A lot has rightly been said of operator responsibility in gambling. But what's your view on player responsibility?
I think we need to be careful here. There is a difference to me between disordered gambling, which I think is a mental health issue, and it often comes with people who are addicted to things and, without over-generalising, often people have problems in other areas as well as in gambling. There’s a co-morbidity, as we would describe it in that way, and then people who just spend a little too much.
That’s where I think we need to be really careful about this being a public health issue because public health will help people who have mental health issues — and that’s absolutely right — but if you have financial issues, public health is not the answer for you, and that’s where the charities like GambleAware can help a lot of people. There has to be a holisitic approach to this, which is: we need to work together. We all know there are issues, and we just need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect people.
Gamblers with disorders is a serious issue, there is no doubting that. But in my personal experience, I feel there is a bandwagon of people who, as you say, just spend a little bit too much, then have jumped on the fact that it’s a public issue and blamed the operator. Is this something you’ve found?
I’m a political realist. I’ve been working with politicians for 30 years. We may end up with them deciding that’s what they want to do, but I don’t think the evidence is there, and if you’re going to have an evidence-led review, I don’t think it’s likely
I think our operators have an obligation to intervene more, and that’s something which we have tried to do with the Betting &Gaming Council. When the BGC was founded almost two years ago, I don’t think safer gambling was necessarily at the top of the agenda on people’s boards. I think it now is. All of our members have safer gambling, all of them. I accept what the Gambling Commission has said. We need to protect vulnerable people; we need to do as much as we can, and we need to intervene before people lose huge sums of money. I don’t know whether £500 ($680) is a huge sum of money, it depends on who you are and how much you can afford to spend, but we need to make sure that we are checking our customers. So sharing data, which is a really difficult issue, and making sure that we know as much as we possibly can about our customers.
You mentioned that it’s been almost two years since the BGC was formed. How do you reflect on that period? Both with what you’ve achieved yourself and the organisation as a whole.
Well I came very much to this interested, as I was when I ran the British Beer and Pub Association, in social responsibility; so I came to this with a similar frame of mind. We’ve actually done an awful lot. If I look at the whistle-to-whistle ban, which has reduced advertising exposure to those under the age of 18 by 97%, and if I look at the work we’ve done on adtech with the big platforms. We’ve worked closely with the banks to make sure within financial services that we’re able to share as much information as we can. We’ve had the credit card ban, and the BGC has introduced quite a few things which then the Gambling Commission has taken up and made a requirement for everybody.
We’ve done an awful lot of work on games design. We’ve set a minimum spin speed of 2.5 seconds and removed some of the elements that were attractive to people and made them want to gamble more. We’re now going to add something to make it more transparent, and make sure that you can’t celebrate a win that’s below what you’re gambling on. So I think we’ve done a lot in that sort of space. We want to build on those examples and we want to do more, but I do think this has to be a partnership between everybody. We want to work closely with the Gambling Commission and the Government to come out of this with a review that means we are encouraging people to bet on a regulated market in the UK rather than going elsewhere.
If you look at some of these countries around Europe and the numbers of people who are gambling on the black market; Norway — 66%, France — 57%, Bulgaria — 47%. We’ve got to make sure that our balance is right coming out of this.
We’ve actually done an awful lot. If I look at the whistle-to-whistle ban, which has reduced advertising exposure to those under the age of 18 by 97%, and if I look at the work we’ve done on adtech with the big platforms
Do you agree with the view that a sponsorship/advertising ban is an easy way for the Government to win votes, but that it’s not going to change anything?
I’m a political realist. I’ve been working with politicians for 30 years. We may end up with them deciding that’s what they want to do, but I don’t think the evidence is there, and if you’re going to have an evidence-led review, I don’t think it’s likely. I watch masses of football and I pay absolutely no attention to the names on the shirts or perimeter board. I can see why some people would see that, but we’ve done some qualitative research in so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, so some working-class areas, or areas that have for the first time elected a Conservative politician.
On the whole, the response was that people hate advertising, full-stop. The fact that if you’re watching live sport, you don’t see advertising five minutes before and five minutes after, which is what ‘whistle to whistle’ introduced, is critical. Our rules in the UK are before the watershed, you can only have National Lottery, bingo or live sport, and I think we’ve tightened it up a lot. If you record films, you then fast forward when it comes to the advertisements anyway.