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Collateral damage

Collateral damage is an emotive term when applied to modern warfare. It seems to be unavoidable despite what governments claim about the most advanced hardware used by armed forces.  However hard Generals and others try, something always seem to go wrong often making an already horrible situation even worse.

Much less emotive, but collateral damage has become a big issue in the gambling industry.

The last two weeks has been a classic example of this; how not to run a campaign, e.g. could the dilemma of fixed odds betting terminal (FOBTs) have been dealt with in a worse way?  Months and years of an industry PR disaster coming to a crescendo with the resignation of a well respected and well liked Sports Minister.

Despite the continuation of ‘defending the indefensible’ we see some of the FOBT interested parties, e.g. those who financially benefit massively; this week singing the praises of ‘responsible gambling’ and working together.  Please accept my apologies for laughing at the irony of these two contradictory positions.

If I had a small to medium sized gambling business that was genuinely doing its best to trade fairly and responsibly I would be totally ‘naffed-off’ with what is happening.  I would be facing higher and higher regulatory costs, along with some other rising costs that are partially controlled by my larger competitors, e.g. live picture rights.  I wouldn’t have the staff or the money to influence what is happening, so where do I go?  The obvious starting points would appear to be the Gambling Commission and any trade bodies I’m a member of.  I would be paying fees to both, so why not?

Not before time, the Gambling Commission (GC) has decided to take a much needed tougher line on problem gambling through the use of fines; but a little like the Generals the GC don’t appear to be able to save other ‘better behaved’ licensees from the collateral PR damage.

J4P thinks it’s crucial that licensees take notice of the plea this week by the CEO of the GC for gambling companies to work closer together on social responsibility.  J4P has to agree, because we pleaded with the GC earlier this year to set up a forum to explore the challenges being faced by the gambling industry by encouraging large/small, off-course/on-course licensees, gambling consumers and other relevant parties to meet on a regular basis.  J4P thought it would be a good idea for the GC to organise these meetings; the GC did not.  To be fair this decision does align with GC policy, which is to encourage others to do the ‘right thing’ as opposed to direct interventions.  However, what do you do when companies don’t do the ‘right thing’ and those who would like to are too small, have no spare money or are not from a preferred liaison group?  As somebody said to J4P recently, “My business pays tens of thousands to the GC every year, but I’m not sure what I get for it.”  Perhaps one thing could be an attempt to help this person’s business avoid the collateral damage caused by others by organising the aforementioned forum?

It’s really difficult for J4P to comment on the trade bodies with any authority although we have met with the two main ones and a group of on-course bookmakers.  Nevertheless, it’s perhaps fair to say that the two main trade bodies, especially the Association of British Bookmakers have hardly ‘covered themselves in glory’ when it comes to positive PR for the gambling industry, so as a small to medium size gambling company can I really have confidence in them?

Brian Chappell, J4P’s founder was interviewed recently by Starsports (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTbjihUp52s) where he was accused of being a ‘bookie-hater’.  Hopefully, the interview went a long way to explaining J4P’s aims and work, especially J4P’s work behind the scenes.  Gambling companies have nothing to fear from J4P if they trade in a ‘fair and open’ manner, except the collateral damage, which J4P apologises for.  A little bit like blaming the referee in football for a lost game if gambling companies are blaming J4P for this collateral damage, like football managers they’re blaming the wrong people.  The blame for the collateral damage should be placed at the door of those UK licensees who have ignored all the warnings and continued to trade in dubious ways.

The ‘genie is out of the bottle’ for some gambling industry practices and the genie is not going back, despite expensive attempts to keep the top on the bottle.  There are signs that some industry high-flyers appreciate this observation, but there are also signs that some others perhaps don’t (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/nov/07/ladbrokes-may-be-forced-to-pay-out-on-hundreds-of-cancelled-bets).

As the GC’s CEO said this week it’s time to work together.  J4P would add that it’s time for the licensees who wish to trade in an ‘open and fair’ way to differentiate themselves from those who don’t and for the GC and their trade bodies to help them do that.

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