Protection of Minors in the iGaming Industry: Joint Mission of Major Operators and National Legislators [Status Report]

Gambling is a unique and intense paradigm of life. It is all about balance; about keeping luck and skills, chances and choices, wins and losses even-keeled. We strive to master the art of this equilibrium in every walk of life: careers, relationships, friendships, leisure, personal endeavors.

iGaming, a digital realm of brick and mortar casinos, is no different. Weighing infinite software variables and volatile outcomes of human unpredictability with shifting dynamics, on occasion even in discord, the industry is in unflinching agreement about the single most revered social constant and a line not to be neglected, stretched, bent, or crossed — the protection of minors.

It’s one thing for a mature person to willingly indulge in whatever type of gambling they want, fully aware or not of possible consequences; it’s a question of personal choice and means to face what lies ahead.

It is a completely different thing for a teenager to be encouraged and misled with no awareness, knowledge, or resources to face the aftermath. As they enter the transitional age and crucial segment for maturity and growth, minors have no place in this industry whatsoever, free-to-play games included. Period.

Balance of Proclivity and Responsibility

Now, online gambling is today legalized and well-regulated in the majority of the most progressive countries in the world, from the European Union to Australia, from Canada to South Africa, from the increasing number of states in America to the United Kingdom, from New Zealand to Japan.

The last year saw fervent legislation activity with a number of national regulations put into effect; Sweden and Switzerland are the latest additions.

Official analytical reports may help to understand the players’ appetites.

According to H2 Gambling Capital, the gambling industry’s most trusted intelligence source, the financial volume of the worldwide iGaming in 2018 was $50.89 billion, which amounts for 11.28% of total global gambling estimated to $450.89 billion (all in: casino games, sports betting, lotteries, bingo in land-based and online casinos).

The increasing iGaming penetration is the reflection of human omnipresent demand to gamble and societies’ everlasting need to regulate its supply.

The volume also mirrors our general exposure to incalculable stimuli of an integrated world of connected devices we live in. While every technological revolution provides for matchless advances, it also enables industries to expand reach impacting markets and target groups more efficiently. The digital revolution additionally delivered potentials to expose vulnerable audiences to malign engagements.

Keeping this highly complex equation balanced is what meaningful and responsible iGaming regulations are all about.

It is a no small feat. Considering perpetual human innovation and tendency to exploit soft spots looking only for profits (on occasion even with impunity), it is actually pretty difficult to efficiently keep an eye on everything.

Double-Enveloped, Multilayered Approach

To a certain degree, we are also responsible: we like to take shortcuts to riches and stardom practically anytime, even when we grow-up. If we are frank and look back in our teenage years, we’d notice we were even more prone to such irresponsible excursions back then.

Teens of the 21st century explore every opportunity too, only they have infinitely more resources at their disposal.

Consequentially…

The major operators and vendors in the iGaming industry, fully aware of all elements of the online gambling ecosystem, are in unison with regulators of the most developed countries in the world.

To instill and maintain the legal barrier protecting minors from being abused is the essential, non-negotiable fundament.

To cross the line, regardless of circumstances or motives, is a major no-no. Sooner rather than later, even if it takes a while, such activity will result in severe repercussions. Rightfully so.

Of course…

The successful solution never addresses the consequence but the cause of the problem. Therefore, the protection of minors is approached by the joined two-pronged effort of national legislators and the business end of the iGaming industry.

As a prerequisite for any meaningful measure to succeed, though, the online gambling needs to be legalized and well-regulated.  Countries with iGaming ban face-off even more difficult problem: players’ are illegally visiting foreign jurisdictions while the consequences overspill locally. (This is yet another advantage of legalization, prudently recognized by countries walking the responsible endorsement path.)

First Prong: Legislation and Regulators

Myriad of regulations enacted in the last couple of years particularly addresses protection of minors through a number of safeguarding measures.

Registration methods have to be compliant with KYC (Know Your Customers) standard requiring visitors to be pre-checked, age-verified, vetted, and accurately identified; a thorough authentications methods add an extra level of security.

In turn, casinos and affiliates are legally authorized and obliged to observe players’ behavior and gambling habits, to monitor patrons’ protection from excessive gambling, and to proactively approach online gamblers when potentially incidental situations occur.

Self-exclusion options and stop-loss limits are another often mandatory instrument at prudent players’ disposal, enabling them to stay away from games through highly transparent feature which also empowers casinos’ stuff to identify those patrons and enforce their will upon them.

However…

The most important in the protection of minors are advertising limitations.

No longer can ads appear on websites or computer games popular with children or teenagers; casinos and affiliates are to avoid positioning gambling adverts even on the parts of websites popular with these target groups.

Operators and bookmakers are required to employ targeting tools ensuring online gambling promotions are not to be seen by minors. In addition, they are to stop using under-25 celebrities and social media influencers popular with children in their promotions: favorite sports stars can no longer be featured in gambling ads unless they are 25 years or older.

The presence of in-game gambling ads and products are of particular interest of regulators.

