The gambling industry will end up hurtling towards tighter regulation and a clampdown on innovation unless it takes responsible gambling seriously, the UK Gambling Commission has warned.
It said the public is clamouring for a crackdown due to the rise in TV ads, the furore over FOBTs and the ubiquitous presence of betting shops on high streets.
Matthew Hill, director of regulatory risks and analysis at the UK Gambling Commission, told operators and suppliers at the recent WRB Responsible Gambling conference in London that the industry now finds itself in a metaphorical room with just two doors leading out of it.
The first leads to the Government intervening and slapping tighter constraints on the trade to allay growing public fears. Hill was not keen on this option and said it would lead to “constraints on the freedom of responsible adults to make their own decisions” and restraints on the industry’s innovation pipeline.
“The other door leads to a sunnier place,” said Hill. This leads to the industry keeping its freedom to operate, innovate and grow the sector. To reach this door the industry needs to show it is “maximising fun and minimising harm” for punters.
He said the public can easily lose sight of the important economic role the industry plays and the jobs it supports, and that it has become unpopular in the UK. He called on the trade to show the public it is allowing "normal, healthy" gamblers to bet in a responsible way and highlight its role as an enjoyable pastime.
Hill said the Holy Grail for the industry is to show that gambling is a leisure activity rather than a source of harm, urging it to look after its customers to win the trust of the public, regulators and politicians and avoid tighter regulations.
He was particularly impressed with some algorithms operators have recently developed to detect patterns in play that suggest problem gambling.
But he said it cannot just be down to operators, stressing that the industry needs to work together and highlighting the role suppliers can play.
He said: “It’s important to persuade the public that the gambling industry can be trusted on responsible gambling. The fairness, openness and transparency of the product – suppliers have a major role to play on that. You should ask, ‘how are the products I am selling to retailers contributing to these overall efforts to build public confidence?’”
Hill also said the industry needs to debate the merits of removing anonymity for punters.
He said: “The time is right for a debate on whether anonymity should persist. We are not, as many people believe, calling for an end to anonymity.
“It would be easier for responsible gambling if we knew who the consumers were. But removing anonymity comes at a great cost, to business and society, with the nanny state and Big Brother and all that. None of us has any real idea of whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Let’s have the debate and figure it out.
“We are trying to get people accustomed to the idea of having that debate. In our discussions with government and with the industry we are saying that. The industry could grab the mettle and start talking about it.”