Winning Post – Regulation… Are We Bettor Balanced?

Publishing its latest industry opinion, strategic consultancy Regulus Partners details that sector leadership needs to carefully balance the right narrative/debate on tackling the delicate and complex matter of problem gambling…

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The hair shirt is this season’s must-have fashion item for the well-dressed gambling executive, and this week was the turn of the GVC executive team to adopt sackcloth and ashes in atonement for sins of the past as the company published further details of its harm prevention strategy.  

Positively for GVC and the wider industry, this recognition is crucially met with the understanding that gambling can be positive for many as well as potentially harmful for a few. Striking this balance, as well as driving meaningful harm mitigation, is crucial for the sustainability of the industry, in our view.

Over the last couple of years, we have had a number of these corporate epiphanies, including William Hill’s hard-hitting ‘Nobody Harmed’ campaign. These are to be welcomed as much for their recognition that harms related to gambling can be severe and may be (at least in part) preventable by more conscientious action from operators.

At the same time, there have been concerns that desperation to show that gambling companies care may result in visible but diffused and possibly not very effective activity. More than that, these campaigns may actually be serving to tip the balance of policy away from the consumer. The long overdue recognition of harm is to be applauded but when even the industry forgets that many people derive enjoyment and positive well-being from their services, we are in trouble.

This week’s Changing for the Bettor announcement from GVC appeared to go some way to correcting that balance – with a tacit pledge to raise the bar in terms of customer service and consumer enjoyment in sympathy with harm prevention – critically, globally, not just in the UK where the fire is currently burning brightest (though gaining public UK ministerial support). As we have commented before, painting gambling in the darkest of hues may appeal to the sanctimony of elements of the public health lobby but it is unlikely to be in the true interests of consumer well-being.

A similar notion was also explored in the CEOs panel discussion during this week’s CMS Gambling Conference. In probing the question of how to find ‘a healthy regulatory balance’, the panellists (Anna Hemmings from GamCare, the Gambling Commission’s Neil McArthur, Rank’s John O’Reilly, Bet Victor’s Andreas Meinrad and Richard Noble from Aspers) observed that many of the things that operators might do to prevent harm are consistent with basic customer service (while some aspects of current legislation perhaps get in the way of both).

This underscores an old gambling adage, often repeated by industry insiders but rarely believed by wider stakeholders: ‘problem gamblers are bad for business’.

In a world of anonymous punters, dissipated behaviour (in both senses) and few checks, this statement is hard to effectively defend (sure, customers blow out and stop gambling, but then they can be enticed back – too much of this sort of behaviour has been unearthed by regulators recently). However, when sustainability can be empirically defended by both demonstrable behaviours and data, a dialogue which is about building effective gambling businesses is much more likely to occur and be believed. For this to happen, good customer service is a great place to start.

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