Winning Post: Sweden stresses its ‘duty of care’

Opening the week, industry strategic consultancy Regulus Partners provides insight into whether Swedish gambling operators can effectively deliver a ‘duty of care’ to customers, and how the introduction of further problem gambling clinics can support harm prevention.

UK: safer gambling – Leeds follows London on gambling disorder clinic

This week, the second NHS clinic for problem gambling opened in Leeds. The clinic, which is partly funded by voluntary contributions from betting and gaming operators, is modelled on Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones’s London clinic. A further 13 clinics are due to open in England over the next few years with Manchester and Sunderland next in line. Department of Health plans to provide like services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are unclear but would seem to be a logical extension of this policy.

The NHS has strongly hinted that it would like to see gambling companies fund these clinics outright but is also rather sniffy about accepting money directly from an industry that (based upon public utterances) it neither understands nor particularly likes. This ideology is likely to increase pressure for a statutory levy unless the Conservative Party peer, Lord Chadlington can manage to establish an acceptable alternative under the largesse of the so-called ‘Big Five’ (bet365, Flutter, GVC, Sky Betting & Gaming and William Hill).

While the opening of the NHS clinics is to be welcomed, the overwhelming weight of treatment services for gambling disorder in Britain will continue to be provided by the charity GamCare and its national network of treatment partners (and of course Gordon Moody Association and Gamblers Anonymous).

Media and political obsessions with NHS services means that the important work of these organisations is often forgotten or marginalised; yet the GamCare network is a rare example of effective coordination in this space (and NHS executives could learn a thing or two from them regarding the value of pragmatism over moral and political squeamishness).

As substantially increased funding flows into harm prevention and treatment, leadership will be required to ensure greater levels of cooperation – and possibly some level of consolidation – across the panoply of organisations active in the field (as well as those working in other areas of mental health). It also raises the importance of scientific and ideologically untainted approaches to assessing both the scale of need and the effectiveness of treatment.

Global: safer gambling – Sweden expects that every bookie will do its duty

“Duty of care” – three little words that have in recent times come to express heightened expectations of the gambling industry by those who regulate them. This week, the Swedish Gambling Authority is reported to have told licensees that they have a duty of care towards their customers, requiring them to identify the signs of problematic gambling and intervene in order to prevent harm. Duty of care is also set out in gambling legislation in the Netherlands while in Britain the House of Lords Select Committee on gambling (economic and social impact) has asked whether an operator duty of care needs to be enshrined within the Gambling Act.

As ever, interpretation is key. It is common for gambling licensees to be required under law to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to vulnerable customers. This endows a regulatory duty of care on operators in addition to the ethical or social duty of care that applies to all businesses to have regard for the well-being of those consuming their products and services. However, there is growing concern that the concept of duty of care may be expanded in a way that would allow consumers to seek legal redress for gambling-related harms, confronting operators with the prospect of civil action in addition to regulatory sanctions.

As ever, operator negligence is the hand-maiden to regulatory tightening, with examples of poor risk management providing justification for greater restrictions. This week, the Swedish regulator reeled off a list of licensee misbehaviour that included inadequate due diligence on source of funds and a disproportionate weighting of KYC checks towards winning customers. This suggests that some operators are still struggling with domain dependence and the inability to apply lessons from one jurisdiction to others. A duty of care perhaps too often overlooked is to the sustainability of operators’ own business models…

Out of Parliament:  Getting right-on in Brighton; Labour peers into future of gambling
Those wishing to understand the prospects for Britain’s gambling industry under a Labour government should pack up their buckets and spades, dust down their ‘Kiss me Quick’ hats and make their way down to Brighton. On Monday, Labour’s Deputy Leader, Tom Watson (Lab, West Bromwich East) will lead a discussion on ‘How to Regulate the Gaming and Gambling Markets of the Future’.

Watson (who has Shadow responsibility for culture, media and sport within his portfolio) has already committed to bringing in new primary legislation under a Labour Government, claiming that the Gambling Act 2005 is “not fit for the digital age”. So far, his policy ideas have been well-considered, measured and relatively moderate – free from the moral posturing that characterises so much of the gambling policy debate. However, it is likely that others in his party would go further in restricting the industry – and given the stresses of Brexit – by no means certain that Watson would be in a Corbyn Cabinet in the event of an election win.

Others taking part in the debate include the campaigning MP (and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities), Carolyn Harris (Lab, Swansea East); the gambling concern activist and former Corbyn speech-writer, Matt Zarb-Cousin; and ‘loot box academic’, David Zendle. With such events the value is likely to be not so much what the panellists say (their views are generally pretty-well publicised) but in how party members respond – the extent to which the audience pushes Watson to go further and faster on reining in the gambling industry.

Those making their way to Manchester for the Conservative Party conference a week later have the opportunity to travel to the other end of this ideological debate when Vicky Ford MP (Cons, Chelmsford) and Ben Bradley MP (Cons, Mansfield) take part in an Institute of Economic Affairs fringe event on the subject of ‘Paternalism Overload: Has the Nanny State Gone too Far’). Of course, anyone who uses the term ‘nanny state’ is likely by definition to believe its very existence is a stage “too far”; while those working within the public health lobby are unlikely to think it is possible to ever go too far in saving humans from freedom and folly.

The juxtaposition of these two events might create a false impression about the relative attitudes towards gambling from what are (for a while longer at least) the two main political parties in Britain. Some of the most dogmatic of the industry’s opponents are to be found on the right-wing of the Tory party. While the Conservative conference does not feature any gambling specific-fringe events, there will be a number of debates on the subject of mental health so don’t be surprised if gambling puts in the odd special guest appearance.

Content provided by Regulus Partners

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