Listening in on the CSR Uproar By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports November 15, 2017 at 12:01 am The issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is receiving an almost unprecedented degree of focus at the moment in the UK gaming industry. The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has made examples of several major operators, levying some significant seven-figure fines. Plus a report from the UKGC, released in late October, did more than just recommending the adjustment of the stakes in our much-maligned fixed-odds betting terminals. On the back of this report, the Government looks likely to bring in initiatives to strengthen controls and encourage a more proactive approach to CSR amongst both online gambling operators and bookmakers. There’s widespread expectation that operators will need to do more in the future to research and educate the public about problem gambling, as well as in funding treatment programmes. The giants of the gaming world smacked down so far by the Gambling Commission’s hammer include 888, who broke records when they agreed a settlement of £8m back in August. This was related to failures which allowed over 7,000 self-excluded players to maintain access to and use of their player accounts. This technical failing allowed a total of £3.5m in funds to be deposited by these players, and £51m in funds to be played through as wagers. More recently Gala Interactive, an arm of the Ladbrokes Coral Group, was hit with a fine of £2.5m for breaching regulations concerning consumer protection. The UKGC’s investigation revealed Gala’s failure to “effectively interact” with two customers evidencing problem gambling behaviours, who between them lost £1.3 million during about a year of play. The operator was also found to have “failed to have in place written policies and procedures” for dealing with such behaviour. Both of the problem gamblers are now serving prison time, one for stealing from an employer, the other for crimes related to criminal property.To its credit, Gala also volunteered to create a £200k fund towards researching the causes of problem gambling. Arguably this kind of voluntary investment will pay dividends in the long-term, helping to provide a responsible gaming environment, which should ensure smoother and more sustainable operations for the industry as a whole. A report issued by GambleAware in early October revealed that gambling operators are not giving suitable training to their staff in how to promote and encourage safe gambling amongst their customers. In many cases staff had received no practical training in this regard, and many were found to be lacking the confidence to communicate with customers about such matters. In the some of the worst cases, staff were found to be actively compounding problem gambling by encouraging their customers to chase losses.There’s a strong case to be made that, as a whole, the industry is reactive rather than proactive when it comes to CSR matters, as the furore over fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs) now reaches its somewhat predictable stage with the Government’s 12-week consultation and and almost certain lowering of wagering limits. Many in the industry are concerned about gambling’s presentation in the media, with industry insiders frequently arguing that the media demonizes the gambling industry. There is fear of over-regulation based on a public backlash. Yet there’s still plenty of activity within the industry which does nothing to help this worsening image problem. Take the research study which the UKGC drew attention to in 2016, which found that amongst 11-15 year olds, 450,000 children were gambling every week across England and Wales, with around 9,000 of those likely to be problem gamblers. It’s understandable that the media has honed in recently on problems relating to gambling adverts featuring cartoon characters and those promoting free play games alongside their real money counterparts. The issue of young gamblers has come to a head recently with the issuing of a letter by the UKGC to all gambling operators informing them that all content which could be appealing towards minors must be removed from marketing in the public domain, including on their own websites or those of third parties. This letter emphasises that this is particularly relevant “to freely accessible ads for play-for-free and play-for-money games”. Operators who fail to comply could face a variety of sanctions from the Advertising Standards Agency including the removal of paid advertisements online or even suspension of trading licenses. Exceptions made for gambling adverts shown during live sporting broadcasts prior to the UK’s 9 p.m. watershed have also come under fire recently, and are themselves under Government review. Affiliates are also coming under greater scrutiny now, with the increased media attention towards CSR likely to be responsible for decisions such as that by Sky Betting & Gaming to put an end to its affiliate programme. With the large fines and settlements levied in recent times, alongside a growing public awareness of the government consultation process as it continues to be covered in the mainstream media, major entities in the industry are now sitting up and taking note. There have been a number of recent initiatives put forward by operators which may give a feel for what’s needed for the industry to attain better standards (and a better image) of social responsibility. One major effort seen recently comes from the European online gambling group Mr Green & Co. They have released something called the “Green Gaming Tool”, which is designed for players to evaluate their own playing habits and draw conclusions on these. The tool is intended both to help the customer better understand their own behaviour and to provide the operator with the data needed to help them better manage problem gamblers and potential problem gamblers. Online casino PlayOJO, which launched in March of this year, seems to be basing a good amount of its branding on a positive approach to CSR. One of their stated aims is to be as transparent as possible with customers. Amongst other things they have done away with the traditional playthrough requirements for bonus funds. Regardless of how substantial their changes to traditional models really turn out to be, they seem to have picked a great time to get on board this particular train. Ultimately, anything substantial done to enhance the responsibility of care which gambling operators have towards their customers can only be a good thing, for players and operators alike. A sustainable relationship lasting many years is far better for all parties than one which in any way enables compulsive or self-destructive behaviour. It is in the industry’s own interest that its customer base does not implode, and long-term thinking is very important to that end.