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David Clifton: Licensing Expert – Gambling participation & public perceptions of gambling

David Clifton

In last month’s article for SBC News, I wrote about the Gambling Commission’s consultation Changes to our enforcement strategy: putting the consumer first that runs until 21 April 2017.

I referred to recent speeches given by the Commission’s Chief Executive Sarah Harrison in November and February that, foreshadowing the Commission’s new enforcement mission statement, set out its reinforced focus on protection of consumers and the general public.

It is clear from those very same speeches that, in determining policy direction, the Commission places very considerable weight on the public perception of gambling.

That’s worrying news for the gambling industry, bearing in mind the considerable influence on their readership of campaigns by prominent sectors of the British press against the negative influence of gambling.

The following snippets from Sarah Harrison’s recent speeches paint their own picture:

  • “That’s my ambition: for gambling consumers in Britain to have trust and confidence. Yes, that they will get the best prices and the best experience, but also that they will be well informed; treated fairly at all times; and kept safe, in particular those who are vulnerable to the risks and reality of gambling-related harm”,
  • “As with any business sector, the gambling industry’s longer-term sustainability is hugely reliant on trust – a recognition that customers using products and services are valued, respected and treated fairly. Respect in this context, manifests itself in a number of ways: how operators write and present terms and conditions, how they handle complaints, how they act towards consumers who are vulnerable and so on” and
  • “Gambling operators need to focus now on how they should adapt, improve and build consumer trust and confidence to avoid the aftershocks, and retain sustainable businesses over the long term”.

It is concerning then that the recently published annual report by the Commission entitled “Gambling participation in 2016: behaviour, awareness and attitudes” states that responses to questions to some 2,000 interviewees in Great Britain aged 18 and over about perceptions and attitudes to gambling indicated a marked increase in negative sentiment, with only 34% of people in Great Britain thinking that gambling is fair and can be trusted, compared with almost 50% in 2009.

Consumers’ concerns about the fairness of terms and conditions, particularly in relation to free bet promotions, and the odds offered by gambling companies, are live issues being considered by the Competition and Markets Authority investigation – supported by the Gambling Commission – into whether online gambling companies are treating their customers fairly. The CMA is due to provide an update on its investigation next month.

It is interesting then to read in the gambling participation report that only 23% of gamblers have actually read operators’ terms and conditions. The most commonly given reason for not reading Ts & Cs was “too long winded/ too much to read/ too many words”. Of those who had read them, 24% felt that they had been in a situation where terms and conditions had been unfair, with the most common examples of this being, in line with the CMA’s own express concerns:

  • wagering requirements which must be fulfilled before winnings can be claimed,
  • unfair availability and qualification of free bets, and
  • feeling that the odds are stacked against the player.

A particularly negative aspect of the report is that 39% of people think that gambling is associated with criminal activity and 78% think that there are too many opportunities for gambling, with 69% expressing the opinion that gambling is dangerous for family life.

In a finding not overly inconsistent with pre-existing research, 0.7% of respondents were identified as problem gamblers (with men quite considerably more likely than women to be so categorized) and 5.5% as low or moderate risk gamblers, of which:

  • men were more likely to be so categorised than women and
  • 25-34 year olds were most likely to identify as at-risk, followed by 16-24 year olds.

The report shows that there has been an increase in awareness of self-exclusion, 6% of gamblers having at some time excluded from a gambling company and 37% of gamblers who did not self-exclude being aware of it, despite not using it (up from 29% a year before). However, self-exclusion statistics need to be treated with some degree of caution because, whilst 45% self-exclude to control the amount of money they gamble overall, the next most common reason for self-excluding is to enable closure of an account with a gambling company.

Of little surprise is that only 15% of people believe that gambling is good for society and 23% feel that it would be better if gambling was banned altogether. However, correspondingly, 67% believe that people should have the right to gamble whenever they want.

Other headline findings in the report include:

  • 48% of people had participated in a form of gambling in the previous four weeks, compared with 45% in the previous annual report
  • 33% had participated in gambling in the previous four weeks, excluding those who had only played the National Lottery draw (up from 27% previously)
  • 17% had gambled online in the previous four weeks (up from 15%) with younger age groups seeing the largest increases in participation
  • 97% of online gamblers gamble at home (no change from the previous year) but when gambling takes place elsewhere, men are most likely to gamble at work and women whilst commuting
  • 43% of online gamblers had gambled using a mobile phone or tablet (a marked increase from the 33% who had done so last year)
  • 32% follow a gambling company on (in order of popularity) Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and LinkedIn
  • on average, online gamblers have three accounts with online gambling operators
  • online gamblers are most likely to be prompted to gamble by promotions for free bets and bonuses (31%) followed by adverts on television (24%), adverts online (21%) and advertising on social media (15%)

Insofar as betting is concerned, the report highlights notable increases over the last year in both sports betting and private betting, which the Commission believes was probably driven by the UEFA European Football Championship last year and the Rio 2016 Olympics, which it says “prompted unusually high rates of betting activity, particularly amongst younger people” aged 25-34. It also finds that 26% of online gamblers have bet in-play while an event is taking place, with the highest rates in the 18-24 year old category.

It is also worthy of note that in terms of public awareness of gambling policy issues, concerns in relation to the number of gambling premises on the high street topped the list, although in terms of relative importance of gambling policy issues, the top three were, in order of importance:

  • having controls in place to ensure that children and young people are not exposed to gambling
  • increased regulation of non-UK based online gambling operators
  • setting a stake limit on machines in bookmakers’ premises (although setting a maximum allowance for the number of gaming machines permitted in such premises came considerably lower in the list of priorities).

The full report, together with graphics published by the Commission showing gambling participation and gambling behaviour can be accessed on our website at http://cliftondavies.com/gambling-participation-2016-behaviours-awareness-attitudes/

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David Clifton – Director – Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited