Recent media coverage has focused on pre-commitment for gaming machines. This article will explain what ‘pre-commitment’ means and provide a brief description of its operation and some of its issues.
Purpose of Pre-commitment
Pre-commitment is a restriction on the gaming machine spending to stop players from spending more than they intended. This is done by setting a maximum loss limit before play begins.
It can be difficult for some people to quit gaming once they have started. Therefore, it would be a good idea to limit the amount they are willing to lose. They would be required to stop gambling once they have reached the nominated limit or receive a warning.
The Productivity Commission has recommended that a pre-commitment system be established in its latest report. Victoria already has pre-commitment.
What would be the process of pre-commitment?
The player must apply for a card similar to a loyalty card before they can play a gaming machine. This card would contain their identifying information as well as the player’s maximum daily/weekly spending limit. One card would be permitted per player, and that card would be required to play any State-owned machine.
Before the player can begin to play, the player will need to insert the card into the reader. The machine would then identify the player. The machine would identify the player and record their spending. The machine would then stop once the player has reached the predetermined spending limit. The player could not use the same card to play any machine in the State. The spending limit will be reset the next day or week and the player can then gamble again. Another version of pre-commitment warns the player when their limit is reached but allows them to choose to continue gambling beyond that limit.
A player will also be able to access their transaction history, which will help them understand the true cost of their gambling.
To prevent players from using other people’s cards if their own have reached the limit, the player card must be linked to an identification system.
The Productivity Commission recommended that players have the option to set their own spending limits and allow them to gamble unlimited. Periodic checks would be sent to those who choose unlimited gambling.
Occasional gamblers could spend small amounts on gambling machines without having to register for the pre-commitment program.
Pre-commitment Limit Setting as a Responsible Gambling Instrument
Pre-commitment limits setting is one of the most popular social responsibility tools. These tools allow players to set a time limit and/or amount they will spend on gambling within a given time frame (typically per day or per calendar month). Some scholars and professionals in the gambling industry view limit setting as a way to make informed choices and promote responsible gambling (Griffiths & Wood 2008). Responsible gambling operators have introduced a variety of spending limits. A player can limit their spending by limiting play, deposit, and loss limits (Wood & Griffiths 2010,). Here are some more details:
- Play limit – This is the maximum amount of time or money a gambler can spend at one time.
- The maximum amount a gambler can deposit to their account is
- Bet limit – This is the maximum amount a gambler can wager on one game (or multiple games)
- Loss limit – This is the maximum amount that a gambler can lose during a session.
Wood and Griffiths (2010) also pointed out that not all limit setting procedures are voluntary. This means that gamblers are free to choose whether or not to use the limit setting tools available. However, some are mandatory. Gamblers must set limits in order to be able to access certain gambling services providers’ games. Some operators allow players to select different limits for different games. For example, a gambler may wish to have strict limits when playing online slots but not for playing lottery games. Pre-commitment tools can be viewed positively by gamblers (Griffiths and al. 2009), but it was also noted that pre-commitment tools are generally viewed as positive by gamblers (Griffiths et al. More recently, Walker et al. Walker et al. (2015) suggested the use of win limitations that limit the amount of money that a gambler can win. This feature was tested with several players and a simulated machine. They found that self-imposed win limits resulted in higher player performance and lower casino profits.
Pre-commitment systems: full vs. partial
Pre-commitment systems can be designed in a variety of ways, but there are several key differences amongst them. These are whether the system is full (also referred to as “mandatory,”5 complete, or universal), which means that all EGM users must utilise a pre-commitment system and establish restrictions; or whether the system is not full (also referred to as “mandatory,”5 complete, or universal).
partial (also known as “voluntary” or “incomplete”), meaning gamblers can choose whether or not to use the pre-commitment mechanism; or
binding limits, which means that when a limit is reached, use is halted for the remainder of the time the limit is in effect (e.g., a day or month).
Various pre-commitment systems have undergone countless trials and implementations around the world. Pre-commitment features have been shown to help gamblers minimise their spending, and it is considered that over time, these systems may also avoid the escalation of problematic gambling. Additional features that support the functionality of these systems are those that provide significant account summary information, are clear and straightforward to use, and reduce client discomfort.
For further information, see the section “Recent experiences with pre-commitment” below, which includes examples of recent pre-commitment systems from Australia and throughout the world, as well as the lessons learned from their successes and failures.
Pre-commitment choices at their best
Different models of pre-commitment systems have been devised and implemented. Venue-based systems have been used, and they have been linked between organisations or across a large geographic area, such as a province or country. Because partial systems are seen as only for problem gamblers, their ability to meet harm reduction and consumer protection aims has been harmed, posing a barrier to wider implementation. Additionally, in partial systems, gamblers can override specified limits by wagering without a card or continuing beyond a pre-determined limit. The design of these systems will not provide adequate support for at-risk or problem gamblers, given that one feature of gambling issues is a loss of spending control.
As a result, a complete system with binding restrictions is most likely to avoid and reduce harm. Evidence also suggests that the system’s extent (i.e., jurisdiction-wide, not simply venue-based) will determine its success in reducing and preventing harm (Williams et al., 2012). Furthermore, the supply of a pre-commitment system should not be linked with the distribution of a loyalty card, as this sends consumers inconsistent messages about spending.
To preserve the integrity of account summary data, all functions in a pre-commitment system rely on the registration of a single user to a single account. The features will not be able to provide correct information if all gaming is not captured. A full, universal system, in which all EGM use by an individual is tracked by gaming that is registered to the individual, is likely to be the most effective in ensuring:
- Gamblers are not allowed to exceed their set restrictions;
- Information on the usage of EGMs is provided to gamblers; and
- EGM is not used outside of the network, which means that the system should be able to cover a large area, such as a whole country or state.
The best data suggests that well-designed, binding complete systems are the most effective in encouraging gamblers to stick to their limitations. Because it is impossible to foresee who in a population may acquire a gambling addiction, offering a universal support system is the most likely solution (Rose, Khaw, & Marmot, 2008). A full pre-commitment design is in line with a public health approach that recognises that population-wide, universal measures are the most effective in decreasing gambling damage.
What would the effectiveness of pre-commitment?
It is hard to predict how a pre-commitment program will impact gambling spending. Some limited benefits have been shown in trials conducted in Queensland, South Australia, and elsewhere.
Gaming machine players are not motivated to commit.
Australians dislike being told what they should do. Many gamers may not like being required to take part in mandatory pre-commitment programs. Low participation in voluntary pre-commitment trials was seen in South Australia and Queensland, which indicates a lackluster enthusiasm for precommitment. Problem gamblers are most likely to opt-out of precommitment.
Pre-commitment scheme costs
Pre-commitment programs can be costly to implement and maintain. The gaming industry is worried that pre-commitment could discourage players from using their machines.
Gamers who gamble on gaming machines will be worried about how government agencies and other parties might use their personal information without their consent.