Published: 12 February, 2021

All the RAiG

Cian Nugent speaks about his new role as chairman of Responsible Affiliates in Gambling, and what the 2005 Gambling Act review means for affiliates and the industry at large.

With an ongoing pandemic and a government review of the 2005 Gambling Act in the works, it’s certainly a crucial time for the gambling industry. Many changes have already been brought about due to COVID-19, with further changes set to be introduced once the review is brought to a close.

Responsible gambling is, therefore, a key theme for the industry at the moment, and Responsible Affiliates in Gambling (RAiG) has been taking steps to ensure that it remains central going forward with the appointment of Cian Nugent as its new chairman. Nugent, of Spotlight Sports Group-owned Racing Post, will take over from Clive Hawkswood as the new chair of the affiliate body.

“Clive has been the chairman of RAiG since we launched the association in 2019 and has played a big role in getting us to where we are now,” says Nugent. “I’m very excited about taking over the role and building on that. It has been a hugely valuable experience working with and learning from the other members over the last 18 months and I’m looking forward to continuing that in 2021, in what will be a very important year for all involved in the UK gambling market.”

Nugent also suggested that a top-down approach, from RAiG and other bodies, is necessary in order to fully promote responsible gambling, with training and education two keycomponents to ensure that such an approach is carried out.

“I think it starts at the top of any company and there needs to be clarity that promoting gambling in a responsible way is not an obstacle to commercial objectives, but actually the best way to build a successful business and contribute to a sustainable industry,” he continues. “From there, it’s about education and training and ask if the members of our teams understand what promoting gambling in a responsible manner looks like and if they’re armed with the tools to allow them to do their job in that way.”

While responsible gambling has always been central for RAiG, it’s now in the spotlight more than ever amid the government review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The review has stolen industry headlines in recent months, and it will continue to do so.

“I think a review was inevitable,” explains Nugent. “The original recommendation was that it would be reviewed regularly to keep pace with change and that obviously hasn’t happened. As acknowledged in the introduction to the review, gambling participation rates andproblem gambling rates have remained broadly stable for the last number of years, so I’m not sure it’s necessarily correct to say that the UK has a major gambling problem right now, as opposed to any time previously. However, it’s also correct to say that the availability and promotion of gambling products has increased significantly over the years and we’re still talking about a very large number of people at risk and as an industry we can and must do better to ensure the best possible protections are in place for those people.”

On the timing of the review and the initial stages of the pandemic, Nugent added: “The UKGC recently concluded that ‘there has not been a significant or sustained increase in gambling activity’ since the pandemic began, so I don’t think COVID-19 has necessarily accelerated the need for the review. The justifications for a review existed before the pandemic and I don’t think the timeline for it has changed significantly.”

The wide-ranging review has been backed by more than 50 MPs and peers, who last year backed stricter controls on gambling advertising. Such advertising is a key issue currently under review, with sports betting sponsorships, limits on online stakes and tough affordability checks also under consideration.

Perhaps no-one in the industry knows exactly what will happen at the end of the review, including Nugent: “It’s very difficult to say where this will end up and obviously the Gambling Commission is consulting on affordability measures separately. However, I think the framing of the terms of reference and call for evidence [in the review] is encouraging and the opportunity is there for affiliates to explain the important role that we play in the gambling ecosystem and the key part we can play at the forefront of promoting safer gambling and the channeling of players to regulated operators.

“Collectively RAiG members interface with millions of customers each month and our relationship with those customers is very different to that of an operator; we have a unique voice and can play a vital part in the government’s stated aim that ‘all those who choose to gamble in Great Britain to be able to do so in a safe way.’”

RAiG fully supports the review, and many others within the industry echo this sentiment. There are, however, several operators, suppliers and bodies who, while welcoming the review, have stressed the importance for it to be balanced.One aspect of any potential balance will undoubtedly involve the presence of black market operators. The issue has stirred up quite a debate in recent weeks, with bodies like the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) arguing that customers could quickly turn to operators who have no regard for customer safety. But the government has since shot down this argument, suggesting that the threat of black market operators has been exaggerated.

Nugent offered his thoughts on the situation: “I think both sides of the debate have probably been blown a little out of proportion and in doing so the main point is overlooked. Changes to regulations in the UK will inevitably change how consumers engage with the gambling product that is available to them and the important thing is that the full range of consequences (both positive and negative) are evidence based and carefully considered before implementing changes.”

Given the broad scope of the review, it is understandable that there may not be any specific advice that those within the industry can adhere to. There are, however, actions that affiliates can take in order to remain on the right side of the law before any final judgement call has been made.

“Over the coming months I think it’s very important that affiliates do their best to fully engage with the Gambling Act review,” suggests Nugent. “Through RAiG we’ll be presenting our view on behalf of all our members and I would urge anybody that is interested in joining us to get in contact.

But even on an individual basis, affiliates should be engaged with the process. It’s a good opportunity to have their say and I think it would be remiss for anyone to think they should just wait it out and hope that it goes in their favour.”

While the review and the pandemic look set to dominate the industry for the foreseeable future, RAiG remains committed to promoting responsible gambling, and Nugent’s role as chairman will hope to ensure that happens. While the body has already taken the necessary precautions and measures to engender such a scenario, Nugent is the first to admit that there is plenty more that can be done to promote safer gambling.

“RAiG was initially set up with the purpose of raising standards across the affiliate sector, with a particular focus on safer gambling. While we’ve taken steps in the right direction, there is still and will always be more that we can do. Our aim is to make sure that we continue to take tangible steps forward in advancing that agenda.”