Pennsylvania’s gaming regulations require online gambling sites to provide tools for customers to control their time or spending so as not to get carried away, but is there indication those are being used? And if more and more people are doing so, is that a good sign?
Yes and yes, says Elizabeth Lanza, director of compulsive and problem gambling programs for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. In fact, the use of such voluntary limits while gambling online has nearly doubled in the past year.
Lanza last week told a statewide online conference of the nonprofit Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania that some 85,000 registered accounts in the state in February made use of at least one option among limiting their money deposit, spending, or time when using their phone or computer for iGaming.
“These are self-imposed limits. … We look at these as tools for everyone” instead of just people who know they have gambling addiction issues, she said. “In a perfect world, everybody would set all their limits just to keep their behavior at a responsible level.”
A year ago, Lanza told Penn Bets that the number of accounts making use of one of the responsible gambling tools at that time was 43,226. In a new interview, she said the number was 84,288 at the end of February, and she explained the number further.
Number of accounts known, but not percentage
For one, there’s a lot of overlap there. It’s not 84,288 different individuals acknowledging it’s good for them to manage their risk levels. If they use tools on three different sites — such as FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM PA — they are counted three times. If they use a tool on Caesars’ iCasino and then again on its WSOP poker site, they are counted twice.
Also, the state gaming board does not track the total number of accounts registered in the state with its many operators, so there’s no indication what percentage of gamblers are making use of the tools. But Lanza is glad the number is growing, which she believes may be primarily due to better public awareness of the options available. There are more iGaming sites available than there were a year ago, but most of that expansion of operators took place even earlier. And all of the operators are required to make new customers aware of the responsible gambling tools and make them easily accessible.
“I would imagine people are just becoming more informed — they know the limits are available, and they’re utilizing them,” Lanza said. “On the prevention side, people are taking matters into their own hands and wanting to keep their behavior at a responsible level.”
The gaming board also maintains a self-exclusion list for iGaming, which is designed to block players from signing up for or utilizing any online gambling account. That number stood at 1,914 last month, which Lanza said is more reflective of people who know they have an uncontrollable problem, whereas the far higher number utilizing responsible gambling tools are those who may feel they are at risk if they’re not careful — but who want to be able to enjoy playing up to a point.
“It’s like, if I left my job and I started doing iGaming, I maybe don’t have a problem then, but I want to go in and use tools to set limits,” she explained. “It’s there and I might as well use it — there’s no downside. You can always go in and remove them if you decide the deposit limit is too little or too much. They can be changed or updated.”
Deposit limits represent the most common tool
Of the various options among online responsible gaming tools, deposit limits are by far the most common used. Lanza said the 84,288 tools in place at end of February break down as follows, with some accounts utilizing multiple options:
- 59,611 accounts had voluntary deposit limits set by the individuals, such as being able to place a maximum of $50 a week or $100 a month into the account.
- 18,689 made use of a self-suspension cool-down period, temporarily preventing themselves from playing.
- 7,311 had a limit on how much they could spend on gambling during a chosen time span.
- 7,101 set a limit on the size of any of their wagers.
- 5,290 capped the amount of time they could spend on a site.
- 145 poker players limited the amount they could buy in for at the virtual tables.
Lanza said she is not permitted to break down which operators have the most customers using the tools, but she credited some with doing more than they are required to assist those who want help. Among them, BetMGM, The Stars Group, and Penn National Gaming and its Barstool site provide ways to limit actual “losses” in addition to deposits, and they have ways to make sure that if a customer acts to withdraw funds he or she can’t reverse the decision.
Most other states with online sports betting or iCasinos also set requirements for operators to provide responsible gambling tools, but Lanza said regulators haven’t compared numbers on usage in the various states.
One area in which Pennsylvania remains ahead of other states is opting into the PlayPause program of the nonprofit Conscious Gaming organization, which is trying to create a national system in which a gambler who self-excludes from online gambling in one state could opt to automatically be excluded in other states as well. Conscious Gaming is still working to attract additional states to the program, Lanza said.