Enabling New Strategies to Prevent Problematic Online Gambling: A Machine Learning Approach for Identifying At-risk Online Gamblers in France

Gambling activities are rapidly migrating online. Algorithms that effectively detect at-risk users could improve the prevention of online gambling-related harms. We sought to identify machine learning algorithms capable of detecting self-reported gambling problems using demographic and behavioral data. Online gamblers were recruited from all licensed online gambling platforms in France by the French Online Gambling Regulatory Authority (ARJEL). Participants completed the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), and these data were merged and synchronized with past-year online gambling behaviors recorded on the operators’ websites. Among all participants (N = 9,306), some users reported betting exclusively on sports (N = 1,183), horseracing (N = 1,711), or poker (N = 2,442) activities. In terms of Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic Curve (AUC), our algorithms showed excellent performance in classifying individuals at a moderate-to-high (PGSI 5+; AUC = 83.20%), or high (PGSI 8+; AUC = 87.70%) risk for experiencing gambling-related harms. Further, these models identified novel behavioral markers of harmful online gambling for future research. We conclude that machine learning can be used to detect online gamblers at-risk for experiencing gambling problems. Using algorithms like these, operators and regulators can develop targeted harm prevention and referral-to-treatment initiatives for at-risk users.

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