The UK Gambling Industry’s Image Problem By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports December 20, 2017 at 7:54 pm The UK gambling industry has an image problem, and it’s probably more than skin deep. It may turn out to be a character flaw, rather than just poor lighting, which is giving the industry that slightly dour jawline. The voices raised in protest against the industry are getting louder, and in some cases more coherent. Complaints levelled at the gambling sector range from well-thought out expert critiques seeking to modulate and reform existing systems, to frantic baying for blood, looking to simply ban all gambling. The gambling industry is used to being the subject of extreme views, but that doesn’t mean it can afford to remain deaf to its more reasonable critics. I’m not writing today to tackle the sensationalist headline-writers who call for major rollbacks in the legality of gambling. They will continue to publish, heightening the scale of the image problem, but the real critics deserving heed are the experts who know what they’re speaking about and are seeking reform. They offer a call to action to an industry facing new and emergent concerns surrounding its ethical procedures.Kate Lampard, the current chair of the charity GambleAware, spoke out last week at their annual conference, describing the reception to her becoming chair, last year, as “hostile” and implying that the gambling industry as a whole was still far too male-dominated. She talked about how shocked she was at the industry’s lack of notable responses to public concern with problem gambling and called for a “massive change in attitudes”. Executive director of the UKGC Tim Miller also spoke, calling for gambling to be treated as a public health concern. The government recently acknowledged that they do not have a clear idea of how many problem gamblers are being treated by the NHS, nor of the cost involved. This is in the face of a recent study showed that there are over 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK as a whole, with a full 2 million at risk of addiction.There’s a strong case that the government should be doing more to regulate and to inform the public. But the industry could clearly do more, and avoid over-regulation by the government, by being more pro-active in regard to educating the public, investing in treatment programmes, and funding charities such as GambleAware. In the last few days, the bookmaker trade group ABB joined the growing numbers of bodies calling for a mandatory levy on operators to fund gambling awareness and treatment. This follows news that GambleAware did not reach its £10 million budget target with voluntary contributions from operators, falling short this year by 20%. Whilst the key players in the industry are contributing what they should, they do have shortcomings that show they are not truly interested in the well-being of their customers, and that makes the industry short-sighted and ultimately deserving of more external regulation. There’s been plenty to speak about in 2017 when it comes to ethical failings in the gambling sector. We’ve seen multiple failings of responsibility with regard to handling problem gamblers and accepting their bets, such as 888’s very costly self-exclusion failure and Ladbroke’s taking of bets from players who were later found to be criminals. Both ended up paying significant seven-figure sums in settlements or fines. Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are of course under review and seeing a reduction in limits, due to their association with problem gambling. More recently two reports emerged of particular concern. One comes from the BBC, who had a reporter get himself set up on the self-exclusion scheme for a full 21 betting shops in Grimsby. The reporter then attempted to place bets on the FOBTs in those shops, being prevented from gambling in only two premises. This damning report suggests that the self-exclusion schemes currently operating are largely ineffective. The worry, then, is that recent improvements in industry standards to improve social responsibility may be paper-thin in their actual application and enforcement. The BBC report resonates with one of the conclusions of a much deeper industry analysis, the recent UKGC report into child gambling. This found that 12% of 11-16 year olds said they gambled in the past week, with 75% of these doing so using a form of licensed gambling, the most common being the lottery and fruit machines. Again, the finger must be pointed at operators and point-of-sale staff for failing to enforce legal limits. Many children in the report, a full 40% of those surveyed, gave their principle reason for gambling as being the aim of making money. Of course, parents bear some responsibility for educating their children about the risks of gambling, and in giving them a decent working understanding of the inability to consistently win at a game of luck with a negative EV. Nonetheless the industry must do more both to enforce legal age limits on gambling and to help educate our youth to avoid them becoming problem gamblers even before coming of age to play. It may be that only 1% of children were found to be problem gamblers, but that’s still 25,000 kids nationwide in the UK. Granted, some of the emergent problems influencing child gambling are not the making of the casino industry, nor of bookmakers. Skins gambling is centred around gambling for virtual currency, which can then be used to buy sought-after special equipment and weapons in various computer games; the UKGC found that 11% of gambling cases by children involved skins. Loot boxes have likewise been recently criticised as a potential form of unregulated gambling. The industry is looking at skill games as an area of up-and-coming interest amongst millennial players, but must take care not to create such games with significant appeal to underage players if the industry wants to avoid exacerbating the very issues discussed above. The online gaming and online gambling worlds are not going to become any simpler. The range of games available, the formats for play, mobile gaming, and even VR/AR gaming are all set to boom. With that growth will come opportunities for profit and for exploitation. The most vulnerable populations, children and problem gamblers, must not get lost in the mix, or crushed in the rush over the next big thing. Operators in this active, evolving and competitive environment must set and maintain high ethical standards for their own operation, or risk establishing an even more menacing expression on that already somewhat grim-set visage of the UK gambling industry today.