Computer games are an indispensable form of fun to children and teenagers. Whilst gaming addiction is the issue on its own, to have them get intertwined with online gambling is something legislators keep a close eye at.

The latest development in this area is loot boxes.

Initially envisioned as a helpful virtual item for role-playing games (remember those ammo and health boxes supplies and keys in Gears of War?), in time, they grew into random offerings of items to be redeemed either as customization or monetization.

Seen by providers as yet another form to increase players’ interests offering new content features through a system of rewards — reflecting positively to developers’ revenues, too — they quickly spread into purpose-made, stand-alone loot boxes games.

Compounded by utilization of Bitcoins and often deployed by operators which don’t enforce KYC standards, loot boxes debate is ongoing: proponents compare them to Kinder Eggs, opponents argue it takes advantage of younger audiences and players.

Not leaving too much to the chance, the loot box bill entered the United States Senate in the spring of 2019, under the name of Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act. Championed by junior Senator Joshua Hawley (R-MO), the bill aims to ban loot boxes and prohibit usage of microtransactions in games for children to anyone under the age of 18.

All in all, the overall activities of legislative bodies across the world can be seen as a perpetual effort to keep new technology innovations and tendencies to bend rules at bay, away from minors. Sometimes it may take them a while to fully grasp the development, other times they are way too preemptive.

But, when employed in a balanced manner of knowledgeable understanding and progressive measures, they “grind exceedingly fine,” as the saying goes.

Second Prong: Industry Operators

Short of remaining steadfastly in line with national regulations, the online casinos, game developers, and iGaming affiliates are, in effect, where the rubber meets the road. In doing so, they are in a peculiar position, for sure.

They already have the professional and social obligation to handle problem gamblers and issues with compulsive gambling. Since visiting a land-based or online casino is a question of personal choice, just as is the level of funds committed, for every measure they employ — be it players’ ban from premises or enforcing limits to their plays — casinos lose some of their revenues.

Before we roll our eyes on this, followed by usual ‘the house always win’ notion (not entirely true, by the way), let’s try to be honest — would we ban good spender from our restaurant just because he overeats? Probably not, for the intake is the sole responsibility of our guest.

Yet again, prominent casinos and accountable affiliates lead the way in promoting responsible gambling and protection of minors.

They offer general information on games’ odds of winning and losing to websites’ visitors. They provide training for their employees in order to deal with underage gamblers and other issues. They have remodeled their promotional claims to exclude any guarantee of social, financial, or personal success. They approach their advertising moderately and realistically.

More importantly, leading worldwide online gambling sites and affiliate networks are full-bore devoted to educating players and parents on all aspects of gambling. Not only in terms of universal aspects of games and psychology of gambling, but also by instructing parents on all available options at their disposal.

Paying attention to what children are consuming on their computers and/or mobile devices, keeping sign-in credentials away from their grasp, limiting the length time kids spend online, utilizing filtering software to block minors from accessing certain websites — these are just a few of topics addressed on regular basis.

But most importantly, the best super-affiliates and selected casinos provide a society with a meaningful approach to building healthy and measured habits in gambling.

The Hardest Last Longest

No one else in the gambling industry possesses the rare and peculiar mix of deep understanding of gambling and players’ behavior except for professionals on the inside.

Surely, as in any business, there are rotten apples in that basket, perhaps even more than a few. But, the most progressive ones know the ultimate value of balance and understand their social responsibility to instruct others, which balance it all.

The simple truth is…

Gambling is an inevitable companion of humanity since the dawn of the age.

As such, it has a rather strict set of rules of engagement. Only those with prudent, educated, responsible, and informed approach to games, betting in only what they can afford as they look to gain what they do not have, can hope to indulge in online casino and have fun, maybe even win, as they test the unpredictable chances luck may or may not shower them with. Nothing is guaranteed, even those things we earn. Every aberration of these guidelines may be devastating.

The others, thinking they know better, are people we read about in headlines. Their stories usually lead readers onto the journey of irresponsible gambling attitude which resulted in a self-destructive pattern of financial losses, lies, deceit, depression, even disintegration of families, felonies, castigation, or even worse, before the very, very long way back begun.

Astute parents, mindful individuals, successful gamblers, progressive iGaming affiliates, and responsible online casinos recognize the similarities between gambling and life all too well; they realize how intense, even extreme, this paradigm can be.

They also know the only way to balance them properly is to embrace the essence as early as possible, to gain the single most important knowledge essential to mastering the equilibrium of infinite variables and volatile outcomes of both gambling and our lives: to keep us on even keel is to master ourselves.

By keeping minors protected from online gambling is to provide them with the time necessary to realize and embrace the balance. It is about taking the time to teach them how to own themselves always, even if in later stages of their lives they decide to visit the casino.

We may not succeed entirely, but if nothing else, they will know a secret some of us learned in the hardest possible way — to know how to gamble properly is to live prudently and to live responsibly is to know how to gamble successfully.

Which just might be the best possible protection they can ever have.

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Euro Weekly News Media