Ralph Topping – ‘UK could be world leader in safer gambling’

The UK gambling industry could export its safer gambling expertise across the world if the Government were to have some vision for the sector, according to Ralph Topping, the former Group CEO of the William Hill Plc who has been inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame this week.

In an interview for SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital, the free virtual conference and exhibition which started today, Topping said that the UK is already a world leader for gambling and that the Government should try and harness that.

He explained: “Bookmakers in the UK are in demand, whether it be in the US, South America and Europe, so I think we have a whole lot to offer. And I think if we had a strong Government they would realise that and look at the prospects for developing that kind of industry. As it is they have a record for killing off strong industries as they never sat down and thought about where they want it to go and I think we are in that situation at the moment. It is a pity. 

“I think it’s an opportunity for the way gambling has evolved in the UK to be taken elsewhere. I think it won’t happen as the Government doesn’t have the imagination.”

Topping said that the 2005 Gambling Act was born when there was a strong Government who would take positions and work with the industry, but the current Government has been weakened over time and that is a danger for the gambling industry. This is especially true when single-issue groups are having such influence on policy, be it Brexit, trade or gambling. 

Topping said that gambling pressure groups need to have a more holistic vision rather than concentrating on what issue has been in the papers recently: “A lot of the concerns they have I totally accept. But they are not capable of saying where they want the industry to end up. This means there’s a piecemeal approach. 

“I just wish they would sit down and work with the industry on where they want to get to, whether that’s actually achievable and have the debate with the industry and decide in a reasonable way what they wish to see happen in the UK. 

“If there was ever a time when we required Government to be strong I think it’s at the moment because you could have a very, very strong gambling industry in the UK taking that responsible attitude to gambling that that now pervades bookmaking in the UK to other places in the world.”

One of the policies being pushed for is the ban of all sponsorship around sport and in particular football, but Topping has a different perspective. Given that he used to be Chairman of the Scottish Professional Football League, he has a unique perspective on the relationship between betting and football. 

“I think it worked up in Scotland,” he said. “Scotland has always done more football business than any other region of the UK. So it made sense in a lot of ways for bookmakers to sponsor high profile tournaments. It didn’t make sense for bookmakers to sponsor high profile clubs, because if you do that you may attract friends, but also create enemies [from rival supporters]. 

“So I think what bookmaking did for Scottish football was excellent. But the whole issue has been caught up in concern over children getting involved in gambling, but they should have been concerned with children being caught up in lottery betting rather than online or in betting shops. I think there’s much more to be concerned in lottery than there ever was in betting. I think the relationship was good between betting and football, but everyone’s going their own way now.”

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To watch the interview with Ralph Topping, log on to SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital today. It is a FREE to attend virtual conference and exhibition running from 8-11 September. To register for your free ticket or find out more please visit – https://sbcevents.com/sbc-summit-barcelona-digital/

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