown images of gambling and non-gambling, and rewarded for clicking on non-gambling images – to “control impulsivity and decrease to give people a split second to work out if they want to do the next gamble or not”, Mouridsen says. “We know from other substance abuse like alcohol or drug abuse that this is something that can actually change people’s behavior.”
And the goal, of course, is to prevent addiction without it being a scorched-earth scenario of no gambling at all – which would of course be preferable for the casinos too.
Between artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and behavioral psychology, Mouridsen and Mindway AI may be onto a winner. Whether or not it’s a stopgap measure or something that will find long term success, of course, remains to be seen – and the question of what level of gambling counts as problem gambling remains a vexed question between players, operators and policy experts. Watch this space.
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