Safer Gambling Week 2021 – Some thoughts after the event

Safer Gambling Week 2021 started on 1 November with immense promise, welcomed by the following Betting and Gaming Council announcement and endorsed by the Gambling Minister Chris Philp and the Gambling Commission’s CEO, Andrew Rhodes:

PROBLEM GAMBLING RATES ARE FALLING BUT SAFER GAMBLING ‘OUR TOP PRIORITY ALL YEAR ROUND’, SAYS BGC BOSS AT START OF SAFER GAMBLING WEEK

Safer gambling is the regulated betting and gaming industry’s “top priority all year round”, standards body boss Michael Dugher has declared.

Mr Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, spoke out as this year’s Safer Gambling Week – which runs until November 7 – kicked off.

He also vowed to use the event to build on the now two million people using deposit limits – one of the safer gambling tools offered by BGC members.

The campaign was launched in the wake of a Gambling Commission report which showed that the rate of problem gambling has fallen from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent over the past year.

The study also showed that the rate of those classed as being at ‘moderate risk’ of harm fell from 1.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent in the same time frame.

Once again, Safer Gambling Week is being supported by the BGC, the Bingo Association and bacta, the amusement machine trade association.

The annual campaign has been running since 2017, when the industry united for the first time to promote Responsible Gambling Week.

This year’s event will see a blitz of safer gambling messages both online and in land-based venues, sparking a nationwide conversation on how to bet responsibly.

Every arm of the regulated industry will come together to encourage staff, customers and the general public to raise awareness of, and talk about, safer gambling.

It comes just two weeks after the launch of ‘Take Time To Think’, the BGC’s campaign to encourage customers to use tools like deposit limits, time-outs and self-exclusion to stay in control of their betting.

It stands in contrast with the unsafe, unregulated online black market, which has none of the safeguards used by BGC members.

BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said:

“Safer Gambling Week is now an established annual event. We know that rates of problem gambling are low and are now falling, which is great news, but Safer Gambling Week is further evidence of the regulated industry’s determination to keep raising standards.

Millions of people enjoy a flutter every year on the National Lottery, at the bingo, on sports, in casinos and gaming online – and the vast majority of them do so safely and responsibly. But one problem gambler is one too many, which is why Safer Gambling Week is so important.

This is about building on the two million customers who now use deposit limits, and it is also about making sure that those who need help know where they can get it. We don’t want people drifting off to the unsafe, unregulated black market online.

Safer Gambling Week brings together everyone who genuinely wants to see safer gambling including the regulator, the Government and so many cross-party MPs.

For the regulated industry, safer gambling isn’t just an issue for one week of the year, it’s our top priority all year round.”

Gambling Minister Chris Philp MP said:

“Safer Gambling Week is an important moment for the industry to come together and continue to do all it can to promote safer gambling and prevent gambling-related harm year-round.

We need to find ways of doing more to protect those with severe gambling addiction from the life changing damage they can suffer. Our ongoing review of the Gambling Act will ensure our laws are fit for the digital age, and strike the right balance between protecting those most at risk and giving adults the freedom to choose how they gamble safely.”

Andrew Rhodes, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission said:

“We know that over 20 million people in the UK regularly gamble in some way and for the vast majority this is something they do without any issue. However, around 340,000 people in Britain are problem gamblers.

With this in mind, Safer Gambling Week is the ideal opportunity for operators to demonstrate how they can raise standards and showcase how Britain can become a world-leader in making gambling as safe as possible.”

Those positive words struck a considerably more constructive tone than the harsh criticisms of Safer Gambling Week that had been expressed by charity Gambling With Lives CEO Will Prochaska in a PoliticsHome article entitled “This year’s political cringe event is here – the gambling industry’s Safer Gambling Week” (published on 28 October), upon which David Clifton commented for Vixio Gambling Compliance on 2 November.

At that stage, the news had yet to break that Sky Vegas had mistakenly sent promotional emails to customers who had self-excluded or opted out of receiving direct marketing, which resulted in the following apology from Chief Executive Officer of parent company of Sky Vegas (and member of the BGC), Flutter UK & Ireland division:

I would like to sincerely apologise to all those who have been affected by the recent issue at Sky Vegas, whereby a number of people were mistakenly sent promotional communications.

I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to get to the bottom of how this happened. We are conducting a full investigation into what went wrong, in particular so that we can ensure that it doesn’t happen again. As soon as the error was identified it was notified to the Gambling Commission and we will keep them informed as our investigations progress.

Sky Vegas, and indeed all our brands, take their responsibility to protect customers extremely seriously. Safer gambling is our number one focus, and while we haven’t always got everything right, we are determined to do as much as we can to protect those who may be at risk.

I recognise that on this occasion we have let many people down, and for that I am truly sorry.

To say that this cast something of a pall over Safer Gambling Week would be an understatement. David Clifton witnessed this first hand from comments made by numerous delegates when he spoke at the EGR UK Summit on 4 November. At that same event, BGC Chairman Brigid Simmonds delivered a keynote presentation entitled ‘Raising Standards’, which she focussed on the same very positive safer gambling messages as were subsequently set out within her below blog on the BGC website:

Safer gambling is 24/7 and all year round for the BGC and our members, but it is good to have a week where we can encourage our customers to think about their betting and ensure they remain in control.

