UK Betting Shops Install AI "Cool Off" System

Nov 18

Betting firms in the UK are installing artificial intelligence (AI) on every gambling machine in betting shops across the UK. The AI software is designed to detect addictive behaviour in players and give the identified gamblers a break from playing.

Known as the Anonymous Player Awareness System (APAS), the software tracks a player’s behaviour every second to look for evidence of erratic playing, chasing losses, rapid succession of games being played, or too much time spent on the machine. If the algorithm finds the player taking any of these risks, the player will be locked out of the machine for a minimum of 30 seconds as a “cool down” period. While the cool down period is in place, managers are alerted and warnings about safe gambling are displayed on the machine’s screen.

Launched this month by the newly-formed Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the technology is an active attempt to head off growing concerns about the increasing number of gambling addicts, including thousands of children. It is also meant to head off the prospect of much tougher gambling legislation. The BGC is an industry group that represents 90% of the UK betting and gaming market.

The technology is initially being introduced on all gaming machines in the UK’s betting shops, including Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, and William Hill. It is seen by some people as a potential model for gaming or gambling machines across the industry. A Betfred spokesman has said, “It was rolled out to all our machines in our 1,600 shops in early November.” A spokesman for Ladbrokes also announced: “These alerts are now operational on machines in all 3,200 Ladbrokes and Coral shops.”

Other than the AI software, betting firms are also introducing a separate mandatory automatic alert that is set off every time a player spends 20 minutes straight on a single machine. This will force the player to take a shorter, 20-second cooling off period. Dr. Alan Smith, a campaigner on gambling, lauded the technology as a “first step”, but he also expressed concerns that the 20- to 30-second breaks were too short. He has called for an independent academic review of the technology’s effectiveness.

“It is strange that the industry chiefs are fighting any further regulation for their remote operations while at the same time trumpeting their efforts on the high street,” Dr. Smith said. “What we have seen so far, however, continues to put the onus of responsibility on the consumer and not on the industry who are then free to create and then promote addictive gambling products.”

For their part, BGC Interim Chief Executive Wes Himes said, “I see this as an opportunity to champion the highest standards and share best practice on safe betting and gaming and we hope these measures are a sign of intent. I’m convinced that this approach can help restore public trust and I look forward to working on further betting and gaming initiatives across the industry. Even if the responsibility were put solely on the punter, a subsequent impact will certainly be felt in the lives of over-stretched, and often poorly-paid, staff in bookies.”