The CEO of the British Gambling Commission, Sarah Harrison, spoke at the World Regulatory Briefing on 8 September on the topic of responsible gambling innovation. Against a background of increasing debate regarding the issues caused by fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in particular, she discussed the opportunities presented by further operator engagement, investment in research, education and treatment and product innovation.
The Commission is keen to work with gambling operators to protect vulnerable members of society from the harm that can be caused by problem gambling. As part of the pilot of Annual Assurance Statements, the Commission asked operators to provide details of the scale of problem gambling amongst their customers. This proved a difficult question for operators to address and in her speech Sarah Harrison made it clear that the Commission appreciates the challenge presented. However, she also set out that the Commission “have no plans to take this issue off the table”. The first step is for operators to learn how to measure the scale of problem gambling, which will then enable them to measure the impact of any measures introduced to combat it.
Gambling operators are constantly innovating and Sarah Harrison sees an opportunity for this creativity to be put towards promoting responsible gambling. Software tools which can help operators analyses patterns of behaviour to enable early identification of potential problems will be key and the Commission is keen for operators to share with them what is working and what is being learnt.
Sarah Harrison pointed out that, in 2015, £6.5m was donated to the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) whereas £120m was spent by the gambling industry on TV advertising. Even the £6.5 does not add up to the £10-11m that would be expected if all operators gave the suggested 0.1% of gross gambling yield to the RGT. 0.1% of gross gambling yield seems small, but of course when profit margins are squeezed it can make a significant difference to the bottom line. Spending on TV advertising is no doubt necessary to generate the funds which can be donated to responsible gambling initiatives. However, on a longer view, protecting more vulnerable members of society from the undisputed harms of problem gambling is important to ensure the public perception of gambling remains that it is a fun leisure activity, rather than a potentially dangerous one.
The implication was that if voluntary contributions do not begin to match up to what the Gambling Commission would expect based on GGY data, a fixed donation percentage will be imposed in licence conditions. However, how this could be achieved in practice remains to be seen as it would amount to a levy by the back door. A required donation may come as welcome news to those operators already paying their share, although it would fail to take into account other responsible gambling initiatives funded by operators including development of the type of analytic software tools mentioned by Sarah Harrison
Sarah Harrison concluded her speech by asking gambling operators, who have the principal relationship with consumers, to take ownership of the responsible gambling agenda.