After making its mark on UK gambling policy, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling launched in the U.S. on Tuesday (September 26) with a briefing for congressional staff and media at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
Promoting reforms to control online and mobile gambling on both the federal and state levels, Campaign for Fairer Gambling founder Derek Webb officially launched a U.S.-facing campaign arm with a series of presentations.
Webb said the Campaign for Fairer Gambling will look to influence U.S. gambling policies through legislation, incorporating best practices from international markets, and lobbying for better protection of vulnerable gamblers to reduce problem gambling rates.
“Gambling regulators should have consumer welfare and protection as a core focus and priority,” Webb said.
“Gambling regulators [also] need a robust capacity to address all acts of legality by their licensees.”
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has had a significant impact in the UK, serving as a driving force behind a lower bet limit for gaming machines in betting shops before shifting gears to focus more on the online market.
Webb said he is not anti-gambling. More than 30 years ago, he invented three-card poker, a game that can still be found on many casino floors in the U.S., and has used the proceeds from the sale of his company, Prime Table Games, to Galaxy Gaming to fund his campaigns in the UK and the U.S.
On Tuesday, Webb stressed that to create a responsible gaming sector, there needs to be responsible legislation, responsible regulation, responsible operators, and responsible enforcement.
“The term ‘responsible gambling’ must allow for adequate provisions of expertise and funding for treatment and recovery of those harmed by gambling,” he added.
Webb expressed concern over the current state of responsible gambling messaging in the U.S., citing the Have A Game Plan campaign launched by the American Gaming Association (AGA).
He noted that with the AGA’s “Have A Game Plan: Bet Responsibly” message, “there is one primary instructive word and that is bet.”
“A message to bet is being used as a responsible gambling message. Everything else is secondary,” he said.
“The non-instructive factual message is gambling is a risk. It may harm your wealth. It may harm your health. The ultimate extreme of gambling harm is suicide.”
On its website, the AGA notes that the campaign was designed to provide tools for consumers to wager on sports safely and responsibly. The site also has access to tools for consumers to learn what it means to bet responsibly and a list of states where sports betting is legal.
Webb said the Campaign for Fairer Gaming’s successful push to limit the maximum wager on fixed-odds betting terminals in UK betting shops to £2 ($2.40) resulted in “a 40 percent decline in betting losses with commensurate declines in police callouts and treatment services.”
“It’s simple: reduce revenues will reduce harm, increase revenues will increase harms,” he said.
Webb said Campaign for Fairer Gambling polling in New Jersey found 67 percent of respondents would like to see a large warning notice before participating in online or mobile gambling, while only 19 percent were opposed to the idea.
The group's survey also found that, at 14 percent, iGaming operators spend much more on marketing as a percentage of gross gaming revenue than retail gaming's 5 percent.
“Remote gambling is so profitable; it can spend so much selling us something we do not need,” Webb told congressional staff and other attendees at the launch event.
Webb’s campaign has retained Washington-based lobbying firm Imperium Global Advisors for advice on federal policy and Doura-Schawohl Consulting for state-level guidance.
Brianne Doura-Schawohl, the consultancy’s founder and CEO, reminded attendees that gambling was well entrenched in U.S. culture, even though in comparison to the UK “we are new to gambling online.”
Forty U.S. states have some form of online gambling today, but only seven states have legal iGaming.
“There is tremendous interest in this market,” said Doura-Schawohl.
“But what has that meant for the two million Americans who meet the criteria for struggling with a gambling disorder?
“Look, the reality is that those numbers are probably very conservative.”
Doura-Schawohl attributed the low numbers to the federal government never investing in funding research or understanding gambling disorders.
When states have taken it upon themselves to examine this issue, Doura-Schawohl said, “they’ve found that the perception of 1 to 2 percent of the population [having a] gambling disorder is wrong.”
In New Jersey, the rate is 6.3 percent, or three times the national average, she said.
“This is something that is not just a personal problem,” she said. “It’s a family problem. It’s a community problem. It is a public health issue and right now we are doing nothing to invest in prevention and treatment.”
Eight states – Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Utah and Texas – and the District of Columbia do not provide any funding for problem gambling services. The total average amount spent on problem gambling per capita in the U.S. is 38 cents, rising to 46 cents in states that offer services of any kind.
Additionally, Doura-Schawohl said, there is very little coordination on a state level, with each state doing it on their own, and this has “caused a lot of vulnerability and gaps in services.”
“On the federal level, we have absolutely no appreciation of addiction and what it has meant in terms of the social and recovery costs,” she said.