UK: Gambling, Regulation & The Future By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports March 29, 2018 at 1:00 am Despite doing well on the balance sheets, the UK gambling industry had a pretty poor 2017 in terms of public perception and media coverage. The hubbub over the state of the sector looks set to reach an ever greater swell in the coming months; the industry has not only taken quite a beating in the press over the past year, but also weathered some significant (and oft deserved) bad publicity in the form of settlements and fines for negligence and recriminations from the Great Britain Gambling Commission (GBGC) for a range of fouls, including advertising designed to appeal to children. Much of the blame for the transgressions has been seen in the online sector, but the high street bookies also failed badly in a recent undercover BBC investigation into enforcement of their self-exclusion system (several online operators have failed the same tests in recent times.) The high street is, of course, also home to the dreaded fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). On the whole, the industry has suffered, even if the actions worthy of the repudiation that they’ve received were generally committed by a small percentage of total operators. Some problems in the industry are somewhat endemic; others, the product of a few bad actors. In this article we’ll look to pick through the issues and try to distinguish one from the other, as well as looking forward to viable solutions.Yet why, you might ask, should we expect the gambling industry to be so very balanced and sustainable, when the whole modern world is hurtling towards some form of self-immolation through rampantly unsustainable practices? The UK, to take just one example, produces seven million single use coffee cups a day. Why should the gambling industry be any better than anybody else? There are only really two good answers to this, at least as far as I can see. One is self-serving, ultimately: destroy your punters and you burn your own bridges. From a long-term view, creating a benign gambling environment with good player protections is certainly in the industry’s best interests. Sadly, as we can see in all industries, humans – we’re including businessmen in that definition – aren’t brilliant at thinking long-term, or at delaying self-gratification. The other point is simply that an industry that thrives on its consumers wagering money must be especially careful in how it sells itself, including how it offers incentives and bonuses, another area which has seen a recent crackdown from the Commission. There’s more at stake morally than if we were just selling hot drinks, though they can burn just as bad as the beats. The game as we’ve known it is very nearly up. The government’s decision on how far back to cut FOBT stakes is fast approaching, and we’ve seen the GBGC far more active in imposing changes to the industry in recent weeks. Just the other day, the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) changed their industry code to determine that all TV adverts must feature responsible gambling messages or links to the GambleAware charity at all times during the advert. The GBGC is furthermore also considering a ban on credit card use for all gambling. Paddy Power’s ex-CEO has suggested fixed limits on wagering for all players. There’s a feeling of change in the air. The people seem to want it; a recent GBGC poll revealed that responsibility and trust are ranked most highly of all factors in their choice of gambling provider. But right now, the change is coming from above, from regulators prompted by public dismay. Calls have gone out for a mandatory levy to help GambleAware reach its fundraising target of £10 million. That’s a drop in the ocean compared with industry profit margins. Not enough is happening from within. So if the industry is too slow to change from within, then what? More crushing changes imposed from above, that’s what. This isn’t something that might happen later, and which the gambling lobby will be able to simply buy its way out of. This is something happening right now. Last week the Guardian ran a piece arguing for the nationalisation of all gambling services. While the piece itself was fluffy, papier-mâché thin and, frankly, fairly uninformed, and while there’s no real chance of this happening, it still illustrates the rather hostile climate the UK gaming industry is currently operating within. Nationalisation is virtually guaranteed not to happen for several reasons. First, the vested interests and the gambling lobby are just too powerful and well-established. Secondly, it would require a massive and complete closing of the door to all foreign operators, something we just won’t see. Beyond that, the gambling industry is at best entertainment, and not even the most ardent supporter of a man’s right to gamble would likely try to maintain that it was actually a public good. Finally, it is naturally a very competitive market, and driven as such. What we are very likely to see, and what many are now arguing that we need to see, is far more sweeping and diligent regulation of the industry, something which operators are likely to find almost as abhorrent. Understandable, but that being the case, there is only one way to avoid this given the public scrutiny. The industry needs a radical overhaul from within. The entire UK gambling industry was warned by the GBGC in an open letter last year to stop producing games and/or ads which featured child-appealing content. Months later, the national press led a stinging wave of coverage rebuking the football industry for running gaming sponsors’ promotions across junior players’ shirts. Several big industry players reached large seven figure settlements last year over negligence, either through failures in customer due diligence which allowed huge sums to be wagered without sufficient review (and which funds later turned out to be criminally gained) or through failing to prevent self-excluded players from playing on. The recent £1 million SkyBet fine was issued in part because SkyBet failed to prevent self-excluded players from opening second, unblocked accounts in order to keep on gambling. What can the industry do to improve matters? There simply must be a concerted push towards more responsible, more compassionate and more respectful treatment of players. Problem gamblers should be identified not as revenue streams but as troubled humans. Treatment should be readily available and encouraged. Player bonuses should be offered not as more play at the tables but as something which can be used away from the gambling arena. There’s no end to the innovations possible if a creative team puts their minds to crafting them. It’s just hard to see this getting done when the bottom line keeps getting in the way. The truth, however, is much easier to see. The short-term bottom line is drawn in dry sand, and it’s about to be erased before our eyes if the industry doesn’t gather its wits and act soon.