Public Release: 

Online gambling to get safer through better prediction of addiction

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

A new 'early warning' system that automatically informs gamblers as soon as their behaviour shows signs of turning into an addiction is helping people engage in the pastime responsibly.

The system pinpoints whether a player's gambling patterns are exhibiting signs of risk and starting to match those of previous players who asked online gambling sites to block them, for a fixed period, to stop them becoming 'hooked' -- an option known as 'self-exclusion'.

City University London has worked with software analytics company BetBuddy to enhance the accuracy of the computer models underpinning the system according to the very latest understanding of the psychological pathways to gambling addiction.

The research was funded by the UK's innovation agency, Innovate UK, under their Data Exploration programme supported by contributions from the RCUK Digital Economy Theme, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

"All UK gambling providers are legally obliged to offer customers a self-exclusion option," says Dr Artur Garcez of City University London. "Our aim has been to help BetBuddy test and refine their system so that it gives providers an effective way of predicting at an earlier stage self-exclusion as well as other signals or events that indicate harm in gambling. This enables customers to use online gambling platforms more securely and responsibly."

Dr Garcez's team found that by harnessing a machine learning method known as 'random forests' and applying it to a real-world online gambling dataset, the system could achieve an impressive 87 per cent accuracy in predicting playing patterns which were likely to evolve in an unhealthy direction.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Chief Executive, said: "This project is an example of how artificial intelligence and machine learning methods can be used to address an important social problem. The RCUK Digital Economy Theme is a fine example of inter-disciplinary and partnership working for the benefit of society."

Armed with information on gambling patterns, providers can decide not to send players marketing material for a period or they can use the information to alert a player to a potential problem.

"Although systems of this kind are already in use, none are believed to have published peer-reviewed research that evidences the same levels of accuracy and reliability as the BetBuddy system," says Dr Garcez. "Early detection and prevention of problem gambling is not only in the interest of those who engage in online gambling -- it can also help deliver a more stable and growing market place for online gambling providers".

Dovetailing with these very promising results, a key aspect of City's work with BetBuddy has been to develop and harness a better understanding of the root causes of problem behaviour in online gambling. First presented in September 2015 at the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) conference held in Las Vegas, US, key work in this area has included an analysis of how to achieve a balanced approach that maintains high accuracy but avoids alarming gamblers unduly, and the development of a 'knowledge extraction' method capable of explaining results to gambling operators and gamblers themselves.

"City University London has enabled us to build more robust and accurate prediction models and apply new, creative algorithms to gambling data. By applying their expertise in knowledge extraction techniques to 'black box' prediction models, clinicians, regulators, and industry can better understand how these models can predict behaviour and better protect consumers at risk of harm" said Simo Dragicevic Chief Executive of BetBuddy. Online gambling is a global growth industry and this year in the EU alone revenues are expected to reach €13 billion. But the problems of addiction that it can bring are well known, contributing to the 593,000 problem gamblers that, according to NHS figures, are present in Britain today.

A research paper has been submitted for publication in a journal in 2016.

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For media enquiries contact:


The EPSRC Press Office
01793-444-404
pressoffice@epsrc.ac.uk

Rod Alexander at Innovate UK
07500-051-101
rodalexander@innovateuk.gov.uk

Interviews available:

Jonathan Mitchener, Lead Technologist, ICT - Innovate UK.
rodalexander@innovateuk.gov.uk
0-7500-051-101

Dr Artur Garcez, Department of Computer Science, City University London
020-7040-8344
a.garcez@city.ac.uk

Simo Dragicevic
CEO BetBuddy
simo@bet-buddy.com
44-0-7977-414127

Notes for Editors:

'Advancing Consumer Protection through Machine Learning: Reducing Harm in Gambling' was funded by Innovate UK, Dstl, EPSRC and ESRC BetBuddy is an award-winning UK start-up that has established itself as a leader in responsible gaming analytics; for more information visit bet-buddy.com. In 2014, BetBuddy successfully implemented its system to protect consumers in Ontario, Canada.

Machine learning is the branch of computer science focusing on the study and construction of algorithms that are capable of learning from data and making predictions based on it.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

About Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the UK's innovation agency. We work with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy -- delivering productivity, new jobs and exports and keeping the UK globally competitive in the race for future prosperity. For further information visit: http://www.gov.uk/innovateuk

About City University London

City University London is a global University committed to academic excellence, with a focus on business and the professions and an enviable central London location. It is in the top five per cent of universities in the world according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012/13 and in the top thirty universities in the UK according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables 2012. It is ranked in the top 10 in the UK for both graduate-level jobs (The Sunday Times University Guide 2013) and starting salaries (Which University?).

The University attracts over 17,000 students (35% at postgraduate level) from more than 150 countries and academic staff from over 50 countries. Its academic range is broadly-based with world leading strengths in business; law; health sciences; engineering; mathematical sciences; informatics; social sciences; and the arts including journalism and music. The University's history dates back to 1894, with the foundation of the Northampton Institute on what is now the main part of City's campus. In 1966, City was granted University status by Royal Charter and the Lord Mayor of London was invited to be Chancellor, a unique arrangement that continues today. Professor Paul Curran has been Vice-Chancellor of City University London since 2010.

Dstl

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) maximises the impact of science and technology (S&T) for the defence and security of the UK, supplying sensitive and specialist S&T services for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and wider government.

Dstl is a trading fund of the MOD, run along commercial lines. It is one of the principal government organisations dedicated to S&T in the defence and security field, with three main sites at Porton Down, near Salisbury, Portsdown West, near Portsmouth, and Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks.

Dstl works with a wide range of partners and suppliers in industry, in academia and overseas. Around 60% of MOD's Science and Technology Programme is delivered by these external partners and suppliers.

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