Andy Atha: Collaboration is key when it comes to problem gambling

Sky Betting and Gaming’s ex-Head of Risk and Responsibility, Andy Atha, has been named gambling therapy provider AnonyMind’s new Chief Operating Officer. We sat down with Atha to discuss his background, latest role, tech and problem gambling more generally.


So, first things first, can you tell us a bit about your background and what attracted you to AnonyMind?

My background is in operational management. I worked at Sky Betting and Gaming for almost three years, looking after its safer gambling strategy and team. From there, I went to Push Doctor, which was a digital health company, and I helped scale up the business. We started to work with the NHS and began to resonate really well with people. Digital health was something that was appropriate, easy to use and was going to take off in a big way.

The opportunity to join AnonyMind was too good to miss. It gave me a chance to make a difference in the world of gaming through digital health, providing easy access to medical services and therapy to those people suffering from gambling harm.

How has the pandemic affected digital health and the industry’s approach to gambling harm reduction?

I think digital health has been accelerated significantly by the pandemic. Things that we were expecting to come in by 2028 or 2030, were in by 2021. Because you couldn’t go and see your doctor anymore at your local surgery, you had to do it online. It’s just really sped up and expedited digital health across all sectors. So it has certainly made it easier to access treatment. People who, for whatever reason, can’t or don’t want to leave their house — perhaps they have a mobility issue or fear the stigma of going to a gamblers anonymous meeting — can now receive therapy from their own living room.

Technology can also help gambling operators identify people who may be at risk. Whether it be affordability checks, customer behaviour triggers, AI or other mechanisms; it all comes down to being able to identify individuals.

Speaking about technology, do you think it plays a part in the problem, as well as the solution?

It has certainly normalised gambling. The days of a betting shop being the only location where you could place a wager have gone. Nowadays, it’s uncommon to meet someone who doesn’t have some sort of gambling app on their phone, and it’s become acceptable to talk about gambling, whether it be on top-level sport or something else.

By having a device in your hand or at your home where you are able to access gambling sites very easily, tech has undoubtedly helped to normalise gambling. This has obviously provided enjoyment to many, but will have caused harm to a few as well.

In regard to problem gambling, is the industry being more proactive or reactive?

I think the industry has definitely recognised that there is a problem, and they want to be part of the solution. I believe wholeheartedly that the industry wants to protect their customers, because they appreciate there are people who are suffering from gambling harm. So I strongly believe that the industry is a part of the solution, and it will need to be because this problem won’t fix itself.

As AnonyMind continues to provide accessible, safe, secure and confidential treatment, we want to offer our insights to operators. We want to be able to say: “Look, these are the type of people that are coming through, it’s because of this option or these offers; maybe you need to look at your marketing or the design of your website or whatever it might be, so we can help people together.” There’s not one solution that will fix things, so it’s going to need to be done in partnership.

What role do regulators have to play in gambling harm reduction? Is this an area where self-regulation may be a valid option?

I don’t think there’s an opportunity to self-regulate. Realistically, even if an operator did the best job in the world, there are always going to be people who say they didn’t do enough. But I think regulators need to be working alongside operators and guiding them, nudging them along. So they absolutely play a part in the solution as well, but it needs to be found through collaboration. The regulator, the operators, the treatment providers, the educators; it needs to be done together.

When identifying problem gambling, what behaviours should people look out for in themselves and others?

It’s a very difficult thing to deal with, and if you’re looking for it in yourself, it’s even more difficult. Self-identifying any addiction is very hard, whether that be gambling, whether it be drinking; whatever addiction you may suffer from. But if your gambling is starting to affect your normal life, if it’s starting to affect your decisions, you may be developing a problem. If it’s financially impacting you, if you’re betting with money that you can’t afford to lose, making rash decisions and chasing your losses; these are all things that you should look out for.

But feeling distracted, being unable to concentrate on normal life because you’ve got gambling on your mind, are things to look out for in yourself. Gambling is hopefully an enjoyable thing for a lot of people. Whether they play on a slot machine, or they play bingo, they bet on a football match or a horse race, it’s because they want to enjoy the outcome and potentially win some money. But obviously, if you no longer enjoy the sporting event that you’ve backed, or because you’re only thinking about the money aspect, then you can identify gambling harm in yourself.

In terms of others looking out for gambling harm in somebody else; constantly being distracted again, being snappier than usual, being secretive, hiding where their money’s going and just generally being off. And if they’re talking about gambling a lot more, and potentially showing signs of financial loss as well, these are certainly things to look out for. But it's not like a drink or drug abuse issue, it’s a bit more hidden.

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