The gambling industry isn’t the victim

UK gambling policy is changing and is likely to change even more radically over the coming years unless some ‘middle ground’ is found.  If you work in the gambling industry may J4P suggest that you engage constructively or there may be consequences you dislike.

‘Justice for Punters’ (J4P) genuinely worries what those consequences might be.  J4P therefore must continually reflect on how our voluntary work has and may still influence said future policies.

J4P isn’t and never has been anti-gambling.  Quite the contrary, a number of J4P’s volunteers are active, fairly successful ‘bettors’ (not really sure what that term means, but some knowledgeable people use it).  J4P campaigns for a legal, safer and fairer UK gambling industry; that’s it.

An interim report was published last week by the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group.  The response to it has been extremely predictable by all sides in the debate.   Most predictable is that the people who wish to see change welcomed it.

Some of the responses to the APPG report from the gambling industry have been downright rude.  Some have cited bias.  Some have been defensive.  Some have been of the usual amateur psychiatric type (‘grow some’ & all that).  Some have hinted that the industry is being persecuted: Let’s be clear, the industry and its senior executives aren’t the victims in this debate.

The report did include a tiny amount of language that needed some more thought, but it also included a mass of material that is a fair reflection of how the corporate online gambling industry has developed over the last decade+.   It’s much more complex, but succinctly the UK online gambling industry has been allowed to remove the people who might win from their customer database (unless they bet using multiple IDs) whilst using an expanding targeted array of marketing to encourage everyone else to lose more, crucially some of whom have been vulnerable.  Even more worrying some of these gambling losses have been stolen, even from charities.

Whether you choose to believe them or not some senior executives have and are making the right noises.  J4P has visited or had Skype conference calls with a number of companies; large and smaller about improving fairness and approaches to gambling disorder.  Disappointingly, but perhaps understandably most gambling companies never communicate with J4P.

We’ve also met with the Gambling Commission, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, APPGs from both sides of the debate, charities and many individuals affected by gambling harm or restricted accounts.  J4P isn’t an ‘expert’ in gambling disorder or how to run a gambling company, but we’ve spent a reasonable amount of our own money and time trying to appreciate the challenges everyone is facing.  Our rather predictable conclusion is that there is confusion between industry reputation management and a genuine attempt to change.

Recently Gamcare & YGAM announced they’d received a grant of £10 million from the gambling industry for education, which is welcome.  It’s a huge sum of money, however in the short term will it be more effective than freezing online accounts where there have been:

  • Failed deposits from numerous sources?
  • Frequent reverse withdrawals?
  • Rapidly increasing stakes that reflect chasing losses?
  • VIP schemes that don’t check source of funds?

Certainly, it’s impossible for the gambling industry to tackle gambling disorder alone.  After all it’s a recognised psychiatric disorder with a UK prevalence very similar to active epilepsy, one of the most common neurological conditions (gambling disorder isn’t niche, so please don’t play that jaundiced research card).  Also, don’t cry ‘victim’ or provide huge grants if you don’t move quickly towards restricting or freezing accounts where potential gambling harm markers are apparent just like companies do if they think a customer might win.  Investigate properly to see if “potential” harm markers are a reality or not.  An email enquiring about ‘spend happiness’ just doesn’t cut-it. As is not unknown these days when people win and try to withdraw; restrict the account immediately, demand document after document, again and again, until it’s proven the person can afford their losses.

J4P can dream about the last paragraph.  It’s about taking real immediate action that, in the short term, may disappointingly lead to some more reputable companies simply passing profitable business on to others.  This is why a ‘joined up’ approach, with everyone working together is so vital.  The recent launch of the new Betting & Gaming Council might be useful, because they are in a position to negotiate the future role of a wide section of the industry. Disappointingly, an interview given by their Chair on BBCr4’s ‘You and Yours’ (from 50 seconds in) didn’t promote confidence.

Easily the most important though is the role of the Gambling Commission or a new ombudsman.  All parties need an organisation that is willing to co-ordinate representation from all, so that all parties get a more transparent, safer and fairer deal.


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