This was the 5th year of Safer Gambling Week which is very much a cross-industry campaign involving arcades, bingo clubs, casinos, bookmakers, online operators as well as the Irish bookmakers too. All our members commit to taking part and as many physical premises as possible display posters and signage in their windows and inside.

And to answer our critics, yes of course safer gambling is a 24/7, all year round, top of the tree agenda for both the BGC and all our members, but it is good to have a week where not only can thousands of colleagues take part in engagement programmes, but we can encourage all our customers to think about their betting and gaming and ensure that they remain firmly in control.

Last year there was a substantial increase in the use of deposit limit tools during and immediately after Safer Gambling Week. The number of deposit limits set jumped 49% during the week and the total number of players setting deposit limits rose 58% compared to the previous four weeks. This led to a 128% increase on deposit limits set during 2019, so this year we created dedicated messaging on the use of deposit limit tools that all online operators could use.

This year’s campaign got off to a brilliant start, with social media engagements up by over 60 per cent on launch day. Operators also include Safer Gambling Week messaging in nearly all of their adverts, demonstrating their strong support for the campaign.

Activities have included communicating with customers about safer gambling and raising awareness of tools and tips on where to find more information and support. This has been helped by the consistency achieved by the GamCare Code on the Display of Safer Gambling information and the safer gambling icon on all operators’ websites.

Individual companies have led programmes of colleague engagement using specialists such as Epic Risk Management and working with those who have ‘lived experience’. A ‘Feet on the Street’ initiative included all head office retail colleagues visiting all their betting shops, while in another member there was a lock-in for staff with the safer gambling manager and customer welfare teams. Barclays Bank offered a financial wellbeing workshop to teams, while many operators’ brand ambassadors – many of them well-known figures with significant social media following – making videos making clear their support for Safer Gambling Week.

As well as having the support of the Gambling Commission and Chris Philp, the new gambling minister, it was great to see 26 MPs and peers from both main parties turning up on College Green to show their support for the campaign.

Meanwhile, all 72 clubs in the English Football League put Safer Gambling Week banners on their websites and used their pitch-side advertising to promote the campaign. In the Premier League, players at the West Ham v Liverpool match on Sunday will wear Safer Gambling Week t-shirts during their warm-up, while all all-weather race meetings, as well as at Aintree, Betway-sponsored races promoted the campaign.

There were a range of online and in-person events, culminating in the EGR in person conference for CEOs. Our national charities GamCare and YGAM have run a Safer Gambling Forum featuring the charities’ young people and women’s programmes as well as latest updates from the TalkBanStop campaign. Risk awareness for young people is key to our future.

As we approach the end of Safer Gambling Week, where are we? We have certainly raised awareness in person and of course on social media. This is clearly about keeping our customers safe, but also starting and stimulating conversations about safer gambling within the media, influencer and training organisations, government agencies and of course the general public.

The latest figures from the Gambling Commission, showing the rate of problem gambling halving from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent over the last year – with the rate of those deemed to be at moderate risk also well down on 12 months ago – is certainly encouraging, and a sign that our determination to raise standards is bearing fruit. However, we are far from complacent.

We need to talk about safer gambling, make sure that we do ‘Take Time to Think’ and use all the tools available to pause and consider, set a deposit limit, take time out and know where you can self exclude, moderate play and stay in control. This is a journey and at the BGC we are not at all complacent, but Safer Gambling Week is an important step along the way.

However, to round off a mixed week, the focus then shifted to a BBC news item entitled ‘Gambling links from children’s pages on club websites to be investigated’ accompanied by an indication from the Gambling Commission that it will investigate how seven Premier League and Championship football clubs had direct links to betting sites from children’s pages of their websites. The Commission is also quoted by the BBC as saying: “Gambling advertising and sponsor credits must not appear on any web pages that are directed at under-18s. Sports teams should be ensuring that all content on such webpages is appropriate for children, and we expect gambling companies to take responsibility for where their adverts and logos appear.

To conclude:

Safer Gambling Week 2021 has had so many positives that it will be a huge shame if is instead remembered more for (a) the plainly inadvertent error on the part of Sky Vegas in sending promotional emails to self-excluded customers and (b) the BBC’s discovery of direct links to betting sites from the children’s pages on the websites of seven leading football clubs.

Apologies and expressions of regret have swiftly been made by all concerned but very regrettably each of those highly untimely episodes will have served to hand up on a plate further ammunition to longstanding critics who continue to reject the industry’s assertion that it takes the subject of safer gambling seriously.

So much evidence now exists to counter such a criticism, but it’s difficult to argue that these latest failings do not constitute clear ‘own goals’ of the type that the Gambling Commission’s CEO spoke about in last week’s ‘Racing Post’ article when he said that a lot of room still exists for improvement.

UPDATE: Certain of our above comments in conclusion to this posting are attributed to David Clifton in a Vixio Gambling Compliance article dated 8 November entitled “Industry ‘Own Goals’ Fuel Critics in Safer Gambling Week”, accessible online to Vixio subscribers here.