Bookmakers are starting to use artificial intelligence to target gamblers, but with a change of government on the cards in the UK, we ask: Are they pushing their luck?
Everyone reading this article will have heard of artificial intelligence (AI). Combined with machine learning, AI is going to change society. If some estimates are to be believed, 800 million jobs worldwide will have gone by 2030 as AI and robotics cut a swathe through manufacturing and middle management.
What will all those people do with their newly acquired spare time? Quite possibly, spend it gambling – as bookmakers use artificial intelligence to attract and keep gamblers.
When anyone signs up to any site on the Internet they have to check the box to accept the terms and conditions. Virtually no one reads the T&Cs. “I want to use the site, the only way to do that is to accept the T&Cs. No choice…”
But checking that box allows the sports betting company to use your data and, according to industry insiders, that data is increasingly being used to keep gamblers hooked.
“Once someone has logged into a gambling site,” said Brian, a digital marketer for the gambling industry quoted in the Guardian, “it can do whatever it wants with them. It’s like a science, it’s not just random advertising messages, the whole thing is personalized, and data-driven customer profiles are constructed from gamblers’ behavior.”
Personalization is the key
If that all sounds a bit “Big Brother”, consider your shopping experience on Amazon – a site that knows everything you have bought and browsed since you first logged in. Amazon’s algorithm serves up recommendations for things you are likely to buy based on your previous browsing history.
Gambling sites – according to industry insiders – have their own, similar algorithms, allowing the sports betting companies to accurately target their users. “The industry is using AI to profile customers and predict their behavior in frightening new ways,” commented Asif, another digital marketer also quoted in the Guardian article. “Every click is scrutinized, not to enhance the customer experience, but to optimize profit.”
It looks like personalized shopping will be quickly followed by personalized gambling…
Technology outpacing legislation
Clearly, encouraging people to gamble is not going to sit well with gambling industry regulators – we wrote recently about Sky Bet being fined for failing to protect vulnerable customers – and specific targeting of them is going to be even less well received.
The problem for the regulators is that the technology is moving more quickly than the legislation – whether it’s simply putting gamblers’ data on a USB and taking or selling it to another company or purchasing lists from data warehouses.
The coming GDPR legislation will supposedly protect users against that, but we come back to the age-old problem of people wanting to gamble and therefore allowing their data to be used – and the simple reality that many data warehouses will operate outside the jurisdiction of GDPR.
We know where you are…
Technology will also be used to geo-locate gamblers so that when they arrive in a sports stadium they can be prompted to bet on the game they are about to watch. Well, I’ve frequently tried to have a bet on the game I’m watching – but my iPhone 7 simply cannot get a connection in a crowd of 30,000.
Presumably the bookmakers – assisted by technology – will solve that problem. But they may have a more serious one to contend with. How long will the legislators accept that sort of geographical targeting? As we have already commented, bookmakers are facing stiff penalties for failing to take the necessary action on problem gamblers. If it is found that they have been actively prompting people to bet, you do wonder what the penalties will be. With alcohol and cigarette advertising banned, the sports betting companies could be treading on very thin ice.
Enter the politicians
One potential problem for bookmakers in the UK is the possibility of a Labour government. With government ministers falling on an almost daily basis and the Prime Minister next in the firing line, the prospect of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn cannot be ruled out – it’s 6/1 against a General Election this year and only 9/4 against one in 2019, with the Conservatives and Labour evens joint favorites to win the most seats.
With the Labour councils in Brighton and London having banned the ride-hailing app Uber on the grounds of data breaches, you can only imagine what action a Labour government would take against bookmakers they suspected of using artificial intelligence to encourage gambling.
“The [gambling] industry is geared to get people addicted to something that will cause immense harm. Not just to society, but to individuals and their families. They are parasitical leeches and I make no apology for saying that.”
That statement is from Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who added: “I never cease to be amazed at how low the gambling industry is prepared to go to exploit those who have shown an interest in gambling.”
The industry would argue that the statements are nonsense. As a frequent user of betting sites, I have never felt targeted or exploited. But Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East, a very safe seat. She is also a shadow Home Office minister. Should Labour form the next government, the views of people like her would go a very long way towards shaping future UK gambling legislation.