APBGG: Industry cannot afford complacency on underage gambling

Industry figureheads and wider health and education stakeholders addressed the issue of whether children are really gambling – at the latest meeting of the ‘Parliamentary All Party Betting and Gaming Group’ (APBGG – 26 February 2019).

The subject matter which has become a prominent issue for the UK gambling industry was discussed by –  David Williams, Director of Public Affairs at Rank Group; Richard Flint, Executive Chairman at Sky Betting & Gaming; Ben Haden, Programme Director for Insight at the Gambling Commission and Lee Willows, CEO of Young Gamblers Education Trust (YGam).

All panellists overwhelmingly agreed that ‘children do gamble’, as everyone offered solutions to the issues at hand. The ways in which a solution could be found differed, somewhat, with some suggesting technology-led ideas while others focused more on the educational approach. Nevertheless, panellists agreed that a multifaceted approach was needed was unanimously agreed upon.

David Williams pointed out that the industry as a whole has “failed to grasp some nettles”, but in recent years, there has been both an appetite and determination to face problems head-on.

He stated: “The betting and gaming industry must shoulder its fair share of blame for the binary and polarised climate that we all too often find ourselves in. As an industry we have been far too slow to cotton on to social concerns and public trends, and meet them head-on with intelligent and reasonable solutions.

“We’re in danger of reducing everything to a “permit” or “prohibit” position; it’s not where we want to be.”

The danger of polarising the debate, according to Williams, disregards the progressive work that the gambling industry is currently doing and has previously done to address the issues at hand.

With the introduction of the self-imposed ‘whistle-to-whistle ban’, the increasing use of revenues to fund research education and treatment,  it is essential that the industry as a whole seeks to find more effective solutions.

Williams added: “The Commission has made considerable progress in addressing many of these issues, and recent judgements handed out over the appearance of gambling brands in popular TV programmes have been understandable. The announcement earlier this month to tighten up the process around age verification is welcomed.

“I think there is less disagreement around the desired outcomes of change than some would have us believe.

“We must take ourselves away from the extremes of a debate, and in doing so, we stand a better chance of making the progress that every single person in this room surely wants to see delivered.”

While implementing legislation may have previously been seen as the sole way to resolve the issue, the conversation turned towards the need for conversation and collaboration between operators, parents, the media and the Government.

Leading charity figure at YGam, Lee Willows, addressed the ways in which parents can facilitate education. He stated: “There is an importance in giving parents the tools they need to take the conversation on gambling into living rooms up and down the country. So it should be second nature when you hand your child an ipad or phone, that there is a conversation on digital resilience.

“There isn’t an education component to the new safer gambling strategy, and I’m not saying this should be it, but our brochure shows what education could provide.”

By providing education to both children and parents, a framework of responsibility can be created which can further prevention. Willows and the other panellists discussed the necessity of maintaining a functional, fruitful relationship with the Government through ensuring that Government figures are kept informed on issues.

Richard Flint backed Willow’s suggestion that education should be a key way in ensuring that under-aged gambling is prevented. Participation in gambling has decreased across the board since 2013, with a decline of 29.7 per cent. Flint implied that the inclusion of messaging which highlights the risks posed by irresponsible gambling may have played a significant role in this decline – and it is these messages that have opened the dialogue across living rooms in the UK.

The Gambling Commission, according to Flint, is doing ‘relatively well’ in addressing the issue, but the narrative portrayed by wider stakeholders must be changed. He argued: “Waking up to negative headlines is something executives in the gaming sector have regrettably become used to in recent years and the headlines of 21 November were particularly troubling.

“I would say to many people not close to the gambling industry, by this I include many politicians, this has become the accepted narrative.  These headlines are troubling for me.

“Running an online gambling company for 15 years, and choosing like I do, to be available on social media, means I get a lot of data on the reality of the industry. In our data, I do become aware of people who have experienced harm from online gambling. I personally have met people who have been negatively affected by gambling, but have subsequently turned their lives around through treatment. I strongly believe children need education on the risks of gambling.”

Education should be extended to both parents and children, as stressed by Flint, and it is by doing this that attitudes can be changed and the risks fully understood.

Flint added: “Firstly, we need to make sure that children aren’t gambling under age or illegally, using the ID verification methods that we have online, and we agree that these checks should be done before bets can be placed.

“Then we need to engage with the media to correct the myth that children are gambling with UK licenced operators in anything like the numbers implied in the reports– it is very hard for children to gamble online and withdraw any winnings, and the reality is that it isn’t a widespread phenomenon (and the Gambling Commission data agrees with this view).”

While it has been suggested that the industry is not doing enough to tackle the matter, it is significant progress to note that the industry is in fact meeting with stakeholders and providing funding to research groups in order to source effective solutions for everyone.

A duty to report cases of under-age gambling, according to Lord Bernard Donoughue, lies with the operators. With this in mind, educational and technological initiatives can be incorporated into future UK Gambling Commission strategies in the tackling of children gambling.

Observing the discussion, Lord Donoughue emphasised that complacency from industry figures has previously led to harsh regulations being implemented, which have arguably hindered the gambling community.

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