The week before I wrote this marked three months since I first joined the Gambling Insider editorial team. While this is usually a benchmark reserved for love-struck teens and Alcoholics Anonymous, I feel a certain sense of achievement by reaching the milestone.
Having previously only experienced the B2C side of the industry, both as a customer and member of staff, the B2B sphere was unchartered territory for me. Now tasked with covering news within the B2B space, it was necessary to not only take in the mountain of information surrounding the industry, but to do so in as little time as possible.
As a result, those first three months were spent hastily absorbing everything the industry had to offer, from the names of Swedish operators, to financial jargon and gambling legislation across the US. During this process, plenty of my pre-conceived ideas about the industry were challenged; none more so than in its treatment of customer protection.
Having previously worked in an operator’s customer experience centre, it’s fair to say I have a unique insight into the UK’s problem gambler population. In one training session, my colleagues and I were asked to raise our hands if anyone had dealt with a suicidal customer over the phone. Around 60% of the hands in the room were raised; thankfully not including my own. Regardless of whether these calls were a genuine concern, a cry for help, or a desperate attempt for a refund, this made for a bleak outlook on the industry.
In addition, unfavourable reporting in the UK press can often make the industry feel like a malevolent force lacking in compassion. Sometimes it feels like the purpose of mainstream media is just to appease an audience, and when the flavour of the day is gambling-related harm, it isn’t hard to see how the medium can perpetuate anti-gambling sentiment in the country.
During my first few weeks at Gambling Insider, this negative coverage seemed to be at an all-time-high. Paddy Power had just revealed its “Save Our Shirt” campaign by emblazoning its logo across the shirts of English Championship football club Huddersfield Town. Shortly afterwards, Derby County, another Championship club, revealed ex-England international Wayne Rooney would be sporting the number 32 on his back when he joined the club. Needless to say, the UK media had a field day with both stories, and GVC Holdings CEO Kenny Alexander labelled the 32Red deal a “complete own goal.”
Cynicism is unavoidable when stories like this are grabbing the headlines, and after that first month, it seemed as if the outlook for UK gambling was worse than ever. It wasn’t until I attended my first industry events I began to understand the majority of the industry was in fact working hard to improve the protection of its customers.
One such event was the launch of Responsible Gambling Week, in which panels of executives gathered to discuss how they could further improve customer protection. The discussions themselves were forward-thinking and optimistic, but it was the participation of regulators, operators, suppliers, affiliates and charities, all working towards a single aim, that was most impressive.
Speaking at the beginning of this meeting, Tim Miller, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, seemed to speak for all attendees when he said: “We as a regulator and you as the industry need to do a lot more to build public trust that we are genuinely concerned and focused on protecting vulnerable people.” This genuine concern and desire for trust is something that I have seen proven at various events, as representatives from all corners of the industry work with regulators and charities to paint a better picture for the future, with solutions benefitting all parties involved.
While some might be seen to be letting the side down, for the majority of the industry, customer protection is the absolute priority. As Wes Himes, CEO of the Remote Gambling Association, made clear in one such discussion: “This is not a PR exercise for us. This is deeply rooted. It’s from the top to the bottom; from the shop manager to the Chief Executive.”
The UK media will continue to view the industry through an anti-gambling lens, regardless of the best efforts of those within it. But I’m pleasantly surprised that after three months within the industry, my own outlook is not so bleak.