10 November, 2021

All You Need is Balance

Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting & Gaming Council, catches up with Tim Poole to discuss how alcohol and gambling compare, advertising, social media abuse and driving industry change

To go back a little bit in terms of your career, you worked quite a lot in the alcohol industry, can you tell us some more about your background?

For 10 years I was Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, but before that, for 17 years, I ran something called Business in Sport and Leisure, which again was talking with politicians. It was wider, there was a bit on the gambling side, and on the alcohol side, but it was also about watching sport, which is my passion. It did planning and it did employment, which I think are important too.


How does working in alcohol and gambling compare?

It’s quite an interesting starting point. When I started with the beer and pub sector, they’d slightly lost their way with government and seen endless increases in tax. We had Gordon Brown, who was Scottish, so whiskey got a good deal, but nobody else got one. I think we reintroduced them to believing that pubs are quintessentially English, you’re better off drinking at a pub because someone is looking after you than doing it on the riverbank, and that the average politician has 53 pubs in their constituency. There are enormous amounts of pubs and brewing is [a big industry]. Even if you’re Heineken, you brew in the UK.

So I think we moved that dialogue on. We need to do the same for gambling. I believe that alcohol and gambling are both things that people choose to do in their leisure time. As long as you drink responsibly, you gamble responsibly and moderately, there is nothing wrong with that. I have a slightly different view about tobacco. I have never worked in that because it’s just bad for you, but the alcohol and gambling industry are actually quite similar. We need to work hard to make sure that we are playing our part, but we also need the government to work with us and help us to do that.


What has alcohol got right, in terms of advertising, but also in terms of public image, that maybe gambling can learn from?

The advertisements became really quite fun. You look at some of the advertisements, for example Diageo’s, and they’re clever. I think some of our advertisements need to be clever as well, but alcohol is quite a competitive market and quite a mature market, which I think means you get competitive advertisements. When we launch our replacement for ‘when the fun stops, stop’, we’ll have something generic that goes with that, and we’ll expect our members to remove the current one and put our new strapline on it.


You mentioned the replacement for when the fun stops, stop, do you have any thoughts on the Tap Out ad, the Bet Regret one with the big wrestler?

I was a trustee of Gamble Aware, when I was at the BPA, so I know quite a lot about it, and I actually sat on the board of Bet Regret. I’m probably not the right person to ask that question of because I’m not the audience they’re after. I think they did their own research just as we’ve done our own research on our new campaign, and you have to listen to what consumers say — what people say — who do gamble, and gamble on a very regular basis. It’s easy to stand on the side-lines and throw stones.


How do you balance praise from the industry with the constant anti-gambling campaigning you’re inevitably going to get?

To be honest, there are some people out there that are simply anti-gambling. They may claim that they’re not, but they are. Whatever I say or whatever the industry does, they’re never going to be satisfied. I don’t believe in prohibition, it didn’t work in the States in the 1920s, and it won’t work here. What you need is balance. I hope we are putting forward something that is balanced with lots of facts and lots of information. We do get some praise. Last Saturday, we won an award from the three armed forces because of the money we raised from the Britannia Stakes at Ascot last year. I think we raised £1.2m ($1.6m).

There are people out there who appreciate the work we’re doing, but you do have to take a balanced view of it and sadly, there are some people who don’t feel able to do that. I think you also need to understand what a complicated subject this is. In beer, there isn’t a black market, apart from a white van man going around and delivering to the back of a pub, but it’s not there really. In gambling, there is clearly a black market. We know from the work we’ve done with PWC, that the numbers of people taking part in the black market has increased. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen, and I don’t think sweeping it under the carpet and banning it all is the answer. We just need to make sure we have the regulated industry. I read a lot of things that people say that just do not reflect the industry we are today and the progress we have made in the last two years.


When you read something like that, do you just have to get on with the job and ignore it?

It’s a bit like ignoring all of the people who abuse me on Twitter. No matter what I say, even if it’s something innocuous, they find some reason. I’m quite good at ignoring those sorts of things and I don’t really react. I believe that if you’re going to say things to people, you should think about whether you’re going to say them to their face. If you’re going to put it just in an online context, then I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. I have my own standards of behaviour and I try to talk about facts and what the industry is doing. What it needs to do is absolutely clear. We’re not perfect yet, but going forward we’re not targeting vulnerable customers.


When the Football Index saga was first bubbling on the surface, I wrote a news article about it and got abused for it. BGC CEO Michael Dugher has come in for flak for hitting back at Twitter abuse.

I think, in the heat of the moment, people can say things that they regret afterwards. But Football Index is not an area that we work in. Reading the report that the Government came out with, it was as much an FSA regulated issue as it was with the Gambling Commission, but we weren’t involved in that in any way, shape or form. It’s not my role to comment on how businesses work commercially, that’s just not what the trade association is there to do. What we are there to do is promote best practice.


In terms of your members, which are the ones that drive industry change the most?

I won’t name companies, but what I will say is that I have been really pleased at the engagement we’ve had from our members. Obviously, larger members have more people and more time to engage in these sorts of things, but all of our members are engaged. We do have very clear rules of membership at the BGC, and that people have to abide by these codes. The engagement has been really good. When I was interviewed for the job, I met the chief executives and said I’m not going to do this unless a) you’re prepared to work together, and b) you will put safer gambling at the heart, and I think they do that.


If someone were to say to you that the BGC is just seen as a mouthpiece for the industry, what would be your response?

The Trade Association is there to collect the views of our members. A lot of what our members say is very technical, and it is our role to put it into plain English, and to put it into something so that everybody understands what we’re trying to do. I don’t think we’re a mouthpiece. Our members understand what they’re doing, I just think that in many cases, it’s possibly better that what they’re saying to us is what we say publicly, rather than them saying it directly.