Seth Palansky Q&A on New Group’s Responsible Gaming Efforts
Among the advantages of a legal online gaming industry is that it can be required to hew to the standards of “responsible gaming.” A new organization, Conscious Gaming, has been created by GeoComply, a longtime gaming-industry technology company, to assist gaming operators in advancing the cause of responsible gaming.
Seth Palansky, who previously worked at the World Series of Poker and the NFL Network, is vice president for corporate social responsibility & communications at Conscious Gaming. The interview has been edited for flow and clarity.
Gambling.com (GDC): Conscious Gaming is a new player on a rapidly expanding online gaming landscape with a special role. Explain the company’s mission and its affiliation with GeoComply.
Seth Palansky: Conscious Gaming’s mission is to leverage advanced technology to empower corporate social responsibility — and our first area of focus is the gaming industry by launching the technology that can assist in responsible gaming. That’s what we’re after at the moment and it really stems from the folks at GeoComply, the founders Anna Sainsbury and David Briggs, who have been in the industry as long as anyone in the U.S. David has plenty of experience and Anna as well, in the European market before that.
GeoComply is the widely used technology in the gaming industry for geo-location and fraud protection and now identification verification, and all the things behind the scenes that people may not see but allows for this regulated gaming activity that’s now taking place all over the U.S.
They set up Conscious Gaming as a non-profit independent entity, so we don’t report to GeoComply. They donated the technology and they’ve given us a nice donation to fund our operations, but we’re not otherwise aligned with their company other than the shared ethos in that we have to look out for all the stakeholders in the industry. We sit in a unique position because over the last decade as David and Anna have brought GeoComply technology to the industry, they have gotten to know all the regulators, all the suppliers, all of the operators.
GDC: Your first initiative is something called PlayPause. What is that and how does it work?
SP: Everyone who knows gaming knows that responsible gaming takes a very layered approach. We are working on a self-exclusion tool, PlayPause. Now, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle of responsible gaming: time limits, betting limits, cooling off periods, there’s education and research, intervention, there’s the National Council on Problem Gambling. And all those pieces matter. We can’t solve everything at once. But where we see a big void and what we’re going to try to fill first is the issue brought about by the “silo” nature of the U.S. marketplace for online gaming.
By that I mean the industry is state-driven and there are no national rules that everyone is following. Each state comes up with its own laws and regulations to guide this activity and it become a patchwork. That may be fine for some purposes but for something like responsible gaming, it doesn’t necessarily provide all the safeguards a consumer should have.
PlayPause is about collecting every jurisdiction’s self-exclusion data base and placing it into a national repository and sharing it among all the appropriate stakeholders so everyone is aware who these self-excluded individuals are. For instance, we know there are people living New York playing online in New Jersey. PlayPause is trying to break down the barriers of state lines through information-sharing among all states and stakeholders. … So, for example, if someone who has self-excluded back at home travels to Las Vegas, they can keep that self-exclusion standing on their trip and not fall back into their addiction.
GDC: The notion of information sharing may make some people nervous. What about that?
SP: An issue we must deal with is data privacy. People who are struggling with addictions don’t want everyone to know, they don’t want their information out there. But what they do want is to not be contacted with promotional material and not have gaming thrown in their face if they want to step away from it. To solve that, we’re going to get these databases via an encrypted token. In essence we’re creating a unique number for everyone that isn’t traceable back to that individual, but it still communicates the wishes of that person to all the stakeholders.
But each state is different. Their laws are different. Their rules for self-exclusion are different, such as the periods of time and methods for self-exclusion. It is a challenge for us, but technology is the great equalizer.
GDC: It sounds like you’ll need a lot of cooperation. How is that going?
SP: We’re making contact with not just regulators but also sports leagues. Pennsylvania is the first state to adopt PlayPause and we went live with it there Dec. 23. What happens is that a person can sign up for self-exclusion in Pennsylvania and the state stays in control of that data but they send us a de-identified token that we turn into a unique identifier and then share it with whoever is also a member of the PlayPause repository.
But for this to work, we need a bunch of states and a bunch of operators. It has to connect everywhere. So, we have a goal of getting as many regulators and as many operators on board as possible by September, meaning the next NFL season. This is an important component. When you think about a self-exclusion list, that’s a group of people who want to be prevented from placing bets. But remember, regulators themselves have rules prohibiting their employees from placing bets on this thing that they’re overseeing. Gaming operators have certain rules against their employees from placing bets. Sports leagues have employees and coaches and players and game officials that they don’t want placing bets. So, our tools work for that sort of person and those types of groups very well. People in this category are what we would refer to as impermissible bettors.
GDC: What do you anticipate the reception will be for PlayPause and the larger push or responsible gaming?
SP: The industry wants this done. They only want people gaming who are participating for entertainment purposes. They want the type of customer who wants to enjoy a sports event by having a little wager on it that they can afford. That’s how gaming should work and that’s how the operators want it to work. It doesn’t behoove them to have people who are addicted on their sites. So, everyone shares the same goal and we have had 100% positive reception from everyone. The stumbling block is that it does involve technology that has to be implemented on their end. But no one has turned us down. Everyone has been supportive. And we should have some new announcements in the first quarter — BetMGM online sportsbook and GVC have signed up.
And this is an important thing that separates the legal, regulated market from the black market. You won’t see these protections for the customer in the unregulated market.
GDC: So how do you see Conscious Gaming evolving?
SP: In the near-term, it’s about creating a baseline national repository information tool, and as we look further out as you go from zero percent adoption to 70-80% adoption, we’ll layer on other tools that anyone in the gaming industry may need. For instance, let’s say you have a group of people who are problematic, maybe they repeatedly violate an operator’s terms of service — that’s something the operator would like to know.
Basically, it comes down to more information-sharing and layering on other tools. For us, that may mean expanding to land-based gaming. Or it may mean adding tools, such as a blocking software, or other better ways to go after the unregulated market. To that end, we’re going to do an ad campaign educating bettors so they better understand the differences between a regulated and unregulated operator.
Our goal at Conscious Gaming is that everything in online gaming is regulated. Because if it’s regulated, it can be monitored and you can help people. But if it’s not regulated, you can’t help people. And there’s no recourse for the customer because those unregulated operators are outside the jurisdiction of the law.
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