Bring on the boffins

17 April 2018

Conceived as a means to bring together highbrow academics and middlebrow practitioners, the inaugural Research Exchange at ICE London played host to a successful meeting of minds — and an invaluable exchange of information. Brett Abarbanel reports

The academic world has historically — and sometimes deservingly — held a reputation for remaining shut away in the ivory tower, and communication channels between gambling academics and the industry stakeholders they study have not always been clear. This isn’t a new topic to academics, where the discussion of knowledge translation dates back to the 1950s.

While academic research of gambling is a burgeoning field, it is frequently conducted in isolation, published largely in academic journals to be read by other academics, and/or never applied in real-life settings. The goal of the recent Research Exchange at ICE Totally Gaming 2018 was to make that transition — to translate academic gambling knowledge into action and facilitate the exchange of knowledge between academics and industry stakeholders through evidence-based initiatives.

In 2016, Clarion Gaming’s head of industry insight and engagement, Ewa Bakun, attended the 16th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking (ICGRT). The ICGRT was originally established in 1974 by Dr. Bill Eadington as a gathering of researchers to discuss gambling, which until that point had received almost no attention from academics. Now hosted by the University of Nevada Las Vegas International Gaming Institute (IGI), the ICGRT brings together academics, industry, professional gamblers, government officials, treatment providers, and other experts from all fields.

Ewa and I had spent a few years discussing different ways to bring together different stakeholders in the gambling world (academic, industry, and regulatory/legislative), and the 16th ICGRT was her first exposure to a major academic-heavy conference. At one afternoon coffee break, Ewa showed me a picture she’d taken of a slide in an earlier presentation.

The entire slide was covered in a swarm of equations, something I found fascinating, which made Ewa laugh. She explained that she couldn’t show this content to non-academic executives as their eyes would glaze over, and they’d all suddenly be preoccupied with answering emails on their smartphones. I offered my usual rejoinder, “No problem, we teach undergrads. We’re used to that reaction!” But Ewa was right, of course, and we decided to renew our efforts to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners.

The convening of all parties at the ICE Research Exchange was the fruit of our efforts. The first session in this event was a short panel discussion with three speakers acting for the different stakeholders. I represented the academic perspective and was joined by Dan Waugh, partner at Regulus Partners (industry), and Jenny Williams, former CEO, UK Gambling Commission (government).

We considered how the different stakeholder domains are interacting, discussed the most in-demand areas of research, and spoke about the potential models for collaboration to maintain the independence of research while improving its relevance to the “real world.”

The second half of the Research Exchange hosted the inaugural Research Launchpad, in which competitively-selected finalists presented on their research projects to ICE’s global business and technology audience.

We received 10 submissions, from which four were selected as finalists to present in the Launchpad. The submissions covered a variety of interesting topics, and our four finalists covered a variety of topics. The winning project, EROGamb: Empowering Responsible Online Gambling with Predictive, Real-time, Persuasive and Interactive Intervention, was presented by Bournemouth University’s Dr. Raian Ali and co-authored by Dr. John McAlaney, Professor Keith Phalp, Professor Marcin Budka, Fotios Nalmpantis, and Dr. George Drosatos.

EROGamb is an extensive collaborative effort between academics and several industry operators, with the relationship facilitated by charitable organisations. This program is aimed at reducing problem gambling through software-assisted behavior change mechanisms, and it uses online gambling operators’ application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide data to responsible gambling services in real-time.

The other finalists included: Measuring Responsible Gambling by Players: Development of the Positive Play Scale, presented by Washington State University’s Dr. Kahlil Philander and co-authored by Dr. Richard Wood, Dr. Michael Wohl, and Dr. Nassim Tabri; The Esports Research Project, presented by University of Tampere’s Joseph Macey and co-authored by Dr. Juho Hamari, and Back of the Neural Net — A Deep Learning approach to football vision, presented by Stratagem Technologies’ Auke Vanderschaar and co-authored by Nottingham University’s Dr. Yorgos Tzimiropoulos.

I had been a little worried that the Research Exchange attendance would just be fellow academics, but thankfully these concerns were quickly allayed. The room filled, and for most of the two-hour session every seat was taken, with some attendees having to stand at the back. The audience held members from all over the gambling field — industry representatives, regulators and members of non-profit organisations all gathered to be part of the research discussion.

One thing became clear throughout the discussion, presentations, and questions that followed: there is substantial interest in academic research. Consumer protection and responsible gambling research were two of the more popular topics at the Research Exchange, matching the increased interest in these topics at ICE. Research topics submitted to and presented at the Exchange also touched on commercial business, including marketing, operations, data analysis and consumer insights, and gambling types and consumption means — all research to be used by the many segments of the gambling industry.

Academic research on these topics can be accessed via many channels. Many academics post updates about their work via social media channels (shameless plug: find IGI on Twitter @UNLVigi), and frequently make their work available in online repositories such as Social Science Research Network (SSRN), ResearchGate, and Google Scholar. Researchers also love to chat, especially about our own work. So if you see anything that interests you — including slides full of equations — please contact us.

Communication also continues at the ICE 2019 Research Exchange, where we will be inviting fresh research submissions for the next Launchpad. 2019 also brings the 17th ICGRT, 27-30 May at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV, where the program will include dialogue and networking with experts across all fields. We welcome you all to join us next year at both events.

Brett Abarbanel, Ph.D., is director of research at the International Gaming Institute, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Follow the IGI on Twitter @UNLVigi.