It’s never good to get all your own way

Most people reading this blog will have experienced a badly behaved child that belongs to somebody else.  Everyone has their own views about why a child behaves in such ways and how best to address the problems, but one factor that is mentioned by many is that a child allowed to do what it wants all the time is not a good thing.

In the early 2000s the Tony Blair government decided that the gambling industry should be given more freedom and that freedom would be regulated in a light touch way.  A new Gambling Act was passed by parliament in 2005.  Over the next decade, some would argue using reasonable supporting evidence, that this became self regulation in all but name.

The gambling industry during this decade increased turnover and gross profit hugely.  This was predictable, because marketing works, so does the creation of easier ways to gamble and products that encourage rapid thoughtless gambling by your customers.

This decade also saw a massive expansion of gambling business on the internet and many wanted a piece of the action.  It was easy to get ‘that action’.  People could become an affiliate for a gambling company in under 48 hours with few checks and little, if any auditing, of how they traded.  Why become an online affiliate for Tesco with a commission of less than 1% when you could get 25% or more from Bet365 or Ladbrokes in what was (is) an unregulated affiliate industry?

In many ways it was a dream come true.  Get a web-designer, create some exciting content that hints we’ll help ‘YOU’ become a winner and off you go.   The internet tipster, even so called ‘experts’ spread like a virus.  The spend on gambling in the first world was increasing rapidly and there seemed to be little restriction on how large the market could become.

On October 1st 2015 Sarah Harrison became Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, which coincided with a time when a well funded campaign against fixed odds betting terminals was gathering pace.  The rest is history and we are now where we are.

Like any unruly child that becomes a young adult, it’s very difficult to change behaviour after a decade of little discipline (virtual self-regulation).  The gambling industry is going to resist greater regulation that it feels may not suit its agenda, after all, between 2005-2015 it had been used to setting the agenda, fulfilling and ‘marking’ it.  Sarah Harrison explained in a meeting with J4P that she also found resistance to change at the Gambling Commission (GC).  It was, therefore not surprising when she left that her replacement had been at the GC since its first year of existence; much more comfortable for all concerned.

2020 is looking like it could be an annus horribilis for the gambling industry and not much better for the GC.  Whatever; J4P would suggest that an annus horribilis may be avoided by acting in a more transparent way.  Based on the last two weeks this isn’t looking good.  Three major reviews have been announced by the GC, all will be led by major gambling companies.  Even worse, it seems some people don’t see this approach as a problem. Unsurprisingly most of these are people who make a living from or receive ‘good works’ funding from the gambling industry.

J4P recognises that the gambling industry should be able to make its own choices so long as those choices are legal and follow licensing codes, but it does need to recognise that it no longer has control over the regulatory agenda or the media, which generally kept quiet about its less unsavoury practices until the last few years.  This means a continuing lack of transparency will do nothing for the gambling industry’s credibility when claiming it’s working to improve its practices that now blight its reputation.  This also applies to the UK Gambling Commission.

More and more people now know that the gambling industry post 2005 has been allowed to prosper in certain ways that some find unacceptable; not least the industry’s traders restricting all winning and potential winning accounts to £1, 10p, even 1p bets, whilst their VIP department colleagues have been allowed to exploit many vulnerable people.  The gambling industry isn’t being ‘picked-on’ as some suggest, it’s now in era where its receiving the same scrutiny as many other industries and it will need to deal with it transparently or that scrutiny will only get worse.

J4P is not claiming anything is easy, especially in the case of gambling disorder, far from it, but the UK has experienced too many gambling reviews/investigations led by the industry with little independent input.  Please learn from history and other industries.  Increased scrutiny by others, especially if you don’t view them as your ‘mates’ is never easy, but it’s what mature corporate executives and regulators shouldn’t fear unless they’ve something to hide and don’t wish to improve what they are doing.


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