SBC News Brigid Simmonds (OBE): White Paper provides a shared experience of gambling’s conflict & resolution

Brigid Simmonds (OBE): White Paper provides a shared experience of gambling’s conflict & resolution

Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) reflects on the trade body’s development since its inception in 2019, navigating the crossfire of UK Gambling’s journey towards its regulatory resolution in 2023. 

A headline speaker of the SBC Summit Barcelona (19-21 September), Simmonds cites that UK Gambling shares a ‘common experience’ with other European markets awaiting regulatory settlement. European stakeholders must accept duties on deeper collaboration to tackle the industry’s most complex affairs and evolving dynamics.

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SBC: Hi Brigid, thanks for this interview. You have chaired the BGC since its inception in 2019, how has the debate on regulating a safe gambling sector changed since you established the trade and standards body?

Brigid Simmonds (Chair of Betting & Gaming Council): In one sense, the debate has remained very much unchanged. There will always be those opposed to the betting and gaming industry, whether that is for ideological reasons, or the sense that the nanny state should dictate how people spend their money. However, what has changed is the facts on the ground on safer gambling, and with each passing month, these facts are harder to ignore. 

Since the BGC was launched, we have made huge strides raising standards, and it’s clear the industry is in an entirely different place because of those changes. On advertising, safer gambling messaging is far more prominent, making up 20 per cent of radio and TV ads in the UK, meanwhile the Whistle to Whistle ban has reduced the number of TV betting commercials viewed by children during live sports before the watershed by 97 per cent.

On Research Education and Treatment to tackle gambling related harm, our biggest members have significantly increased contributions to the independent commissioning charity for treatment and education, GambleAware, which is doing enormous good.  We have contributed over £100 million in the last four years. 

VIP schemes (or higher value customers) have been reduced by around 90 per cent, while our members are constantly looking at how data can protect that small minority who struggle with betting, while not interfering with the vast majority who bet safely.

It cannot be said often enough, that every month 22.5m adults in Britian place a bet in a vast array of ways, from sports to casinos, and according to the Gambling Commission, the independent regulator, rates of problem gambling are low at 0.3 per cent of adults. That’s encouraging. 

Those measures we’ve taken are making a real difference, and I’m confident the recently published Government White Paper builds on that work. 

For some, no amount of change will be enough, their views and their contributions to this debate will probably never change. But I think the White Paper is recognition of what we can achieve as an industry to deliver improved standards. 

SBC: 2023 stands as a defining year for European gambling as regulatory judgements are summoned across the markets of the UK, Spain, Holland, Ireland, and Sweden – How have you viewed these corresponding developments?

BS: It’s clear over recent years there has been renewed scrutiny of our industry, and that has led to regulatory changes. We have certainly seen that in the UK with the publication of the White Paper.

For me, this requires a renewed response from operators and trade bodies to work together to find ways to improve standards. Only by raising standards, and showing that appetite for improvement can operators retain their legitimacy and prevent draconian legislation which we know only pushes those at the most risk to the growing illegal black market online.

Our members are international by design, generating £7.1bn for the UK economy alone and £4.2bn in taxes while supporting 110,000 jobs. 

That contribution is replicated across Europe and beyond. We’ve seen in the UK that cooperation is key to success and learning from other regulatory frameworks on how best to deliver for members and their customers. 

SBC: Has 2023 rebalanced the industry’s relationship with governing bodies and how should the industry be represented amid changing sensitivities towards raising inflation, consumer redress, corporate conduct and social responsibility?

BS: The White Paper will obviously be seen as the product of that work to reset the industry’s relationship with the Regulator and Government in the UK. The key for us was to make a compelling case for proportionate, balanced and sensible reform that protects the vulnerable while not impacting unfairly on the enjoyment of the majority who bet safely. I believe that is what we have achieved on the key issues that matter to our members and their customers.

The wider context all had an impact on Government thinking, the impact of Covid and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has made for some pretty heavy economic headwinds, particularly for the land-based sector.  While issues around corporate conduct and social responsibility are ever present for our sector.

Betting and gaming is an economic powerhouse for the UK, as I’ve outlined, so it is always important to spell out what our members are contributing financially to communities across the country, but also to the Treasury. 

Meanwhile, our work on standards has tackled those questions on conduct and social responsibility head on. The White Paper isn’t the finish line for us, as with any relationship, this will take continued work from all sides to ensure our industry continues to be a British business success story.

SBC: Whilst Europe will remain a fragmented market on gambling laws, can diverse trade bodies cooperate to form better standard practices, shared research and academic insights representing the industry in a new era of distinct challenges?

BS: It’s true differing gambling laws do make for a complicated landscape for our members, but this has always been the case. The key is to share learning and knowledge across those different territories, so we are all working to find ways of improving. 

I think this industry has made huge strides in the last three years and I would hope and expect other trade bodies have looked closely at the way the BGC has gone about its business and worked with Government and the regulator to deliver the White Paper. 

SBC: Most importantly, can gambling operators be trusted to operate sustainable businesses and regain political trust?

BS: Not only is it possible, I think we have demonstrated that. Our members know raising standards is the only way to guarantee a sustainable future for their businesses. I am proud of what the BGC has achieved marshalling those efforts so the industry, from online to land based, can deliver best practices across the board.

That corporate effort has been key in showing a unified industry with shared goals, and the BGC has been the proud flagbearer of that work, and will continue to be. 

I think the best demonstration of that trust is the White Paper, which showed where industry, the regulator and Government can work in unison to deliver.   

SBC: What key takeaways would you like Barcelona Summit audiences to take away from your panel?

BS:  I hope they take away some of the key things we have learned as an industry going through a huge regulatory change. The White Paper is the biggest event for this industry in the UK in a generation, there’s many lessons that can be learned from our experiences in that process.

Hopefully, they will recognise a real willingness to improve standards is the foundation from which to build from. If you can demonstrate, with overwhelming evidence, a unified industry seeking improved standards, Government’s and regulators respond to that positively. 

That can be the difference between a shared approach which delivers for all parties, and draconian measures which do no good for anyone, least of all those we would wish to protect the most.

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SBC News Brigid Simmonds (OBE): White Paper provides a shared experience of gambling’s conflict & resolution

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