It is almost needless to remind you all of the precarious time facing operators in the gambling industry right now, especially in key markets like the UK and Sweden. The situation is such that one of our upcoming GI Friday Guest Columns – which is well worth a read – zones in on the regulatory and margin-related pressures 2019 brought UK operators alone.
Some of my own conversations with those from the industry, both during and since ICE London, have also reflected on the challenges facing the gambling sector. But they have also focused on how little those outside the sector actually understand about these challenges.
That is, in most cases, not the fault of others – it’s the fault of the gambling industry itself.
An internal/external divide
In a B2B sense, especially at Gambling Insider where our job is to provide analysis and information to the industry, we as a sector are well-versed in discussing the pressures which face us. That’s particularly true when it comes to problem gambling and channelisation, topics frequently addressed at trade shows and on conference agendas.
But ask a member of the public or a politician about channelisation and will they even know what it means? Speak to someone working for a regulator, meanwhile, and see if they will be able to list all the current responsible gambling policies and software operators currently use or have in place.
The likelihood of knowledge in both scenarios is very low, because the industry hasn’t quite figured out a way of highlighting what are actually two of its biggest strengths:
- While problem gambling is an undeniable challenge for operators, the amount of R & D already conducted within the field has led to great strides towards helping players. Customer service, cooling-off periods and responsible gambling technology are at the forefront of the online industry – but you wouldn’t think it listening to the unfounded claims of anti-gambling critics.
- Gambling will always be in high demand and regulated operators are a market’s only chance of protecting a customer who wants to gamble. Politicians and members of the public aren’t aware of the damage offshore operators cause and don’t realise excess regulation will push gamblers in the direction of these operators, creating an even bigger problem but hiding it from official figures.
Point one is well worth emphasising amid growing speculation about online stake limits within the UK market. Restricting limits on fixed-odds betting terminals was a complete different ball game for this precise reason. In the online sphere, a range of safeguards exist, which politicians calling for limitations are conveniently ignoring.
Emphasising these safeguards in the right way at the right time – avoiding appearing defensive and argumentative as the industry has in the past – can help reduce the occurrence of the second point. Should online stake limits be introduced, the majority of online players will be welcomed with open arms by offshore operators who don’t have to enforce the same policies or standards; they, unopposed, can squeeze as much revenue out of customers as unfairly as they want, with none of this revenue being taxable, of course.
Make the message clear
So why not get the message out accordingly? Why don’t regulated operators take the fight to black-market firms and educate the public at the same time? In other words, why don’t licensed operators call out offshore operators with their adverts?
Picture it: a TV ad is split into two frames. The left screen shows a delighted player joining a regulated bookmaker, where the phrase ‘Gamble Responsibly’ features prominently. We can call this operator ‘SafeBet’ for hypothetical purposes but Bet365, Sky Bet, Ladbrokes, William Hill et al can all adopt this tactic.
At the same time on the right frame, an equally excited player joins ‘OffshoreBet,’ where there is no mention of gambling responsibly and phrases like ‘Win Big’ and ‘No Limits’ are plastered across the screen.
Flash to the next scene and the frame on the left shows all the available responsible gambling options – much like TV adverts already do – such as cooling-off periods and deposit limits. It can even show a deposit being turned down and a company representative talking the player through why on the phone.
Simultaneously, the right frame shows a multi-figure deposit being accepted and encouragement to bet even more, along with a clear disregard for player wellbeing. Subtle elements could be enforced, such as hypothetical advertisements from illegal or unlicensed companies.
Educate and inform
In the final scene, the player on the left is delighted after winning big, completing their withdrawal and being congratulated by the operator. OffshoreBet’s unfortunate victim however, has the smile wiped from their face when reading the following error message: "We’re sorry, there was an unexpected error and we cannot pay out your winnings."
At the end, the advert could contain an operator logo alongside the message: 'Only gamble with those you can trust. Bet responsibly with licensed operators.' It's a format that could easily be replicated online, on social media and even in print.
These scenarios would naturally be tailored for the purposes of advertising, as regulated operators naturally still need to attract new business – as any company would.
But the message would be an honest and crucial one. If channelisation and problem gambling create such pressure for operators, and are of such importance to players, why not arm members of the public with the knowledge they need to help themselves?
Read our previous Big Pitch article here, which looked at how a fully transparent gambling operator would be received.