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DraftKings CEO says AI won't make sports betting more addictive

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Artificial intelligence is praised for its ability to optimize tasks, from the simple to the more complex. But could it take unhealthy habits to a new extreme?

Like most companies, DraftKings, the sports betting company, has increasingly integrated AI into its business and collected a wealth of user data to improve the platform.

But some argue that optimizing gambling could lead consumers down a dopamine rabbit hole by fueling the very addictive behaviors that captivate customers.

The argument is that once AI recognizes what users want, it delivers it in a compelling, optimized format. One need only look at e-commerce platforms as an example, which use AI to tailor purchases precisely to the consumer's tastes, thereby keeping them in the loop of individual consumption.

In conversation with Assets Executive Exchange, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said that while the company takes gambling addiction very seriously, it should not take full responsibility for its prevention.

“It’s not this black and white line,” he said. “Even in these situations, a certain amount of responsibility lies with the individual. But there is also a role we must play. We need to make sure we both do what we can to prevent this.”

To curb harmful fixations, Robins says the company offers tools that allow users to set their own limits, such as limiting their monthly spending or the time they spend betting. DraftKings also employs a team dedicated to assessing “high-risk” users. For example, if the team notices that a customer is betting too long or spending an alarming amount of money, an employee tries to calm tensions and assess the damage. Robins added that DraftKings' ads list resources in the fine print, such as a help line for gambling addiction.

Still, the use of AI presents a larger conundrum for a sports betting company that could hypothetically learn the language of addiction.

“We don’t use AI that way,” Robins argued. “If we ever used AI in a way that was aimed at doing things that showed specific products or whatever, it would be a lot more user-friendly.” He said that the company is currently using AI primarily for chatbot functions, to write code writing and to find areas that increase customer satisfaction rather than increase gambling.

“If I bet on a certain football team every week and I keep having to scroll down 12 pages to find that, that's annoying,” Robins said. “You want it to be at the top. No different than Netflix or Amazon showing you that you just bought socks for the last time. “Here, click it if you want to buy it again.” So I think it’s a lot more convenient.”

Nonetheless, industry giants like Amazon and Netflix are using AI to collect data on consumer behavior and curate personalized products and content that keep their audiences engaged with their websites for longer. Still, Robins said he remains unconvinced that AI has the power to create or reinforce addictions.

“People who have gambling problems will also have a gambling problem,” he said. “And the job is to help identify those people, get them help and make them realize that they need help.” But he added: “It has to be up to them to decide whether they need it Want to change behavior.”

Robins acknowledged that it might be difficult to ask users deemed high-risk by DraftKings' system to take a cut. If a player has already lost a significant amount of money, it can be annoying to ask them to stop. However, he noted that if DraftKings attracts users with betting addictions, it is not doing enough to prevent people with addictions from coming to the platform in the first place.

“You have to try to design the product in a way that provides value to the people who are supposed to play it. And the people who shouldn't play it, you have to try to get them not to play the product,” Robins said.

He believes AI can play a role in this. “​AI can actually help in this regard by having good models that identify patterns of player behavior and then having ways to intervene if you see that there is someone you think has a problem Robins said. “But it’s a tricky thing, isn’t it? All we can do is flag high-risk situations and then take further manual interventions to resolve them.”

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