Getting to grips with gambling controls

As the Gambling Commission consults on new licensing standards that could include a social responsibility code as well as advertising restrictions, four of Britain’s biggest bookmakers have formed The Senet Group in a move to promote responsible gambling.

At this stage, their initiatives focus on advertising: removing adverts for touch-screen roulette machines from their windows and refraining from advertising sign-up offers on TV, such as “free bets” or “free money” until after the watershed. There is also a proposal to fund an educational advertising campaign on problem gambling and ensure that their own adverts carry more prominent messages about responsible gaming.

While all of this is welcome, it is scratching at the surface of responsibility. Participation in gambling activities is on the rise. The last British Gambling Prevalence Survey of 2010 showed that 73 per cent of the adult population had participated in some form of gambling in the past 12 months – an increase from 68% in 2007.

While the vast majority of gamblers (92%) do so safely, without risk of developing a problem, there are an estimated 450,000 adults in the UK suffering from some form of gambling addiction. While advertising restraint and responsible gambling messages undoubtedly go some way to addressing the problem, it is really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of pro-actively preventing gamblers from developing a problem.

Any initiative that involved intervening when problematic activity was identified; sharing information to exclude problem gamblers from sites or putting controls in place to prevent people from becoming addicted or spending money they can’t afford, would demonstrate a real commitment to tackling problem gambling. Despite debate in the industry over the last decade, we are hardly any closer to a system where companies actively intervene to stop addicted people from continuing to gamble.

For on-line operators the Senet group must be pushing for the rapid adoption by the industry of standards on intervention to stop people who are gambling out of control. We know that the Division on Addiction’s work at the Harvard Medical School, led by Professor Howard Shaffer now has a model to predict addictive behaviour on-line. The Senet Group should be pushing to use this model to make intervention mandatory.

For land-based operations, the key task for the Senet Group is to develop mandatory requirements to intervene when people are gambling excessively. This is not easy. But just like in a pub, when someone is drinking too much and the bar staff refuse to serve any more, staff in betting shops need to intervene when people are obviously in distress. The Senet Group should, at the very least, have this crucial issue on its agenda.

For both on-line and land based operators the other key goal is to share information about addicted people. It is tragic that people who have identified their gambling problem and self-excluded can all too easily walk into a competitor’s shop or go on-line and start playing. It is very feasible to ask players, when they first sign up or when they first self-exclude, to agree to share their name with other responsible operators. This way we can significantly increase protection with minimum cost. Again it is disappointing that this issue is not on the Senet Group’s current agenda.

Despite these criticisms, the Senet Group initiatives are a welcome start and we hope that more proactive moves to identify problem signs and interact quickly will follow.

Note: GoodCorporation has assessed and advised a number of the leading gaming operators on social responsibility over the last 14 years. Our work has included mystery customer testing of responsible gaming controls and evaluation of all social responsibility policies and systems within gaming companies.

Published by Sally McGeachie – September 2014