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NEWS 13 August 2019

Analysis: Despite flawed reporting, Panorama exposes indefensible actions by UK gambling operators

By Tim Poole

I'll let you all into a little secret: I enjoy the occasional sports wager.

Just this weekend, I lost a £5 ($6.03) wager, before winning one of equal value. I essentially broke even – but the thrill of cheering my bets on gave me incredible entertainment value for my fivers.

That is the essence of gambling, responsibly, and what it should be all about.

But, sometimes, the gambling industry – especially in the UK – loses sight of the whole point of it all. More specifically, BBC Panorama's recent documentary has highlighted flaws that simply cannot be ignored, even by ardent defenders of the freedom to gamble like me.

As a pre-cursor, there were flaws in the BBC'S reporting itself. The whole documentary focused largely on two individual cases – both historical, which may not necessarily represent the gambling sector of today, while its chief witness was given a suspended jail sentence at the end of the episode.

Its suggestion online gambling complaints have risen 5,000% in five years was also highly misleading, as it didn't measure the increase in the number of complaints against the increase in the total amount of gamblers in that time. It may well be a smaller portion, while the nature of any of these complaints was not examined in any way.

Elsewhere, the Gambling Commission was shown to speak surprisingly reasonably and in defence of the majority of the industry; this was something the BBC paid far less attention to than it should have for the sake of balanced reporting.

Of course, no matter the contents of the documentary, the sector would have had to brace itself for all kinds of disproportionate criticism. Did Panorama tell its viewers about Paf, the Finnish operator which has set a €30,000 ($33,445) loss cap per player and published details of how much its gamblers win and lose? Did Panorama discuss 888's new safer gaming measures, which will feature in an upcoming edition of Gambling Insider magazine? Did Panorama talk about the myriad of responsible gambling initiatives in the US, where casino operators have transformed whole communities with their tax contributions?

No – but it didn't have to, especially as only one of those cases applies to the UK. Bad actors are letting – or have in the past let – the entire industry down. They are now receiving negative exposure on a national scale because of it. Why shouldn't they? The BBC only focused on a handful of cases but critics will say that is plenty enough.

The biggest culprit, Jackpotjoy, which did not deny the story when contacted by Gambling Insider, was shown to have encouraged a player to gamble after the recent death of her father, while offering her a £1,000 cash bonus as part of its "condolences."

I have to think back to my own experience working for a tier-one operator and, sadly, the evidence corroborates Panorama's findings, biased though the BBC's selective use of language was. In a company-wide marketing presentation, the words "fear of boredom" were used as something to exploit in getting a customer to gamble.

To be clear, no betting company should ever capitalise on fear of boredom to drive revenue, just as it should never offer a grieving daughter a £1,000 cash bonus as she mourns her father. There are operators who have in-built policies ensuring this kind of thing would never happen. Simply put, these things are obvious.

But clearly not to everyone in the industry. It is this short-sightedness that is crippling the UK sector's public image. It is not a long-term strategy; it is a self-defeating one.

This is why, at a recent Playtech media briefing, I asked the responsible gaming team if the supplier's software will really make a difference if operators on the front line don't have the customer's welfare in mind. They didn't really have an answer for me.

Gambling executives often bemoan the comparative lack of scrutiny afforded to the alcohol and tobacco sectors – as do I, frankly. But recent episodes like Jackpotjoy's, as well as news of 1xBet having its British-facing website shut down for using topless croupiers, explain exactly why. 1xBet's mishaps aside, the sector must ensure these are just historical examples and continue changing for the better.

I will continue to defend the industry against baseless, politically motivated criticism, against poor journalism and against fabricated statistics; just as I have done here in highlighting the issues with Panorama's findings. There is a lot of good in the gambling industry.

But I cannot defend the indefensible. Right now, UK operators are making my job very difficult.

RELATED TAGS: Online | Industry | Feature
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