Carolyn Harris – The BGC is no improvement for UK gambling… it just puts up walls! 

Day five’s morning session of the SBC Digital Summit concluded with the ‘Gambling in Society panel, which focused on the ways gambling can ‘re-appraise its position’ to regain the trust of consumers, regulators, media and wider society.

The ongoing global crisis has emphasised the need for gambling companies to re-establish their community bonds, as corporate conduct and social responsibility are placed at the forefront of businesses’ recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.

Opening proceedings, Carolyn Harris – MP for Swansea and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups Gambling Harm – set the record straight against industry backlash.

“I recognise that I’m the ‘cuckoo in the nest’ for this panel,” Harris said. “I believe that my campaign neutralised the devastating consequences of FOBTs reducing stakes to £2. I’m on a mission, but I’m not anti-gambling… I’m no abolitionist, I just want to end the predatory aspects of the industry and its severe impacts on society’s vulnerable.”

Panel host Alexander Tomic, CEO of pan-European operator Alea, interjected Harris by asking the Labour MP to list her ‘predatory concerns’ related to online gambling and their societal impact.

Harris stated that she has a ‘long list’, but her three main social concerns are related to VIP programmes (including bonus incentives), lack of forced interventions by operators and affordability checks.

Leading the APPG on problem gambling, Harris cited concerns that industry leadership is disconnected from actual problem gambling incidents and experiences taking place within their domains.

“There are many ways to tell if someone can afford to gamble,” she added. “When they are begging an operator for bonuses when they spend a huge amount of money over the weekend when they continually change cards – this is not just a case of affordability checks.”

Tom Galanis, Managing Director of Tag Media, agreed with many of Harris’ industry observations, detailing that negative impacts would be negated by transparency in how standards are developed and who they favour.

Galanis stated that industry leadership and trade associations such as the BGC have ‘seceded ground-based’ to negative headlines.

He said: “UK legislation must be conceived on objectively researched data and evidence. We cannot structure our industry on an operating framework based on emotions.”

Harris shared Galanis’ concerns on the newly-formed BGC, stating that while their agenda looks to tackle industry concerns, their behaviour mirrors previous betting associations.

“I have always found betting companies far more agreeable and willing to work with me, when I go directly to them, rather than through a trade association,” Harris said.

“It happened with the ABB, over FOBTs, which put a wall up between me and the individual companies, and it is happening again with the BGC.

“Maybe it’s not the companies that have the problem, but the people representing them. They throw stones and are very antagonistic.”

Moving discussions away from UK dynamics, Ivan Fellitti, COO of Gaming Malta, recounted the igaming sector’s first steps in Malta, in which incumbents formed their enterprise hubs for expanding global operations.

Fellitti noted how ‘industry talent’ has been able to tackle new corporate complexities and paradigm shifts within the boundaries of a small jurisdiction, which in turn has allowed Malta to attract new business sectors.

He said: “We need to look at gaming as a broader sector. As you know, Malta has a strong igaming community, but as industry’s converge we are moving into video games development and esports.”

Pointing towards an unknown recovery post-covid, Fellitti urged igaming leadership to “move narrative beyond the values of profit towards the values of sustainability, in which igaming definitely has a role to play for Malta”.

Meanwhile, Erik Bergman founder of Great.com, believes that changes in corporate values and leadership thinking will act as the fundamentals to winning back consumer trust.

Bergman pointed to his own personal journey as a young co-founder of Catena Media, an experience which helped him establish Great.com – an organisation that seeks to bring full transparency to how gambling operates and gives back to the community.

He said: “I did not think about these dynamics at the time. However, the more public about our problems, the more people have responded positively.”

Bergman stated that leadership cannot disconnect from problem gambling and consumer concerns: “For my experience, leadership is too far away from the problem.

“In this sense, gambling resembles the coronavirus. When it started leaders thought it would just be another flu! It is now knocking on the door, and they have no answers on how to solve the problem.”

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