Vice Squad
Monday, February 09, 2004
Technology to Bolster Gamblers' Self-Control?

A theme of Vice Squad is that the criminal law should not be the main tool used to regulate vice behavior among adults; consumption of vice in and of itself should not be punished, though potentially strict regulations can be adopted to control vice consumption and to channel it into forms with minimal social costs. Regulations that can be helpful to those with self-control problems, while not imposing much of a burden upon rational vice consumers, are especially welcome. (I was delighted recently to see procrastinating Will Baude of Crescat Sententia endorse this paper ("Libertarian Paternalism Is Not An Oxymoron") by Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler, which presents an analysis that is consonant, I think, with this view.)

It is all the better if such self-control methods can be made available by private actors. In the case of gambling, many self-control devices, both public and private, have been adopted. For instance, credit cards might not be accepted for wagers, or states (or casinos) can maintain lists where problem gamblers voluntarily sign up to bar their entry. This column in Information Week suggests that technological advances are providing some more variations upon this theme. Here's a sample:

"Recent technological innovations include the ability for gamblers to establish gambling limits on themselves before going to the casino. It's always better to decide how much you can lose before you go. Recent software allows for purchase of credits before gambling and coincides with casino operators moving to a coinless payout system.

Just like credit-card fraud detection, a good system for detecting the problem gambler must be able to monitor the behavior in order to detect the problem. It must be able to limit a gambler's ability to overspend by placing dollar limits and determining how often a user can play within a certain time frame. Better yet, these decisions could be made before a customer is in the casino, while he or she is still thinking rationally. Recent technology allows implementation of these types of safeguards and controls to help people avoid gambling problems before they get serious. Just like many customer-interaction systems, newer gambling-safeguard systems incorporate interactive messaging, activity reports, and behavioral analysis to aid in controlling and, possibly, modifying gambling behavior."

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