13 May, 2024

Moving the industry forward: Kindred Group’s Sustainable Gambling Conference

Back in March, Gambling Insider attended Kindred Group’s Sustainable Gambling Conference, as both those inside and outside the industry discussed a number of matters surrounding its long-term sustainability. Ciaràn McLoughlin reports

“Safer Gambling: A Look into the future” – this was the overall theme from the eighth edition of Kindred’s Sustainable Gambling Conference, held at the Kia Oval in London back in March. Given the regulatory changes on the horizon in the UK, especially following the Gambling Act White Paper, it did seem rather appropriate that the conference was to take place in London, not too far from the UK Government in Westminster.

It was a full day, which included a schedule of talks, panels, roundtables and break-out sessions, all surrounding different areas related to sustainable gambling and the ongoing future of the industry. Given everything going on in the UK, there was no shortage of topics for experts both within and outside the industry to discuss and reflect on.

The implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the UK White Paper, neurodiversity in the gambling industry, duty of care, markers of harm, affordability and financial risk and even a discussion from those with a lived experience of gambling problems were some of the main points of conversation during the day.

But opening proceedings was Kindred CEO Nils Andén (who would also later join Gambling Insider for an exclusive Huddle video interview). Ahead of the talks, he expressed how regulation has helped to push the industry forward and how transparency, a fact-based dialogue, collaboration between regulators and operators, and creating a sustainable environment for customers were key points for the industry moving forward.

The first talk of the day was delivered by composer, lyricist and author Daniel Maté. As mentioned, not all of the day’s talks were delivered by those in the industry, but his relevance to gambling was very clear to see. Maté helped to Co-Author with his father on a book called ‘The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture,’ exploring how normal is almost a myth where certain things such as disease, for example, are natural reactions to our irregular surroundings.

Regarding gambling, Maté looked into the idea of addiction, delving into how it needs to be framed differently looking beyond just trying to resolve it, and looking closer at the actual causes of the particular addiction. He reflected on educating on addiction, but less so with the person themselves and more so with the family and friends surrounding them; which helps to bring about connection, as well as healing, which is a very important element of the book.

In his concluding statements, he emphasised that: “Sustainable business is great, but just understand that there is a contradiction in it that will be pulling you in the other direction, because the profit motive itself doesn’t understand human things like compassion and it doesn’t understand health. It understands short-term gain. 

“So being willing to work with that paradox and understand that the status quo as it is has been [created] by the logics and imperatives of capitalist industry... and that if you’re going to create a different intention for the consequences and customer experience in your industry, you’re going to have to somehow go against the prevailing brain.”

Daniel Maté

Gambling advertising and ai

Later in the day, there was a chance to hear from a panel of people who had a lived experience of gambling problems, either themselves or a close family member. The panel gave deeper insight into the effect it can have on people and what more needs to be done within the industry to help. A concern that came across was that the pain of problem gambling on the individual and those around them, and the harm it does to them, are never really explained; which needs to be focused on more.

One of the key points that came from the panel surrounded safer gambling advertising. As great as the messages are, one speaker explained, most of the information is found at the bottom of website pages, after scrolling through a barrage of offers, free bets and other promotions. Ultimately, people shouldn’t have to search for this information. A big segment of the day was also technology. AI is, of course, a topic constantly heard in wider society today, with much talk regarding the potential risks surrounding its implementation.

This was touched on in talks and roundtables situated around AI’s implementation in the gambling industry, looking at the ethical dilemmas faced by gambling companies as AI is implemented more in the industry. A theme that came across was that AI can help operators with their business, especially when it comes to helping and interacting with their customers, but that the human element must remain in the process; particularly when it comes to the analysis and use of the data.

Also, different ethics must be weighed up in the process of implementing AI. But, overall, it seems that when properly used, it can help operators’ relationships with customers, but also can aid them in keeping within the ever-changing regulatory landscape.

It’s up to us, it’s up to everyone here to ensure that these are not just words, that there are actions that follow through on this

The White Paper

It wouldn’t be a gambling-related talk in the UK without reference to the White Paper. At the Kindred conference, there was acknowledgement that most developments were in progress, but an underwhelming feeling with dwindling prospects of a summer 2024 implementation. There were calls for a speeding up of the process, with one speaker explaining that the longer there is uncertainty, the longer that will stop people from receiving the help they need.

