As I've written before on Gambling Insider, I will always defend the right to gamble, but I can't defend the indefensible.
I wrote to that effect nine months ago and, this week, I find myself uttering those words again. After details publicly emerged of a tragic case where Chris Bruney, a 26-year-old electrical engineer, took his own life due to problem gambling, the Gambling Commission revealed the findings of its investigation into the brand with which Bruney played. And the spotlight is now firmly back on the UK industry for its responsible gambling efforts – or lack thereof in this case.
Unlike opinion-based calls to curtail all gambling, however, or fabricated statistics not based on any genuine evidence, this latest case was clear-cut. Any media spotlight is justified, for all the wrong reasons.
Apart from the obvious moral failings during the case in question, the industry-wide problems facing the gambling sector as a result of examples like this are plentiful.
Should any company continue to fail in regard to player safety, anti-money laundering and affordability checks, regulatory pressure and public scrutiny will only continue to grow.
The nature of gambling is such that the house is considered by many to always win. Due to this very point, gambling companies cannot be blamed for 'winning' if a player loses a bet; all too often gamblers will simply play the victim out of frustration at losing their wager.
Generating more revenue from higher-income 'VIP' players is also common practice across many if not all industries. Why do clothes companies employ personal shoppers, for instance, and why would a car salesman keep in closer contact with a potential Ferrari customer than one looking to purchase a Volkswagen Golf? It's simple business.
But profiting off problem gambling is not a viable business model. It is unacceptable in every form and every new example we see chips away at the mantra that it's just a handful of bad actors letting the side down.
Over the last few months, Kindred Group CEO Henrik Tjarnstrom has spoken to Gambling Insider about his hopes of his company eradicating all problem gambling revenue by 2023. Paf has also introduced loss limits for its players and ActiveWin managing director Warren Jacobs told the AffiliateCon Virtually Live audience operators are not interested in profiting off problem gamblers.
And yet well-documented examples of the opposite are popping up all too often in the UK market.
If it’s not a Panorama documentary about JackpotJoy, it’s a since discontinued Playtech brand that faltered, while Betway, Caesars Entertainment and FSB (in cases relating to its white-label partners) have all been the subject of recent Gambling Commission rulings regarding social responsibility failings.
Many of these cases, of course, are historical failings, with the Playtech case occurring in 2017. But unless there is clear and practical evidence of an industry-wide change in mentality, what's to stop people assuming this kind of activity is still going on and simply won't be soon uncovered by the Commission?
Crucially, the industry has made massive compliance and genuine problem gambling progress in recent years, whether in a company's protocols or technology. But that progress is the subject of manual override, in the form of neglecting responsible gambling duties in the pursuit of short-term profit.
This also undermines the industry in another important way. When highlighting the flaws of stricter regulation, the sector rightly points out the threat of dwindling channelisation. With regulated operators less visible, less able to offer better odds and bonuses, or potentially driven out of business, customers are more likely to turn to the black market.
There, they will be more vulnerable to predatory unlicensed operators. The problem here, though, unless all sections of the industry don't unanimously adopt a safety-first approach, is that regulated operators have been seen to disregard responsible gambling themselves, weakening any leg the sector has to stand on against lawmakers or politicians.
At a time when VIP regulation and potential online stake limits are being looked into, any neglect in this area could have exponential ramifications. If the cases we've seen recently are all we have to go by, how could anyone argue it's not moral and just put blanket restrictions on the sector as much as possible?
Any executives patting themselves on the back for generating high VIP revenues, at the expense of problem gamblers, may think they are acting in the best interests of their business. But they really aren't.
So let's ensure all the sector's problem gambling talk isn't just that – talk. Significant progress has been made, progress truly worth shouting about, but it all means nothing without the right collective mentality.