Responsible gambling is a commercial necessity

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Over the last few years, the betting and gaming industry has undergone a significant transformation. We have seen more markets introduce gambling legislation, more products rolled out and a significant pivot towards the online space.  

One of the biggest changes that we have seen is the increasing focus on responsible gambling and player protection practices.

It’s hard to pinpoint just one reason why we are seeing this shift in attitudes from gambling companies. But it would be remiss to think that advances in technology haven’t played a role.

In 2024, gambling is quite literally available at your fingertips. Betting apps are now a common feature on the majority of smartphones. What this means is that players have the ability to bet whenever and wherever they want. More significantly, they have the ability to bet in private.

Previously, bettors would have to visit a physical shop or a land-based casino to wager. This meant you had someone on-premises monitoring whether you were betting within your limits.

On top of this, we’ve seen an explosion in gambling advertising as of late. It is almost impossible to watch TV, listen to the radio or even watch a football match without being bombarded with adverts from igaming companies. This has led to questions being asked on the suitability of such adverts. Certain types of adverts, such as real-time adverts during half-time in football matches, have already been banned in certain jurisdictions.

The pivot towards online has not only led to a substantial increase in the number of people who are engaging in gambling but has also made gambling much more accessible to those exhibiting problem gambling behaviours – as well as underage players and those with affordability concerns.

More progress to be made

As we continue to see an increase in the number of people afflicted by gambling-related harm, it is clear that much more needs to be done when it comes to player protection.

I believe that we as an industry are slowly but surely starting to realise that player protection is much more than a tick-box response to regulations. The customer base and wider society demand a more values-based approach these days.

This need for more player protection measures is only going to continue growing. This is particularly relevant as environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters become a crucial part of businesses wanting to remain competitive. In recent years, we have seen ESG reporting directives come into effect in many jurisdictions. Board directors will soon be held personally liable if they fall short of regulatory requirements.

There has also been an increase in charities that are dedicated to supporting those with lived experience of gambling addiction, both in volume and profile. These charities are working incredibly hard to raise awareness of gambling harms and to reduce the stigma associated with problem gambling.

Many of these charities are also encouraging others to speak up about the impact problem gambling has had on them and their families, employers and friends. This increase in profile has highlighted the need for more responsible gaming.

The gambling industry needs to demonstrate its moral responsibility to protecting its players. We’ve seen many operators launching their own initiatives in this area. But I think we’d like to know more about the impact these initiatives are having, and concrete statistics on how they have aided player protection.

More collaboration is needed

It would be remiss to say that the gambling industry hasn’t stepped up to the challenge posed by problem gambling. It has. Collectively, operators have introduced several initiatives to flag harmful behaviour and alert players when their gambling behaviour changes. However, I believe that there needs to be more collaboration between operators and a single point of contact where details of vulnerable players can be shared.

Interestingly, we are seeing this sort of collaboration when it comes to identifying suspicious transactions. But we have the opportunity to take this one step further and share information regarding at-risk and self-excluded players.

We also need to make sure that we have measures in place to protect those working within the gambling industry. Statistically, it is these workers that are most likely to be affected by problem gambling.

In my experience, the majority of safer gambling training interventions are focused on customers rather than industry colleagues.

Line managers in the industry could be offered leadership training and coaching which enables them to spot markers of harm relevant to those working in the sector. This might include difficulty staying awake during a shift or being unusually tired, asking colleagues to loan them money, changing mood or behaviour or increased anxiety levels.

Admittedly, these may well be symptoms of other issues. But it is something that should be broached by a line manager, gently and through open questioning and active listening.

What needs to happen next?

I can admit that I am not an expert in supporting colleagues affected by problem gambling. But you don’t need to be an expert to have an initial conversation with someone. This is really important for line managers who know their teams better than anyone. They are the ones most likely to spot changes in behaviour which could indicate a problem. Therefore, they have a unique opportunity to intervene before matters escalate.

In order to achieve this, managers need to feel supported within their organisations and know when they are out of their depth.

Cultural change is not something that is going to happen overnight. Addressing the issues associated with gambling-related harm is going to take some time. But we are seeing positive steps being taken.

Going forward, I think that senior leadership teams should be encouraging a culture of openness and collaboration, as lack of player protection and irresponsible gambling damages the reputation of the industry as a whole.

We do recognise that there is a delicate line for C-Level executives. They also have a responsibility to their shareholders. However, the reality is that the prominence of responsible gaming practices is only going to increase. Those operators and suppliers who become trailblazers in these areas will reap the benefits for their customers, colleagues and shareholders.

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