Danske Spil on why prevention is better than cure

EGR Compliance chats to Danske Spil about how it collaborated with brain researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University to design a new data-led preventative problem gambling tool

How the online gambling sector should best react to growing public concerns about problem gambling and social responsibility is a debate that continues to rumble on. Some operators have looked internally at how technology can provide the answers, while others have called for the industry to band together and face the problem head on as one. Denmark-facing operator Danske Spil has done both.

The company has partnered with Aarhus University to develop a new problem gambling tool, Game Scanner, which uses big data and machine learning to spot early and subtle signs of addictive customer behaviour. Once these have been identified, the operator then offers customers tailored care calls by professionally trained specialists.

The tool has been well received by Danske Spil’s customer base. However, the company’s efforts have also received plaudits from its contemporaries after the company won the award for Innovation in Compliance and Responsible Gambling at the EGR Marketing & Innovation Awards in June.

EGR Compliance: How did the idea for Game Scanner come about and how did it get off the ground?

Elisabeth Crone Linding (ECL): Discussions around responsibility had been occurring at Danske Spil for a while, before the market was liberalised in 2012. Our senior management team were in discussions about what we could do to be more intelligent and targeted in our efforts to tackle gambling addiction. At that point in time, we already had a helpline that people could call and speak to professionally trained advisers who know a lot about addiction – but this was a reactive approach. We wanted to work more on prevention and we could see that there was a need to do something more targeted and to reach out to customers at an earlier stage.

EGR Compliance: How does the Game Scanner tackle this issue of prevention?

ECL: We realised we had a lot of data about customer behaviour and that we did not have the necessary knowledge about addictive behaviour to use that data in a smart way. We found out that Aarhus University had expert knowledge on this. We wanted to develop a pilot model that would help us analyse customer data in an intelligent way and make it possible for us to be more targeted. As I mentioned, at this point we already had advisors on our helpline speaking to customers who had lost large amounts of money at a time or had difficulties and wanted to talk about it. But we focused a lot on loss and we knew from psychologists that loss was just one indicator of gambling addiction.

EGR Compliance: So what was the involvement of the Aarhus University?

Kim Mouridsen (KM): I am a brain researcher and I work with psychologists to do controlled experiments with pathological gamblers. We know from studies what to look for in terms of spotting the early signs of addictive behaviour. Our problem as researchers is we end up publishing papers in scientific journals which don’t usually reach the customers who would benefit from our research results. So what’s interesting for me is to disseminate that knowledge into the industry itself and I think we’ve been very successful at doing that with this project.

EGR Compliance: Do you work with other industries which experience problems with addiction?

KM: We are looking at addictions, but also other things too as pathological gambling is often something that arises in people with other diseases, like depression and anxiety. So we want to know how all these things interact and there are a lot of opportunities to apply this to other addictions like shopping, social media and alcohol.

Danske Spil Game Scanner

EGR Compliance: How important is it that customers are contacted via telephone and get to speak to an actual person?

ECL: It’s extremely important. Having people trained in these skills is necessary because even though the Game Scanner is highly advanced and reliable, you need some human eyes looking at that data. The advisors have different manuals, questions and advice they give depending on who that individual customer is on the other side of the telephone line. It’s also important to have a person-to-person dialogue rather than just sending out an email to customers.

EGR Compliance: What has the impact of this been so far?

ECL: First of all, this is new and still a learning experience for Danske Spil. However, the proactive calls to customers has been well received by the public so far because the calls they make are based on solid data. We were slightly hesitant initially that people may hang up the phone and that we wouldn’t catch them at the right time, but the response has been good and we’ve had some very meaningful conversations with customers. Our advisers also have the option of referring customers for treatment if they see that as being a need. By doing this at such an early stage, we are planting the seeds in peoples’ minds that this is something they might want to consider if they continue to gamble online.

EGR Compliance: In what areas do you think Game Scanner needs to improve?

KM: We’ve been surprised by the performance of the model but what I think we can do is improve the knowledge base that is behind the Game Scanner, and that is one direction we are working on now. We are putting together an international panel of experts which means, in the new versions, decisions are made not just based on the work of a couple of experts but by an international consensus on what signs we should be looking for when we analyse this kind of data. The research on this is updating all the time, so getting the latest research and clinical experience on this is very important.

EGR Compliance: What trends have you seen with regards to problem gambling since the Danish market was liberalised back in 2012?

KM: We have seen a rise in the prevalence of pathological gambling. Whether it’s due to increased advertising or other reasons, I think it’s fair to say that the increase in the availability of gambling on various platforms is a concern. But it’s also important to find the right tools to address the ways that people become addicted and base those decisions on their behaviour rather than on the amount of marketing. A corporate vendor should be able to operate freely in the market.

ECL: The public perception is not always based on accurate data and is probably influenced by the international companies coming in and being more aggressive with their marketing. There was a report commissioned by the Danish authorities a couple of years ago that showed that the number of people at risk of developing a gambling addiction in Denmark was neither up nor down since 2005. There had been a slight rise in the number of people with more severe gambling addictions and a slight increase among young people, but the prevalence of gambling addiction in Denmark is stable at around 0.4% of the population.

EGR Compliance: Do you see much room for collaboration with the wider industry or the Danish government?

KM: I hope that in due course we can extend that collaboration and approach government or high-level institutions, as well as individual vendors. I would really like to put this on the agenda politically and put something like this in place more centrally because that would mean customers can’t move from one vendor to another. Danske Spil has also said it has no intention of running this as a monopoly either.

Addiction | Big data | Danske Spil | Game Scanner | Machine learning | Responsible gambling | Social responsibility | Technology