Are Covid-19 rules here to stay?

David Clifton is quoted in an article by Jon Harwood in GIQ Magazine entitled “Are Covid-19 rules here to stay?”.

In terms of background to David’s comments regarding the potential long term impact of the Covid-19 crisis on gambling marketing and regulation, his thoughts are as follows:

1. The Covid-19 crisis has been described by some as creating the perfect storm for the online gambling industry. However, research statistics have shown that early predictions of a rapid increase in both the numbers of people gambling and in problem gambling rates have not been realised. That has not stopped the industry’s opponents from demanding more restrictive regulation and, ahead of the UK government’s forthcoming review of gambling legislation, the battle lines have already been clearly drawn up between the Gambling Related Harm APPG on the one side and the Betting & Gaming Council on the other, with a report by the former calling for a total ban on gambling advertising. I think an outright ban is an unlikely outcome but the fact that BGC members agreed at the end of April a self-imposed TV and radio advertising ban (but then only until 5 June 2020) may come back to bite them in the forthcoming parliamentary debate, where online gambling marketing is likely to become a major focus of attention. Early production by the BGC of a revised Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising, introducing some effective new voluntary measures, might serve to redress the balance in that respect.

2. The crisis has given operators the opportunity to display their willingness to be responsible and much greater credit should be given to the industry for taking a lead in this respect than it has received in the popular media. However, it’s the usual situation in the sense that a story of personal tragedy arising from gambling related harm will always stand a better chance of making the headlines than a story about higher self-regulatory standards of the type that BGC members have been promoting in recent months.

3. What reputable regulators want is an improvement in standards leading to a reduction in the numbers of those suffering harms related to gambling, on the ground that maintaining static rates of problem gambling prevalence is not enough in itself. In the UK for example, the industry’s working groups on VIP incentivisation, game and product design and use of ad-tech were a response to a challenge laid down by the Gambling Commission in October last year and things have moved forward quickly since then, but that has still not been quick enough for the regulator’s critics.

4. The ground has been shifting for some considerable time now on what is and is not acceptable not only to regulators but also to parliamentarians and to the public at large. A direct consequence of that can be seen in gambling operators collaborating together to a far greater extent than ever before, with quite evident improvements in regulatory standards arising from that. Regulators in different jurisdictions are moving more quickly than before to enforce and tighten restrictions, as recent developments in Sweden most clearly demonstrate. However, the Covid-19 crisis has played into the hands of the industry’s opponents who have been able to dismiss statistical evidence of no increased rates of problem gambling with the argument that only fundamental reform of gambling legislation will bring about the changes that operators are not prepared to self-impose.

5. Concerns about ‘channelization’ – the degree to which consumers gamble with operators licensed within their jurisdiction – are entirely justified, as has been shown in Sweden where recent independent research commissioned by BOS (the Swedish trade association for online gambling) has shown that statistics used by the Swedish regulator, and relied upon by the Swedish government, have considerably underestimated the rate at which licensed operators are exposed to very significant competition from unlicensed providers. If the Gambling Related Harm APPG has its way in the UK, its clear aim to provide further protection to problem gamblers is likely to backfire, with greater numbers resorting to black market operators. That is a message that the industry has to drive home forcibly in the coming months.

You can download the GIQ article below.