BGC pledges to maintain safer gambling momentum. Michael Dugher.

Michael Dugher: Problem gambling treatment should focus on the 0.3%

Michael Dugher argues that, with betting reform reportedly imminent, problem gambling treatment should focus on those who need it most. 

In an interview with The Times this week, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chief Executive stated that a blanket approach to player protection is not the way forward.

The Gambling Act review White Paper is apparently due soon, with Gambling Minister Paul Scully MP outlining the overhaul as a remaining priority of the DCMS after his appointment last month.

A number of protection measures have been mentioned as potential outcomes of the review, including affordability checks, while drastic changes to marketing such as a reduction or gradual phase-out of sports sponsorship deals could be introduced.

In Dugher’s viewpoint, the fact that the UK’s problem gambling rate has fallen from 0.4% to 0.3% suggests that wide-ranging measures will do more harm than good.

“You’ve got to set this in some kind of perspective. In terms of how you target help, it should be very much aimed at the 0.3%,” he explained to The Times. 

“It seems fairly obvious that government should be using technology to focus on the 0.3%. Online, in particular, you can do that because you can identify through the technology what the operators call these so-called markers of harm, such as when a punter suddenly starts gambling more than they usually do or betting at unusual times of the day. 

“So they can target problem gamblers and those who are most vulnerable and leave everybody else alone.”

Artificial intelligence technology in particular has often been highlighted as holding great potential for gambling harm identification and subsequent interactions. 

In an interview with SBC News, EPIC Risk Management’s Director of Safer Gambling Dan Spencer discussed the consultancy’s partnership with Mindway AI, highlighting the use of AI to sift through large numbers of customers for those most at risk.

Whilst speaking to The Times, Dugher also reiterated his argument that blanket affordability checks could lead to bettors turning away from regulated operators and towards a ‘black market’.

The BGC has often cited opinion polls and surveys to support its arguments, for example, last month the trade association pointed to a study which showed that 70% of bettors would not allow operators to conduct affordability checks.

“The key is it’s got to be genuinely non-intrusive,” Dugher added in the recent interview. “The moment you ask for documents – bank statements, payslips – overwhelmingly they desert you and never come back. 

“And anyone with a mobile phone can access an unregulated, unlicensed website who’ll take their money and won’t be bothering with safer gambling messages or asking them whether they’re 18 or any of that stuff.”

Dugher maintains that the imposition of such checks will push customers towards illegal operators, which do not offer the same player protections as the regulated offering.

This would then have an impact on problem gambling and player safety, as well as affecting the licenced betting and gaming industry’s £4.2bn annual economic contribution in taxation and job provision, he asserts. 

As it stands, the outcomes of the Gambling Act review are still uncertain after over two years of deliberation, although the long-touted ban on sports betting sponsorships has been watered down according to some reports. 

It has been indicated, however, that operators should brace themselves for some big changes to the way they conduct business, as PM Rishi Suank sets out to ‘to fix the catastrophe of online gambling’.

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