GVC Holdings Director of Regulatory Affairs Martin Lycka explains how 2020 events have handed the industry a crisis agenda that incumbents must accept and match with responsibility and good faith… The stakes have never been placed this high on operator conduct.
Sunday morning – end of winter. With the NHL and the NBA regular seasons entering their final quarter, there are plenty of nerve-wracking battles for playoff spots ahead. In Europe this means waking up, checking the overnight scores on your phone?
Then down to the lounge and flick the TV on – the schedule is Winter Sports World Cups, an abundance of football to watch all across Europe now the Six Nations has been completed, and a host of other sporting spectacles on the horizon. Baseball, cricket, horseracing, Augusta International, March Madness, IPL, Rolland Garros into Wimbledon, NFL, NHL and NBA drafts. Weekends full of sport and the opportunity to do it all again next weekend.
I guess this would have been the diary of the most sports fan at the time of the onset of coronavirus in Europe and the US. Yet, the sports have come a grinding halt; at first, games were played in front of empty stands, and then stopped completely. Leagues, races and tours are being suspended or even cancelled; new creative formats for drafts invented. There is absolutely no doubt that public health and protection of the vulnerable must come first and that the suspensions and cancellations have been the right course of action to take.
There being no sport is an unprecedented situation for the modern-day gambling industry. The response to this situation requires responsibility and resilience. This is no time to relax or loosen consumer protection standards, in particular, those that apply to safer gambling and prevention of gambling addiction; on the contrary, further action is required to afford due protection to the people who hunkered down in their house and maybe suffering from boredom.
First thing’s first, communication; it is advisable to remind all customers in a proactive manner to gamble responsibly and use the safer gambling tools the operators have introduced that allow them to set reasonable boundaries to their gambling behaviour.
Even more prominent responsible gambling messages on operators’ sites which are echoed by responsible gambling-led media campaigns and have the ability to relay the above precepts through additional channels. This helps ensure the customer can continue to enjoy gambling as a form of entertainment without overstepping the mark. It goes without saying that all attempts at taking advantage of the pandemic or the resulting isolation for gambling or gambling marketing purposes need to be prevented and condemned.
In other words, gambling companies are called upon to step up to the plate and provide for their customers and their safety. GVC, my company, has just like on many occasions in the recent past, heeded the call and will have introduced two new safer gambling algorithms, the so-called Markers of Harm, designed to monitor and review player behaviour pre and post home isolation during the crisis as well as additional safer gambling tools in a bid to help prevent the inception of gambling addiction at an early stage.
At the same time, with casinos and betting shops closed (all for a good reason), the battle for the survival of the gambling sector rages on. Do virtual sports and esports have the ability to plug the glaring gaps left in the hearts and minds of sports fans craving to see the next goal, pitch, pass or hoop as opposed to re-runs of games from the glory days gone by? Could expediting online gaming legislation, for example along the lines iDEA Growth has lately propounded in the US and others have done elsewhere, help offset the gargantuan economic losses the industry, or at least some parts of it, maybe facing in a foreseeable future?
Answering these two and many other questions lies at the heart of the industry’s efforts to show resilience in these testing times. At the risk of being labelled old-fashioned, I struggle to believe that virtual sports could be an adequate replacement for the passion of live sports; yet ramping them up within the bounds of reason can help steer customers into the controlled channels of regulated markets. In some jurisdictions expediting online gaming legislation, as long it is done with a very close eye on the highest applicable safer and sustainable gambling standards, might have the same effect; it might even go beyond and help those veteran brick-and-mortar casino customers discover new information about their gambling behaviour.
Health and safety come first and gambling comes nowhere near second. Yet, there is a lot to do within our industry before the Bayerns, Bruins and Buccaneers are back on our screens.
Martin Lycka – Director of Regulatory Affairs – GVC Holdings