David Clifton and Suzanne Davies attended the Gambling Commission’s second annual Raising Standards conference in Birmingham yesterday, when operators were pressed to make gambling a fairer and safer experience for players.
At last year’s conference, the Commission called for operators to accelerate the pace at which they were putting consumers at the heart of business decisions. This year, the overriding message was that the pace of change has been too slow and gambling operators must raise – and speed up – their game in keeping customers safe from gambling-related harm and creating a market that the public can trust.
The speeches delivered by Bill Moyes (the Commission’s Chairman) and by Sarah Harrison (the Commission’s Chief Executive) at this year’s conference can be downloaded below.
Neither of them minced their words:
- Bill Moyes said: “I don’t think the industry gets the importance of being seen to take problem gambling seriously and to take a leading part in tackling problem gambling effectively. Over the last year …….. we hear the right messages being delivered to us. But then we deal with the reality of the industry’s performance and we encounter what I can only describe as a huge dislocation between good intentions and performance”, adding “My remarks today are a call to action. The industry can be seen as beyond redemption and requiring tough action to tackle its worst excesses. Or it can be seen as a responsible part of the entertainment industry, which acknowledges that it has the capacity to cause harm and demonstrates a real willingness to invest in improvement, in prevention and in treatment”.
- Sarah Harrison was no less blunt, saying that whilst “there has been some progress across the market that should rightly be acknowledged …. the bar has been set too low by operators in relation to treating customers fairly. The customer experience has not been what it should be, and change is now coming. Fairness is key, transparency is essential, and unreasonable behaviour will not be accepted, by us, by our partner organisations and certainly not by the consumer”, concluding that: “it is our shared interest in the outcomes that unites us – and I want you to take that message away with you today. We want to work with you to go much further and faster to reduce harm. But we are at a tipping point, and those that do not share this commitment, those who do not deliver for the consumer will find themselves in an uncomfortable position, with their future in this industry increasingly in peril”.
The clear message is that the Commission wants operators to be “ambitious …. restless, looking forward, always striving to better understand your customer, better protect the consumer”.
This came as no surprise to delegates, particularly given that in the last three months we have seen:
- 888 being required to pay a record penalty package of over £7.8million for social responsibility failings,
- Gala Interactive being required to pay £2.3million for failing to effectively interact with two high-spending “VIP” customers,
- Stan James Online, being required to pay a penalty package of £80,000 and to take steps to improve its anti-money laundering and social responsibility processes,
- closure by Sky Betting & Gaming of its affiliate marketing programme, following the Advertising Standards Authority upholding complaints against four online gambling operators for quite shockingly irresponsible adverts published by an affiliate,
- publication of a responsible gambling research report described by independent gambling-related harm charity GambleAware as “a loud wake-up call for the gambling industry”,
- unprecedented joint action by regulatory and industry stakeholders requiring the removal by online operators of freely accessible gambling advertisements that are likely to appeal particularly to under 18 year olds,
- in a further expression of concern about advertisements that appeal to under 18s, the House of Lords debating (and approving) a motion that “this House takes note of the effect of gambling advertisements on children”,
- following mounting condemnation of FOBTs, with even the CEO of Paddy Power believing “that the issue has become so toxic that only a substantial reduction in FOBT stake limits to £10 or less will address societal concerns”, announcement by the Government of a 12 week consultation relating to:
- maximum stakes and prizes for all categories of gaming machines permitted under the Gambling Act 2005 (including a reduction in the maximum stakes on FOBTs),
- allocations of gaming machines permitted in all licensed premises under the Gambling Act 2005 and
- social responsibility measures for the industry as a whole to minimise the risk of gambling-related harm, including on gambling advertising, online gambling, gaming machines and research, education and treatment.