«Who does not want to become a millionaire?» — Interview with Psychologist & Gambling Researcher, Data Scientist Michael Auer
We continue our series of interviews with prominent figures in the world of gambling, and our guest today is Michael Auer — Psychologist & Gambling Researcher, Data Scientist. He kindly agreed to answer our questions and shared plenty of interesting aspects about one of the most important issues in the industry. We asked Michael why people gamble, who can become addicted, what self-restriction tools can help gamblers play more responsibly, and why casinos don’t benefit from gambling addiction among players. Learn about this and much more with today’s guest.
– You got a PhD degree at Nottingham Trent University, an MA in Psychology and you have also studied Statistics. Tell us why you decided to tie your life with iGaming.
Like many career decisions it happened by chance. I was actually working in marketing analytics for iGaming companies and happened to meet a UK based professor who told me that analytics could also be applied in Responsible Gaming. That pretty much changed my path back in 2008
– Can you explain as a psychologist why people gamble?
Tough question… My personal theory is that people are wired to detect patterns. We always need to know why something is happening, always need to find a cause to an event. We even connected the stars to shapes and gave them names! Gambling is random and that’s what puzzles us, because we can’t handle randomness. Casinos of course use this to their advantage. They display that last couple of outcomes and the roulette table and people believe that black is more likely after five rounds of red. But it is not, because every game is totally independent of the previous one.
– Do self-limiting measures for deposit really help players spend less money on gambling? After all, limits in most casinos can be removed at any time and the player will not be limited in any way.
Self-limiting of course requires a certain amount of self-awareness and budget control. Most of the times limits cannot just be removed or lowered. It takes some time for the lower limit to become active. A number of studies with actual players (some of them by myself) have shown that limit setting leads to lower spending. Many Responsible Gaming tools are meant to prevent the development of problem gambling. Problem gambling on the other hand can be detected with data analytics and A.I. methods.
– You said that pop-up notifications help to cope with addiction. Tell me, please, how it works. Would a player who is already addicted to betting now pay attention to any notifications?
Pop-up notifications are personalized messages that inform players about a long session length, high losses, frequent depositing in the very moment. The effectiveness strongly depends on the way of communication, the design of the pop-up, the actual message. In our studies we found that players who have an extreme session do not immediately stop to gamble after a pop-up message, but the effect might be delayed and it might be that repeated messaging leads to an effect. However, forced cool down phases seem to work and make players stop to gamble after an extreme phase.
– Do you think the self-restriction measures that most casinos have are sufficient or do you need to work on introducing some additional ones?
As mentioned, in extreme cases we found that forced cool-downs (mandatory play breaks) are necessary to interrupt an extreme session. Some researchers have argued that forced cool-downs might lead to craving and even more extreme gambling after players can login again. We did not find this to be true
– Tell us which players are more likely to be addicted. Maybe there are personality traits, temperaments or something like that.
There are a lot of theories around that. Personal traits, neurological, genetical factors. The pathway model is one of the theories I recommend everybody to read. It describes behaviourally conditioned problem gamblers, (b) emotionally vulnerable problem gamblers and (c) antisocial, impulsivity problem gamblers. So on the one hand problem gambling can be “learned” and on the other hand there are vulnerable groups which are simply more likely to develop an addiction based on their predispositions
– Do women have a problem with gambling or is it a male disease?
It is definitely not a male disease at all! The reasons to gamble are often different and also the types of games played.
– Why do casinos adhere to responsible gambling measures? Don’t they benefit from players with addictions making huge deposits and losing large sums?
I don’t believe any business wants to benefit from somebody’s suffering. Problem gamblers are also short-term customers and casinos want repeat business because every acquisition costs money. I published a study with real-world gamblers which supports the hypothesis that responsible gamblers are more loyal.
– One source claims that there are more problem gamblers online than in land-based casinos. Is it the accessibility of online casinos or is there another reason?
There are studies which support this notion and others which do not. It is difficult to analyze because you cannot run a randomly controlled experiment. Players choose to play online and/or land-based and they might do this for a reason. But sure, online casinos are more accessible,the cost of playing is often cheaper, more games are available, etc.. On the other hand online casinos can do a lot about Responsible Gaming. They can track every action, display pop-up windows, enforce cool-downs, etc..
– We know what self-restriction measures are in place in online casinos. Is something similar practiced in land-based casinos?
Yes, sure! Many land-based casinos nowadays have loyalty cards or even mandatory cards and they can apply very similar self-restriction measures
– What are the consequences of gambling addiction? Besides the obvious one, loss of money.
Well it is the harm that players experience, financial, social as well as health-related. It is also interesting that gambling addicts are unlikely to seek help (less likely compared to other addictions). On the other hand remissions without treatment are more likely. Gambling addiction also often occurs along with other addictions which of course complicates treatment
– Are you gambling or do you prefer not to take risks? You probably don’t have a problem with addiction.
I am not aware of it! But that’s what most gambling addicts would say! Well, who does not want to become a millionaire!
Thanks for interesting answers!