A spectre is haunting the gambling industry in the UK, the spectre of heavy regulation. The sector is reeling from years of terrible publicity about harms caused by online gambling. It’s not any easier in 2020 to foresee political futures, but all political parties in the UK have made promises to reform online gambling in some way.
There have been a number of high profile proposals, from banning all advertising of online gambling to limiting losses to £100 a month. And the industry has responded too. The appointment of former Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson as an adviser to Paddy Power was a definite sign that the industry knows it needs to engage with political leaders. The reporting this week that a number of MPs are employed as consultants or advisers to the industry just confirms this.
And, Playtech, always accompanied in their own publicity by this claim, “the world’s leading gambling technology company” is now partnered with the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC).
There is certainly going to change, and it may be a change that affects players rather than just the UK online casino sites. What is clear is that the online gambling industry is currently engaged in heavy manoeuvring to make sure that it has a strong voice in what these changes are.
The Biggest Market in the World
The UK is the world’s biggest gambling market. It has regulations and a regulator, and the regulator is generally well regarded, but the rules are much less strict than in, for example, the rest of Europe and in the US.
This had helped the UK gambling industry to explode. There are more casino sites here than anywhere, the CEOs of big gambling companies have pay deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and gambling companies are all over the most popular sports in the shape of sponsorship deals.
Playtech are a UK company, and no doubt they want to protect their share of this huge market.
New Partners: Playtech
The result is this collaboration the RGC.
The company says:
“The relationship aims to strengthen industry insights to inform and advance safer gambling, mental health and digital wellbeing. This collaboration is one of the first examinations of safer gambling alongside digital wellbeing.”
Playtech’s input into the process is their own expertise. It would be easy to be cynical about this input, but perhaps that’s too easy an answer. There’s no doubt that big gambling companies absolutely know a huge amount about gambling behaviours: what makes players play for longer, what makes players spend more. Without that knowledge, they would not be the enormous success they currently are.
Can it be used – without compromise – in service of the wellbeing of players though?
The Responsible Gambling Council
The RGC is a non-profit originally from Canada, which has been working to research and help mitigate problem gambling for 35 years.
Playtech say that this is the first step in a sustained business strategy that is called: Sustainable Success.
RGC says: “The RGC’s global consultation service RG Plus turns this research into tailored, best-in-class policies and practices which allow top operators to demonstrate their commitment to providing a safe, enjoyable experience for customers.”
What Does This Mean for Players?
This is a question without an answer as yet.
However, we’ve made it clear what we think the purpose of this partnership, and any others you see like it are: it’s to give the online casino industry a say in changes in regulations that are almost certainly on their way.
For the player, it is, in all honesty, likely that industry regulation that is not guided by the industry itself will have more of an effect (for good and for ill) than a regulation that the industry helps to shape.
The practices that have come under the most scrutiny in press coverage of the gambling industry are all fairly standard industry practices. They include marketing, special offers, and, particularly the way that high-volume and VIP players are treated.
It’s hard to see how the industry can wholeheartedly throw themselves into efforts to try to limit a part of their service that provides the majority of their income.
But we have to hope that they try.
Guarding Yourself Before Regulation
It’s unfortunate that so much of the responsibility on keeping gamblers safe falls on gamblers themselves.
While it’s nice to pretend that this is some empowering celebration of individual responsibility and liberty, the truth is that anyone can fall victim to addiction, it is not a moral failing, and the problem is that the aims of the industry – maximise profits by maximising player losses by maximising player engagement and spending – are hard to reconcile with harm reduction strategies that are likely to focus on minimising all of these things.
Our view is always that while the industry operates in the way that it does players do have to embrace this responsibility and do at least some research on how they can keep themselves safe.
The industry has already helped by providing tools, including information, support organisations, and on-site tools like monitoring tools and self-exclusion.
However, asking someone who is falling down an addictive spiral to activate the tools to help themselves is asking a lot.
Gambling addiction is absolutely as real as any addiction to a physical substance like alcohol or heroin. You should treat it as seriously.
The Ways to Stay Safe
Our advice then is to follow the best safe gambling advice you can find, to use tools that minimise your play, to learn to monitor your own behaviour and spending, and to find out what the danger signs of problem gambling are (they include playing to deal with difficult emotions, lying about your gambling, and other secretive behaviours.
Most of all we hope you’ll be able to reach out for help if you need it. Please.
The industry is moving towards making taking these steps easier, and laws that enforce this are almost certainly on the way too. Before they arrive you can do a lot yourself.