Gambling Executives Say Industry Has Improved, Image Hasn't

February 8, 2023
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Top corporate compliance officials say the gambling industry does not get enough credit for improvements in responsible gambling over the past five to ten years, but are hopeful they might be able to work better with the UK’s Gambling Commission.

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Top corporate compliance officials say the gambling industry does not get enough credit for improvements in responsible gambling over the past five to ten years, but are hopeful they might be able to work better with the UK’s Gambling Commission.

UK-facing companies have garnered bad press in recent years, some of it linked to the industry suffering penalties of up to £17m ($20.5m).

Last year, the commission assessed £45m in fines and regulatory settlements, up from £1.7m in 2016-17.

But today, penalties centre on “mistakes”, not policies “designed to exploit players the way [they] might have been five, six, seven years ago”, said Peter Marcus, group operations director at Entain.

“We have matured as an industry,” he said. “As a whole, it’s not egregious behaviour anymore, [but] it seems like we get accused of egregious behaviour.”

Last August, Entain agreed to pay £17m in a settlement for what it called “alleged historical licensing breaches”, violations that happened between December 2019 and October 2020.

Marcus and others were speaking on the topic “Gambling Act Review: All Change in the UK?” at the Wiggin law firm’s betting and gaming seminar on the first day of the ICE London conference on Tuesday (February 7).

The so-called white paper that will set planned changes for the 2005 Gambling Act in motion was launched more than two years ago, and was the topic of the panel discussion.

On Monday, Sarah Fox, deputy director of gambling and lotteries at the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, told an ICE Vox audience that there had been three ministerial changes since she joined the department seven months ago.

The department has since Monday been “refocused” to lose its digital and technology responsibilities, and gained a new secretary of state, Lucy Frazer, who was housing minister.

The minister in charge of gambling, Paul Scully, cheered the industry recently by suggesting that affordability checks might better be termed “financial risk” checks, suggesting they might be less stringent.

But his speech, delivered not even two weeks ago to industry trade group the Betting and Gaming Council, might be null and void as he has been shipped to the newly-created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

At the Wiggin seminar, executives suggested the prospect of affordability checks would make players nervous.

“Not all customers want to tell us their occupation [and] show us their pay slips,” said Simon Bernholt, chief regulatory and legal officer for Flutter Entertainment UK and Ireland.

“It’s very difficult to sit there as a gambling company and say, ‘we don’t think you can afford to spend that money’,” he said.

But Marcus suggested that the white paper might not be so traumatic, as major gambling companies have already instituted many of the changes likely to be in it, such as curbing reliance on VIP players in favour of recreational gamblers.

Further, banning gambling on credit is likely to prevent many players from overextending themselves.

“The minute the Gambling Commission took out credit cards, that protected us massively,” he said. “You’ve got to use your own money.”

Marcus said he was impressed with recent remarks by commission chief executive Andrew Rhodes that suggested “a different attitude”.

In November, Rhodes hailed industry progress, citing big operators reporting a reduction in dependence on high-rollers, and pivoting toward recreational players.

He cited one operator that launched automated financial vulnerability checks that turned away 7 percent of players at registration.

“We feel we have a role in working with the commission to jointly raise standards,” Bernholt said.

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