It’s fair to say that opinion has been divided on the progress of social responsibility and age verification over the past year: the regulator argued that not enough was being done, the industry, particularly the land based coin-op businesses, said differently. One of the champions of the SR cause, Reflex Gaming MD Quentin Stott, sat down with Coinslot to discuss the issue, filtering the sound of substance from all the white noise.
“If you asked me three or four months ago about the Commission’s comments on social responsibility, I probably would have said there was a definite nervousness about what they were saying and how they perceive our sector. But sometimes, it’s crucial that you keep a focus,” noted Reflex Gaming MD Quentin Stott.
Wise words from one of the industry’s more salient figures. The summer stand-off between regulator and industry on social responsibility practices had certainly provided an uncomfortable backdrop; but, as far as Stott is concerned, it was a bump in the road rather than a major blockage.
“It was hugely disappointing especially given the incredible work that people around our sector have put into the Bacta SR committees. The speed with which we are moving forward as an industry is fundamental. But, the industry and the Commission are both working to the same outcome, an effective age verification and SR delivery, and so you can’t get too distracted by these soundings.”
Stott, sanguine as ever, should know; he’s been driving the SR vision through his gaming manufacturing and content delivery operation for many years now. And the results are pretty impressive.
“At Reflex, for example, we’ve been exploring and developing this for some time, but I know that all our colleagues are on the same page in terms of commitment to SR,” he explained. “The industry is really driving forward in this area and working hard to harness what is rapidly evolving technology and bringing it into their systems.”
Talking to Coinslot, it was clear that Stott was keen to de-politicise the issue; for him, it’s about effective SR rather than political posturing. “That old commentary isn’t representative, especially for the work that we’re doing here at Reflex. We are doing things that no-one else we know of is considering at the moment and that’s been our focus.”
Those ‘things’ are evident in Reflex’s Slingshot system which, for want of a better analogy, is the original Terminator in what is likely to become a massive technological franchise.
“We decided to push the age recognition button some time ago, and that puts us way ahead of the curve on key SR possibilities whilst also providing a great tool for our operating customers to ensure minors cannot play machines. We have to be very conscious of how technological developments are going to work in everyday environments,” he explained. “It’s illegal for under-18s to play. Age verification at the door, where floor staff do the job at entry, works extremely well in the main. But in single sites, like pubs, well, they’re a different animal. It’s very difficult for bar staff to stop people getting to a machine if they walk through the front door and straight to a machine. And that was our starting point – making sure we can meet the demands of SR and relieve the pressures on operators.”
With technology racing through change at the speed of light, developments have certainly opened the way for the industry, as Stott says: “We’ve already seen the move to digital ID on phones, for example. What we’re aiming to do is to harness this and other technological innovations to gaming machines.”
For Reflex that is heading towards age recognition.
“I have no doubt the industry will be heading down this route. Cameras can estimate age through third-party verification specialists which are more accurate than human intervention. If a player doesn’t make the mark, then the machine will not allow play until extra evidence is supplied. That’s the journey we’re on, it’s going to take a bit of time, but we’re going to get there.”
And it’s a familiar route in all areas of society, although anyone who’s witnessed the failure rate of facial recognition machines at Customs in airports, for example, will certainly appreciate the obstacles that Reflex are up against. Which makes the Gambling Commission’s SR soundings somewhat out of touch, or just unrealistically – or unfairly – demanding. Which one is it?
“Ohh,” Stott sighed and paused. “You’re going back there are you? Listen, there is a debate to have on the Commission, we all know that. Accountability, its invasive tendencies on SR, player tracking, these are certainly discussions to be had. Not just for us but for many in our player base and people across society. We are probably more conscious of the intrusive impact of some of their suggestions than the Commission themselves. That’s a debate we need to have with government and the regulator, and let’s face it, it’s a national conversation that’s engaging everyone on social media.”
For Stott, this is an important point of reference for the work going on at Reflex currently.
“We need to continue driving forward on technology and delivering systems that ultimately makes the player feel safe, but not intruded, and brings the player entertainment whilst also providing tools to reduce harm. It’s as simple as that.”
And Reflex have certainly been doing that. Its Slingshot system is delivering data that hitherto the industry has simply never had. “We’re at the beginning of the journey: start-up messages on the machine for site staff, advising players that they must be Over18, prompts highlighting dwell time, play patterns etc. And if e-Wallets become commonplace, there’ll be access to additional data than can personalise messages for player protection even further.”
That is an area Stott believes the government and the GC must be engaged in. “I think the industry’s role is to deliver entertainment, not pry into people’s lifestyle behaviours. I would argue that the GC’s vision of player tracking is naïve and dangerous; it pushes very close to personal intrusion. Player tracking is a far broader discussion and one as a manufacturer even I have reservations about.”
In the meantime, the data being compiled by the industry is working at the sharp end. For Slingshot, there is a marked shift in its support for operators on the floor. And this is welcome news indeed.
“It’s fair to say that whilst tests on age testing in pubs have been patchy, failure rates are still high. That’s a lot to do with the pressures of running these operations and the type of tests the pubs are being faced with, and that’s where we’re coming from. Systems and technology can go a long way to alleviate these pressures and, especially with SR, we know that systems will eventually end up directing SR programmes,” advised Stott.
“Everything to do with a publican’s SR responsibilities will be supported by our gaming systems. Our target list is to stop underage play, know our players behaviors and keep them informed and safe. Continue the technological enhancements, like facial recognition and utilise these innovations not just for SR, but equally importantly for us, to keep games fun and entertaining.”
And that for Stott is key. “We’re already delivering on the SR messaging, analysing data to enable player prompts and SR notices, break cycles in certain cases, set defaults – all of which gives publicans and single site operators the confidence that significant social responsibility support is being delivered in our system.”
It’s a journey that Stott has been on for some time and he’s clearly proud of the progress. “We’re striding ahead, and sometimes we’re perceived as being way behind,” Stott noted. “But we have to get over that. There’s still so much to go for and develop, but our customers, the pubs and single site operators, are really getting on board and that is a major boost. This is moving forward at a much faster rate than people give us credit for, but what’s most important is the pace with which it is moving forward.”
And it’s only just beginning.