Can you limit problem gambling? Norway thinks so

Digital chips help regulate slots

By Nicholas Nehamas

One of our readers, Joya Misra, read our piece on slot machines in Massachusetts and Australia. She had a question: “Are there any countries that allow gambling but regulate it in the way “pre-commitment reform” would work?”

As it turns out, several countries have adopted policies that limit the amount of time and money people can spend on slots. In Canada, the province of Nova Scotia reconfigured its electronic gambling machines so that patrons couldn’t use them without a government-issued ID card. The “My Play” system allows gamblers to set limits on how much money they lose and how much time they spend betting. But while owning a card is mandatory, setting limits is optional. In other words, gambling addicts are free to continue betting as much and as often as they like. The measure is aimed more at “at-risk” gamblers, those who realize they might be developing a problem and want to rein it in.

Here’s a video report from the Australian Broadcast Corporation on Nova Scotia’s law.

A rare jackpot on a slot machine in Macau. Near misses, where the jackpot flashes on-screen before disappearing, are much more likely, says Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, a youth gambling expert from Canada. But he added that children and problem gamblers tend to think of these close calls as “near wins.”REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Singapore, Sweden and the New Zealand lottery also permit voluntary pre-commitment. You can even ask to be banned from gambling for short periods of time. A few online gambling websites also allow punters to self-police their spending habits. But there’s only one country in the world that practices mandatory pre-commitment: Norway.

Norway is the one

As in Nova Scotia, you can’t use a slot machine in Norway without a government-issued card, which are connected electronically to gamblers’ bank accounts. Norwegian law states that no one can transfer more than $70 a day or $385 a month from their bank account to their gambling card.  Players can also set even lower limits, ban themselves from gambling for 100 days, and ask to see if their behavior qualifies as problem gambling. The law also requires that machines shut down for a ten-minute “cooling-off period” after one hour of continuous play.

Gambling machines used to be as prevalent in Norway as they are in Australia today, Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, director of a youth problem gambling center at McGill University in Montreal, told Latitude News. “If you went into a gas station they had slot machines. If you went into a supermarket, there was a slot machine there at the entrance.” But in 2007, Norway banned private organizations from owning slot machines (Dr. Derevensky testified at government hearings on the matter). Now only a state-owned entity, Norsk Tipping, is allowed to operate slots.

Problem gambling appears to have dropped since the introduction of pre-commitment, as have slot machines revenues. But Dr. Derevensky remains skeptical that pre-commitment reforms are the most comprehensive solution to problem gambling. He says that while pre-set limits might work for some people, not enough research has been done to prove their effectiveness (partly because pre-commitment is such a new innovation). Moreover, he argues that problem gamblers need serious therapy more than government-imposed restrictions.

  • Paul Bendat

    Norway limits the amount a gambler can lose. This is not mandatory pre-commitment. Gamblers can voluntarily set lower limits.

    This is not the evidence based recommendation of the Australian Productivity Commission which called for $1 maximum bets so that losses would be restricted to $120 per hour, a $20 limit on the cash that could be loaded onto a machine and, coupled with a default setting, a requirement that gamblers set their own loss limits.

    • Nick_Nehamas

      thanks for the comment, Paul. You’re right that mandatory pre-commitment isn’t exactly what’s happening in Norway, or in a few of the other countries mentioned here. The point of the article was to show the various ways in which countries around the globe are attempting to limit the amount gamblers can lose on slot machines/pokies.

      Do you live in Australia? Which system sounds the most effective to you? Or do you believe that they are all an infringement on civil liberties?