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End of year report: It’s time for proper change or the future isn’t bright

On March 1st 2020 the official ‘Justice for Punters’ (J4P) website will be four years old (we did campaign before then).

Our volunteers have replied to over 8,000 emails, been involved in numerous regulatory and government consultations, taken part in extensive media coverage and Tweeted 10s of thousands of times (somewhat controversially on occasions, but rarely without a definitive purpose).

Has J4P achieved anything?  Except for the £1.5 million returned to customers with our help it’s really difficult to say, because we have no way of investigating J4P’s impact (this costs money J4P hasn’t got).  As you are all aware J4P is not a project that deals in lies, so there is no point in being self-congratulatory without evidence.

Perhaps J4P has been good at starting the engine, but that engine has rarely reached the end of any journey without stalling (so far).  The lack of an end point is complex and not easy to explain with certainty, but it’s fair to say that the gambling industry, to a greater extent, has fought at every juncture against faster than snail pace change.  The same can be said for government and regulators, which is without doubt J4P’s greatest disappointment.

J4P has spent a lot of time responding to consultations, but in the main we’ve given up on this thankless task.  Did J4P influence said consultations?  Without question in some cases, but in reality has it made any difference to the daily practices of the corporate gambling industry; hardly ever.  Classic examples are the new regulations for ‘Know Your Customer’ and specifically paying out.  The other one is alternative dispute resolution processes.  What really has happened to the 90 day maximum dispute period or the chance for the customer to see evidence submitted by a gambling company: Very little.  Updated regulation is useless if it isn’t enforced.  Tony Blair new all about consultations and there all too common use (if you want to ‘kick something down the line’ arrange a consultation).

J4P’s main objective has always been transparency.  This applies to customers as well companies.  What is the service on offer, e.g. is a customer allowed to win using skill and what is expected of the customer when using that service, e.g. what is acceptable or not?  The only conclusion is a failure to meet this objective (so far).  This doesn’t stop the vast majority of people enjoying a bet, but it doesn’t make it right.  The lack of transparency and a refusal by many gambling companies to genuinely protect vulnerable people is a fact; however you choose to ‘spin it’ (note for the new Betting and Gaming Council).  A major achievement that many have contributed to is that these facts are not going back in the ‘genie’s bottle’.  The impact of modern media is fickle; a story is long gone within 24-48 hours, but it is fair to say that the media coverage of the gambling industry is so frequent now that it must at some point have a major impact on its future.

There is a desperate need for an independent free dispute service for social responsibility cases.  A lack of action with this, despite frequent pleadings from J4P is a massive mistake.  There is both a legacy and an improved future to address.  These are far better dealt with without legal intervention, but the lack of action has left many exploited vulnerable people with nowhere else to go.

There are peoples’ jobs and livelihoods at stake if the gambling industry decreases in size, something which has never sat comfortably with J4P’s volunteers, but when you weekly, if not daily, read the stories of harm and unfairness, it’s easy to conclude that we should and can all do better.  Despite all the media coverage and the new regulatory climate the annual profit of the UK gambling industry stands at £14.4 billion, so there will be plenty of jobs for years to come, albeit a different balance of jobs from the past, e.g. like most other industries.

Quite rightly, a legal gambling industry is here to stay, but it must be based on a fair and safe service.  Transparency is a major factor in achieving this.  If you disagree J4P would be keen to hear your constructive views.

If a business model can’t survive without being opaque and in breach of regulatory codes and conditions, and some laws, it is a business model that deserves to be extinct, so the best option for the future is change.

 

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