Suzanne Davies, Director, Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited, talks about some of the big issues around responsible gambling and her objectives for the forthcoming Betting on Sports America conference in New Jersey.
As previously reported by SBC Americas, the American Gaming Association has published new research findings on current and future sports betting behavior. Its President and CEO, Bill Miller, says that this research “unveils new insights into this critical and growing segment of the gaming market, confirming what we’ve known for a long time: consumers want the ability to wager in safe, regulated markets. With two-thirds of states having taken steps to legalize sports betting, we’re clearly making progress to meet that demand.”
The word that particularly caught my eye was “safe”. That word has come much more to the fore in terms of UK gambling regulation in recent years. Indeed, the Chief Executive of the UK gambling regulator, the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, could not have been clearer in his ambitions when he said last year: “I want consumers in Britain to be able to enjoy the fairest and safest gambling in the world… and to achieve my aims I need your support; I need you to work together to make sure you are the best – the fairest, safest – gambling operators in the world.”
I know those are similar ambitions for gambling regulators and operators alike in the US. The previous AGA President and CEO, Geoff Freeman said as much immediately following the Supreme Court’s PASPA ruling in May last year, when he said: “Today’s ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting. Through smart, efficient regulation this new market will protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the games we love, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling, and generate new revenue for states, sporting bodies, broadcasters and many others”.
That’s not to say that those who consistently opposed legalization of sports betting won’t still fear that legalization will:
- in the words of the Supreme Court, “encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings” and
- lead to an increase in gambling addiction, particularly amongst young people with a strong interest in sports.
The existing AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming provides a solid foundation in terms of consumer protection. However, clearly further safeguards can be put in place to ensure that adequate customer protections exist in relation to sports betting, both offline and online.
Following repeal of PASPA, Senate Democratic Leader, Charles E. Schumer, was not slow to propose (albeit in a federal context) the following minimum consumer protection measures:
- prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from betting,
- prohibit advertising targeted at young people and otherwise require responsible advertising and
- require that information be provided by any entity taking bets about the dangers of addiction and make available resources to help encourage responsible betting.
Obviously different states have adopted different approaches to the question of problem gambling but, despite the fact that “the US gaming industry commits more than $300m to responsible gaming annually, supporting education, training and rehabilitation programs across the country” (according to the AGA), I can’t help but conclude that quite considerably lesser consumer protection measures are being adopted within those states that have legalized, or are in the course of legalizing sports betting, than apply in the UK.
That’s not surprising, given that licensed sports betting operators in the UK have been permitted for nearly 60 years and online betting has been lawfully available to UK residents since the mid-1990s. However, it is only in recent years that considerably greater safeguards have been required by the regulator, accompanied by wholesale buy-in on the part of licensed betting operators.
Carefully drafted codes of conduct, policies and procedures to promote socially responsible gambling with a view to reducing gambling-related harms are all very well, but recent regulatory enforcement action and consequential financial penalties running into multi-million pounds incurred by UK operators shows that they count for nothing unless they are implemented effectively.
All of this leads to the question “What is effective is tackling problem gambling?”. That is the theme of the panel session that I will be moderating at SBC Events’ inaugural Betting on Sports America conference, taking place in New Jersey between 23 & 25 April 2019.
In the UK some have sought to argue that existing measures must surely be effective in tackling problem gambling, because a statistically stable rate of problem gambling has been maintained over recent years. However, any such argument has been quickly dismissed out of hand by the Gambling Commission. It is on record as saying that the wider harms that people experience from the gambling of others must not be ignored and that all of the opportunities to reduce gambling related harm have not yet been “grasped and acted upon”.
Responding to gambling regulators’ calls for a raising of standards to make gambling safer and to place the consumer at the heart of their business decisions, operators active in both the UK and the US have launched their own consumer protection initiatives, including:
- William Hill’s “Nobody harmed by gambling” corporate objective and
- GVC’s global responsible gambling campaign
I know that, in the US, with the same problem gambling question in mind, the Responsible Gambling Collaborative:
- comprehensively reviews current responsible gaming policies and regulations,
- seeks to identify programs that work and those that fail to meet their objective,
- studies regulations to determine which are based on solid evidence,
- aims to determine whether government resources are being properly targeted toward effective programs and prevention,
- works on developing a set of recommendations and industry best practices and
- interacts with regulators and other stakeholders to understand the best approaches.
It will be interesting to learn more in due course about their conclusions, but I would add into the mix for discussion at the Betting on Sports America panel session the following current problem gambling related initiatives taking place in the UK, some of which will probably seem incredibly draconian to U.S. operators:
- consideration of a ban on gambling online with credit cards
- proposals for more effective customer interactions and evidence relating to gambling website blocking software
- the development by banks of gambling spend blocking tools
- the crackdown on regulation of online gambling recently proposed by the main political opposition party
- new gambling advertising standards to protect under 18 year olds that came into effect on 1 April, a voluntary “whistle to whistle” sports betting advertising ban that will come into force on 1 August, and concerns arising from analysis showing that five times more is spent on gambling marketing online than on television
- changes in relation to age and identity verification requirements for online gambling that will come into effect on 7 May
- the Gambling Commission’s co-creation workshops on communicating safer gambling messages and sharing best practice in use of data in identification of gambling related harm
- the UK’s online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme (GamStop) and consideration of the teething problems encountered during its ongoing initial set-up stage
- the establishment of a Gambling Health Alliance intended to act as a signposting organisation to other resources relevant to preventing gambling related harm
- the threat by the UK Government to replace the present system of voluntary donations with a mandatory levy payable by licensed gambling operators to fund research, education and treatment of problem gambling.
I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at Betting on Sports America and, in particular, at the 2pm panel session taking place on 24 April in the “Trading & Operations” stream, entitled “Tackling problem gambling – What is effective?”, where my panelists will be Keith Whyte, Executive Director, NCPG; Jamie Salsburg, Founder, After Gambling; and Paul Buck, CEO, EPIC Risk Management.
At 10.15am on 24 April in the opening panel session in the “Betting on Regulation” stream at Betting on Sports America, my business partner, David Clifton, is a panelist in the session entitled “Avoiding the pitfalls – Lessons to be learned from other regulated markets”, moderated by William J. Pascrell III, Partner at Princeton Public Affairs Group. David will be joined on the panel by William Bowers, Manager Human Resources, Western Cape Gambling & Racing Board; and James T. Plousis, Chairman, State of New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
ABOUT BETTING ON SPORTS AMERICA
The event is held 23-25 April in New Jersey, and is the largest dedicated sports betting trade show in the US. The conference boasts 175 speakers and 40 sessions, with 60 exhibitors displaying their latest products on the 61,000 sq ft exhibition floor at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Delegates will be treated to world-class hospitality with plenty of business and networking opportunities in New Jersey (Meadowlands Racetrack) and New York (40/40 Club and Sky Room Rooftop Bar). For more information about the event, please check out the Betting on Sports America website.