25 January, 2023

Have gambling companies prioritised safer gambling enough?

Gambling Insider explores whether or not the gambling industry has progressed over the past 12 months in making safer gambling a bigger priority. Has it worked hard enough to put the health of the consumer first?

On 17 August 2022, the Gambling Commission announced that Entain had agreed to pay a £17m ($19.26m) settlement for anti-money laundering and social responsibility failures. While the operator was keen to stress that this wasn’t strictly a fine, the amount dwarfed the £11.6m punitive financial action the Commission handed down to Betway in 2020 for money-laundering failures – something the regulator was heavily criticised for at the time, as many called for the regulator to revoke Betway’s licence.

The key word here is ‘fine.’ Entain sent out emails to several publications that reported the news by using the word in conjunction with the punitive action taken against it, demanding that news pieces be changed to reflect that the gambling company had actually reached a settlement with the Gambling Commission. Perhaps it was the admission of guilt that had Entain’s higher-ups crawling the walls at the use of the word. A settlement sounds softer to market; it almost makes the business sound responsible for agreeing to pay such a significant sum – before any investigation against it could conclude with a higher fee and a disaster for Entain’s public image.

However, it would be remiss of us not to point out that – much like a public figure agreeing to fork out millions to avoid a trial – the damage in the eyes of the public may have already been done. It could be argued guilty parties don’t agree to pay large sums of cash when innocent.


“Since lockdown and restrictions have ended in the UK – just speaking for myself – I see far more advertisements from operators which now influence responsible gambling messaging”

At an event during Safer Gambling Week in London in October – which Gambling Insider attended – Entain was keen to promote itself as an industry leader in keeping customers safe, inviting GamCare’s Mike Kenward to give a talk about Entain’s recent record and system. The telling point here was that Kenward is not an Entain employee and he didn’t take questions after his presentation. Of course, none of this falls at Kenward’s feet, he was invited to speak about GamCare’s operations and relate it to Entain.

But, while speaking exclusively to Gambling Insider, Kenward commented on Entain’s huge settlement and what the implications were for the business: “We can all agree that this settlement was very large and, like all settlements, learnings need to be drawn on an industry-wide level. Operators must ensure the same mistakes are not repeated and they are actively addressing the failings that have been identified. Everyone has a duty to ensure there is better collaboration and continued improvement. We see the Safer Gambling Standard as a product that can facilitate better industry collaboration, as we can build excellent practice into it and promote that practice across the gambling sector.”

The example of Entain in 2022 wasn’t a singular one, it seemed as though the Gambling Commission was handing out fines (or agreeing settlements) every couple of weeks for failings by gambling companies that breached UK regulations. For all the talk and self-promotion by the industry about how they helped consumers stay away from problem gambling and mitigated the harmful effects it has, was that rhetoric all just chat?

Among the endless sanctions, most of which appeared to have failed safer gambling protocols, were gambling companies taking any of it seriously? Or were they rolling around in a money vault full of cash – á la Scrooge McDuck? Well, several operators have reported quarterly and six-month results that show lower total profit than usual, which some have attributed to the implementation of safer gambling measures having a direct impact on their bottom line; as a result of targeting at-risk customers and helping them manage any issues arising as a result of habitual addiction.


Of course, the advertising of gambling has much to do with what gambling safety promoters are trying to limit. Take the example of Jason Trost, the CEO of Smarkets who recently starred in his own advertising campaign. Due to the advertisement being marketed as edgy and designed not to pass UK regulatory standards on TV, it ran on YouTube, with a strong presence in London train stations. This meant that, during the middle of rush hour, millions of people were seeing a campaign about sports betting throughout the journey home.

So, this does beg the question, are gambling companies taking safer gambling seriously? Or are they just paying fines and moving forward? Well, BetBlocker’s Duncan Garvie thinks that advertising in gambling has improved since lockdown, telling Gambling Insider in a recent interview: “Since lockdown and restrictions have ended in the UK – just speaking for myself – I see far more advertisements from operators which now influence responsible gambling messaging.

“It’s no longer just the yellow bar at the bottom of the screen, now they have the personality actively discussing the tools available to keep players safe. In my opinion, it shows the shift among these big gambling operators – they have realised that by marking themselves as responsible, it is helping them build their brand.”

Smarkets itself was found guilty of social responsibility failings by the Gambling Commission and fined £630,000 – cheap by comparison to some of the other fines handed out for similar failings. Companies such as Spreadex, Betfred, NSUS and 888 have all faced heavy fines in 2022 alone, with all of them found to be in breach of the Gambling Commission’s regulations. So, in this post-Covid world, it appears that being seen as a responsible company counts more than ever.


“Operators must ensure the same mistakes are not repeated and they are actively addressing the failings that have been identified”

That said, companies have begun reporting lower total revenue, while noting the impact that safer gambling commitments are having on their bottom lines. However, this could be perceived as a sea change in the industry. Garvie believes the next few years will show that these lower revenues will amount to more money in the long run, saying: “If I was to make a prediction, in the next few years there will be a growing amount of information coming out that will suggest actually the industry has had this wrong. Doing a better job of protecting players doesn’t reduce revenue because longer player lifespans at affordable levels will end up generating more profit, as opposed to allowing these crisis point blowouts, which destroy lives.”

Should financial reports back this up, the choices made by those in the industry will be to head for long-term growth over short-term fixes, because that is the logical way to stay in business and cultivate a reputation as a company that cares for its audience.

Flutter recently announced it was spending €100m ($97.3m) per year on safer gambling in the UK alone – which cynics could write off as a positive marketing story. But its outgoing UK and Ireland Chief Executive, Conor Grant, agreed with Garvie’s point about retaining customers for longer – while highlighting the financial impact it has had in the short-term in a company statement: “Yes, we’ve taken some pain. But we think this is absolutely the right thing to do, and we think everyone else is going to have to do the same thing eventually. It’s very simple for me, it’s about building a sustainable business. We don’t want customers for 10 minutes; we want them for 10 years. No one wants to benefit from others’ misfortune.”


Whether or not the adoption of Flutter’s policy on safer gambling may influence others to bring in similar ideals is something that won’t be known for a few years yet. However, the wind certainly seems to be blowing in that direction, with a greater emphasis placed on the care of customers within the industry in general. In the end, the discussion over gambling’s greatest danger will always rage on – its legality a question that nations must ask themselves – but, for the individual companies that claim to (or are trying to) be better at getting help to the most vulnerable, it is as Oscar Wilde once said: “Every saint has a past, every sinner a future.”

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