An interesting point made, specifically over affordability checks, was that ‘vulnerability checks’ is a phrase that should be used instead, with less focus on the financial aspect of an individual and more so on the vulnerability of the individual. A holistic approach to the White Paper was therefore one of the suggestions made; and this approach was something that was applied to many of the other topic areas throughout the day.

In one of the breakout sessions, Dan Spencer of Epic Global Solutions spoke about duty of care and how it can work for all stakeholders. He highlighted that the industry needs to focus more on prevention rather than just problem gamblers; giving the example of a cliff edge where people should be given the help they need much earlier, and not just when they reach that point. He emphasised that all within a gambling organisation have a responsibility to engage with people to prevent problem gambling.

An individual focus

There was also an update during the day on the CEN standardisation and a roundtable led by Vasiliki Panousi from EGBA around markers of harm. Again, one of the main themes of focus on the individual came through in discussion. 

One of the points was, rather than simply looking at the actions of a player as a marker of harm, that more needs to be done to understand the behavioural aspect of a particular action. Losses, as explained, should be considered within the affordability of the person and the individual patterns of play rather than just presuming that this is necessarily harm. Technology was once again referenced here and how, combined with human empathy, it can help with prevention, paying attention to the individual and personalising everything to the particular player. While information is key, one panelist said, each individual is different and may not always match the aspects of behaviour of a particular demographic, e.g. age.

There was time to discuss affordability and financial risk as part of another panel, underlining the shared responsibility of the industry to bring transparency over regulation. Overall, the tone was set out that the industry needs to define the standard together, but that the regulator will need to give clear guidance so operators can keep up with evolving regulations. Just as he opened the day’s proceedings, Andén closed it off with some remarks for the audience to take away with.

Closing remarks

Looking back to prior to the conference, the overarching theme of the agenda of the day was ‘Safer Gambling: A look into the future’ but, as the Kindred CEO explained, the many issues which were touched on during the day need to be solved first before looking too far forward into the future.

Andén touched on the need for a closer relationship between operators and regulators, even suggesting a closer dialogue between different regulators themselves across different countries to ensure transparency in the industry. The conference brought many good conversations to the forefront of people’s minds, but as Andén summarised: “It’s up to us, it’s up to everyone here to ensure that these are not just words, that there are actions that follow through on this.”

Moderating the day’s proceedings was English racing broadcaster Nick Luck, who spoke exclusively to Gambling Insider at the event, underlining how important conferences like Kindred’s are. He told us: “I think crucial, because we’ve been living through an era the last two or three years where almost all the public dialogue surrounding gambling has been quite adversarial. And conferences like this show how well the industry can come together and listen when it needs to. 

“You sometimes today have felt the desire to reach across the Thames, grab people from Westminster and bring them in here to realise how much work goes into the promotion of fair and sustainable gambling on the part of the industry when it collaborates; when it talks sensibly and when it isn’t posturing and puffing its chest out.”

Sustainable business is great, but just understand that there is a contradiction in it that will be pulling you in the other direction

Looking beyond the conference, Luck explained what he hoped would be achieved within the industry moving forward, adding: “But we know what’s coming now, so we have to make sure it creates a gambling culture that A) is responsible, but B) is customer focused, and we’ve heard a lot of that today. That’s the other big takeaway from today for me: how much talk there has been on the customer, on making the customer’s experience better, and I really hope the operators understand what they need to do to make that happen.

“And that is, albeit that we’re pushing forward with technology and with artificial intelligence that we’re still treating the customers as individuals, caring for them as individuals and providing them with an enjoyable but responsible service.”

As Luck explained, there was a lot of focus on the customer, specifically the customer as an individual, and on top of this the idea of collaboration and an open dialogue across the industry was very much the message for taking it forward beyond March’s conference. The event provided a lot of insight of course into a range of different topics, but what was most striking was the shared intent that seemed to transmit from those both inside and outside the industry; to ensure the long-term sustainability of gambling in a safe, compliant and corporative way for all stakeholders involved.