Mark Davies Camberton: gambling industry has fallen behind the curve

DaviesAhead of the Betting on Football Conference – 8th of May Stamford Bridge, Team SBC catches up with Mark Davies of Camberton Public Relations to discuss marketing context and brand management ahead of new legislation for igaming and sports betting operators.

Mark Davies is an expert at gaming and sports betting public relations, corporate communications, reputation management and stakeholder management. Part of the founding team of betting exchange – Betfair, Davies now manages Camberton, a consultancy focusing on corporate public relations, reputation management and public affairs.

SBC: Hi Mark, pleasure to interview you. You have had time to digest the new legislation due to be implemented on UK gambling in the coming months. Has anything surprised you on the matter?

Not really, to be honest. I was reasonably close to the Government’s thinking when they were in Opposition so I had a pretty good idea what they were going to introduce if they came to office.

SBC: With new regulations and legislations set to be implemented in the coming months. What factors and concerns should be top of a gaming operator’s agenda?

I think the gambling industry needs to get back ahead of the curve, where it was for a long time but which it has now fallen well behind. It spends too might time fighting fragmented campaigns against individual challenges to it, instead of looking at its business in the round. The debate about FOBTs, for example, should be a debate about responsible gambling generally, rather than about a single product. The debate about tax is no different: it’s better fought on overall costs, which are a lot higher than “15% general betting duty” suggests.

SBC: You brokered one of the first gambling shirt sponsorship deals when Betfair sponsored Fulham? How difficult was that to achieve? What was the sport’s attitude to the industry back than and do you think it has changed?

It was the first deal, for the simple reason that before it happened, it wasn’t allowed on the basis that bookmakers were deemed to have an interest in the outcome of the event which some believed should preclude their involvement. We were able to show that because of the way we were set up (as an exchange, passing the outcome risk directly between customers), we didn’t care about the result. So it was accepted that we could do it.

I think that the sport had not really woken up to betting generally at the time. There certainly wasn’t an understanding of the extent to which it was a fantastic betting product – partly because it was only a short time earlier that betting on single outcomes had been illegal.

SBC: At the recent iGaming Think Tank, you commented that operators needed to understand better the context in which governments set and impose regulations, laws and taxes on the market. Can you elaborate on why this is needed and how it would benefit operators to be more knowledgeable on governmental concerns and thinking?

Some people believe that the best way to influence decision-making is to go in at the top, and plenty of advisory firms trade on that mantra. But my view is that Governments never take decisions – of any sort – in a vacuum, and what a Minister or Prime Minister wants is irrelevant if the zeitgeist is against them. Just look at the Maria Miller story if you don’t believe that! People need to understand the broader policy context, public perception, and where pressure and influence is coming from; and they need to create an environment where their preferred outcome is the only possible outcome, because the background noise is that it is, to coin that annoying phrase, “the right thing to do”.

SBC: Political debate has now turned to further restrictions of gambling advertising on broadcast mediums. Can the industry challenge these concerns and possible restrictions, or should operators focus on preparing for a new set of rules?

This is a good example of what I was saying earlier about looking at the overall positioning. If the age restriction on opening accounts and betting is foolproof, then it doesn’t matter a row of beans what time the product is advertised, because people who are not the target audience can’t use it. That isn’t hard to understand, so it must mean that people advocating a ban do not understand, or believe in, the robustness of the responsible gambling policies. I think time is better spent focusing on the causes rather than the symptoms.

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Mark Davies – Founder Camberton Reputation Management 

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Mark Davies will be speaking at the Betting on Football Conference on 8 May at Stamford Bridge.

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