This March, gambling harm prevention agency EPIC Risk Management announced its most ambitious initiative to date by partnering with GVC Holdings to launch gambling harm educations programmes.
Paul Buck, CEO of EPIC Risk Management, is leading the directive supported by GVC’s ‘US Foundation’. SBC spoke to him about transferring gambling harm learnings to the US’ fragmented health and civic networks.
SBC: Hi Paul, great to catch-up. Can you detail to SBC readers your US collaboration with the GVC Foundation US, what are its aims and objectives in terms of problem gambling prevention?
Paul Buck (CEO EPIC Risk Management): EPIC Risk Management have built to be the leading independent gambling harm minimisation consultancy in the UK and Europe working with evidentially and statistically the highest risk sectors for problem gambling. These include elite sport, financial services, the armed forces, the criminal justice sector, education of children aged 15+ and the more recently the gambling industry. We have directly worked with over 125,000 individuals and organisations over the last 3 years.
We have partnered up with the GVC Foundation US to replicate and improve the programmes we have delivered in the UK and Europe. Working initially across 14 key states in the US, we will work with the major sports leagues, player associations and NCAA Division1 universities to a) educate these potentially high-risk populations around sports betting integrity & problem gambling and b) use the power of elite sport and high profile education to spread a wider message to the community that for most gambling is entertainment but for a small, yet significant, percentage of players it becomes out of control leading to devastating effects to both individuals and organisations.
SBC: Why align EPIC Risk Management with GVC’s US Foundation at what is essentially the nascent stage of US betting?
PB: We had offers from different operators to collaborate around responsible gambling in the US. This was a really important decision for us as we wanted to make sure that we found a partner that is as passionate about harm prevention as we are. GVC Foundation US are demonstrating their commitment to the programme by investing an initial $2.5m into the programme so that we can provide our services for no initial charge.
We have worked with GVC in the UK for just over a year now as one of the partners of the Changing for the Bettor global initiative which makes responsible gambling one of the key pillars of their business. We have worked together around NextGen training for its employees in both retail and digital, key case reviews, customer journey, identification of problem gambling behaviours, effective customer interactions and working with senior executives to embed a more sustainable culture.
It made perfect sense to continue this successful collaboration at what is an important stage of US betting. Right now, there is a scramble for gambling operator partnerships and revenue, and whilst sports betting integrity is recognised as a real issue, there is a worrying lack of awareness around the effects of problematic gambling to the individual, organisations, finances and society. It is important that programmes like this one are there in hard to reach sectors from this stage onwards to allow people to make informed decisions and hence reduce harm.
SBC: Your collaboration covers 14 separate states in which to develop problem gambling programmes; is this really an achievable objective?
PB: It is ambitious, but both EPIC and GVC Foundation US are committed to making this the largest programme of its kind ever conducted globally. EPIC have already been the facilitators of the largest programmes in the UK and Europe around sport & education and there is a belief that this is just the start.
What is clear is that the infrastructure around gambling education, research and treatment isn’t yet ready for what is going to be needed is this country over the next 2-5 years. There is going to need to be significant investment in these areas and whilst EPIC will concentrate on prevention of harms we will also collaborate with legislators, treatment providers, politicians and other key stakeholders such as the National Council of Problem Gambling (NCPG) to help build a support network that is fit for purpose in supporting a sustainable industry.
EPIC is committed to the long haul in the US, and the 14 states in this programme will be evaluated and assured by a leading US university research partner before an ambitious countrywide, cross-state, cross-sector roll out.
SBC: Can European learnings on Problem Gambling be transferred to US societies and their fragmented health networks?
PB: I would go as far to say that it is crucial that the learnings from Europe are transferred to the US. It is an exciting time for the US sports betting market, but Europe has proven that weak regulation, harmful products and lack of education and awareness can lead to serious problems.
The goal is to build a sustainable gambling industry that can be profitable and enjoyable but does not create addicts and gambling harms including crime, relationship breakdown, suicide and bankruptcy.
Right now, the health networks in the US are not ready for what is about to face them. There needs to be a serious investment, state by state, in training and educating gambling treatment professionals and building or developing facilities that are fit for purpose. That isn’t going to happen overnight and will take finances, commitment and structured planning. In the meantime, this makes education and awareness programmes even more crucial as the more people who are making informed decisions, the fewer people will need treatment at a time when it just isn’t there on enough scale
We have learned over the last few years that an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a kilogram of a cure for this complex psychological and behavioural disorder.
SBC: How will you and the GVC team provide programme learnings, knowledge and findings to wider stakeholders?
PB: A programme like this one needs robust evaluation and assurance processes. EPIC and the GVC Foundation are in the process of finalising a leading US university research partner and we will be able to announce who this is in the next 6-8 weeks.
As we work with hard to reach sectors, we will collate research responses and provide a transparent and independent set of quantitative and qualitative prevalence findings over the course of the next two years and beyond.
In addition, EPIC and GVC Foundation are committed to being present and leading the conversation at the gambling conference circuit throughout the US to leading stakeholders, politicians, industry executives and treatment providers.
The GVC Foundation US has an impressive line up of talent on the Board of Trustees including Martin Lycka, Director of Regulatory Affairs at GVC Holdings; Bill Pascrell III, Partner at Princeton Public Affairs Group and Amani Toomer, former New York Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl XLII winner. All will be working closely with EPIC to maximise the success and exposure of the programme.
As we build our presence and evidence bank, we will also move across sector as we have in Europe including financial services, education of our next generation and gambling operator training.
SBC: Any final thoughts on EPIC-GVC Partnership initiatives?
PB: The US is at an exciting stage of the development of its gambling industry. Make no mistake, these changes are going to fundamentally change the country – particularly around the relationship with sport. There is absolutely no reason why the US cannot learn the lessons of Europe and enjoy a sustainable & profitable gambling industry whilst avoiding the harms that it can create with irresponsible advertising, pernicious products and lack of prevention programmes, quality research and fit-for-purpose treatment pathways.
We have been hugely encouraged by the engagement of the leagues and academic institutions and there is a real opportunity to make this industry the most sustainable in the world.
EPIC and GVC Foundation may be the leaders in this but we can’t do it alone. We will be seeking meaningful and large-scale collaborations with other operators and stakeholders, and this has already started with the NCPG. Many more will need to be involved if we are to create an industry that is the envy of the rest of the world.
Paul Buck – CEO – EPIC Risk Management