SBC News Kenneth Alexander: Industry's regulatory future is in-play as live sport resumes

Kenneth Alexander: Industry’s regulatory future is in-play as live sport resumes

GVC Holdings CEO Kenneth Alexander has issued a public statement to Parliament, as sportsbooks return to trading on the majority of major sports betting markets.

Writing for Politics Home, Alexander emphasised that while a post-lockdown period brings with it an opportunity to promote a wide range of betting markets, gambling companies must not become ‘complacent’ in its responsible gambling measures.

The industry has upped its commitment to responsible gambling during the lockdown, and with the ‘disorientating’ lack of sport, Alexander pointed out that the last few months could be a troubling time for those vulnerable to problem gambling.

Following lockdown, Alexander underlined that gambling leadership is aware of its responsibility in safeguarding a ‘valuable industry’ which contributes around £9 billion in gross value to the UK economy, in which GVC serves as a top twenty tax-paying corporation.

He wrote: “The popularity of these combined leisure activities is one of the factors that have made the gambling industry a hugely valuable one to the UK economy, contributing around £9 billion Gross Value Added. GVC alone is one of the 20 biggest taxpayers in the UK. However, there is also no denying that, for a small minority of people, gambling can become a problem.

“It was understandable, therefore, that the lockdown could exacerbate the issue for some. Thankfully, the UK Gambling Commission has thus far found no evidence of such an increase. But we must never be complacent.”

But while Alexander pointed out that responsible gambling measures have been a key element of player protection during the lockdown, he warned that ‘punitive measures’ would merely exacerbate the rates of problem gambling by driving players to illegal sites.

He added: “There is a significant anti-gambling lobby that believes punitive and mandatory restrictions – notably clamping down on online stake thresholds – will help problem gamblers.

“I don’t doubt for one minute their genuine desire to help solve the problem, but such measures would actually only serve to exacerbate the issue: punters would switch instead to unlicensed black market operators, where there is zero customer protection, interaction or intervention for those who may be at risk.

“In other words, it is an approach that could damage the very people that it seeks to protect.The proportion of UK customers betting with illegal gambling operations is currently amongst the lowest in the world, but the black market in this country still generates £1.4 billion of turnover a year.

“We only need to look at other countries that have imposed onerous regulations, such as France and Australia, to see that they lead to the rise of substantial black markets. And problem gambling has been found to be up to 150% more prevalent among illegal operators.”

Leading GVC amid greater regulatory and media scrutiny Alexander stated that the FTSE100 operator is managed by ‘making evidence-based decisions, guided by what the customers tell us’.

Open dialogue with customers supports GVC changes in operational protocols, in which Alexander underlined that customers strongly favour transparent safer gambling measures such as setting voluntary limits when playing slots.

Alexander reiterated that GVC had ‘learned from mistakes’ made in terms of advertising and player protection – having upped its donations to research, education, and treatment of problem gambling.

“Our industry has not been perfect, and mistakes have certainly been made in the past. However, we have learned from those mistakes and are making evidence-based decisions, guided by what our customers tell us.

“We know that our customers want to see us go further on safer gambling measures. Protecting our customers and behaving responsibly is clearly the decent and moral thing to do.

“We want to work together with others to get this right. Headline-grabbing blanket restrictions on stake limits may appear superficially attractive, but ultimately, they are likely to be hugely counterproductive.

“Regulation should encourage the industry to account for individual circumstances, provide tools that let customers manage their own gambling at a level which is affordable for them, and intervene before problems develop.Get the approach wrong, and we will only make things worse by pushing those who are most vulnerable into the hands of the unscrupulous black market.”

Closing his statement, Alexander underlines that the government and betting incumbents are at a crucial juncture with regards to the industry’s future regulatory balance with regards to protecting consumers and society’s vulnerable.

“Get the approach wrong, and we will only make things worse by pushing those who are most vulnerable into the hands of the unscrupulous black market.”

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