Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Casinos and gambling websites, already adept at tilting long-term odds in their favor, are getting a leg up from technology that could inject even more certainty into their profit calculations.

The catch: Experts worry that tweaks nudging gamers to play more — and bet bigger — could propel some toward excess and addiction.

The big picture: AI and data analytics are making it easier to forecast even the most uncertain outcomes. As we reported Monday, technology firms have built a massive new economy on the ability to accurately predict people's behavior.

  • For marketers, this means unprecedented access to the tiny, personalized levers that are most likely to get you — yes, you! — to buy or do something.
  • If you're being sold ice cream, no big deal. But for the millions of people with gambling problems, a lot can ride on a $50 offer for free play or a comped hotel stay — perfectly tailored and timed to hit home.

"For youth or players with serious gambling problems, the negative impacts of AI-based marketing and gambling operations can be devastating and even life-threatening," says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

What's happening: Where pit bosses once kept tabs on players and doled out offers by feel, technology is now supercharging marketing and promotions that best influence each individual gambler.

  • Casinos are "tracking everything you do," says Andrew Engel, general manager for gaming at DataRobot, an AI startup. "They know how much you're in for, how much you play, how long you play, what types of games you like to play."
  • They've been collecting information for decades, mostly through longstanding loyalty programs. "It's a hell of a lot of data," says Anthony Chong, CEO of data analytics startup IKASI.

Details: To entice people to spend more, casinos use their troves of data to tweak every aspect of the gambling experience — from marketing and casino layout to the incentives and freebies that get people through the door and then keep them inside. And a world of vendors has popped up to help:

  • IKASI lets casinos predict who will spend big — or lose big — and target them with the right incentives to keep them playing. The startup says it's working with regional casinos as well as a big chain with 20-plus locations.
  • Optimove allows casinos to fine-tune marketing campaigns, and lists giant chains like Caesars and MGM among its clients.
  • DataRobot lets non-experts use AI for behavioral forecasting, helping small casinos catch up with the giants. It can also tell them how to rearrange machines and table games for maximum profit.

"From a public health perspective, this is a big concern," says Silvia Kairouz, director of the Lifestyle and Addiction Research Lab at Concordia University in Montreal.

  • "The vast majority of gamblers gamble with a budget," says James Whelan, co-director of the Institute of Gambling Education and Research at the University of Memphis.
  • But for the minority prone to gambling problems, targeted marketing "can be destructive," Whelan says.

Casinos themselves are tight-lipped about their marketing and data science. Several declined interviews or didn't respond to requests from Axios.

  • But a look at what U.S.-based companies are doing in Macau, Asia's gambling mecca, offers a hint of what's next.
  • There, casinos are using hidden cameras, facial recognition and AI analytics to gauge gamblers' play and tailor incentives for each, Bloomberg reports.

What they're saying: Casino defenders say the worries are overblown, and that analyzing playing data can help problem gamblers rather than hurt them.

  • "I don't believe that more efficient offers are just all of a sudden going to trigger problems for large numbers of people," says Alan Feldman, a former MGM executive who chairs the Nevada State Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling.
  • Several companies, like BetBuddy and Mr Green, say they can automatically flag problematic gambling habits based on dozens of risk factors and intervene.
  • "The industry is constantly exploring new and emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, to gain a deeper understanding of our customers and provide the right resources for our customers to enjoy our products in a responsible manner,” says Elizabeth Cronan of the American Gaming Association.

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

8 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.