Martin Lycka: Waiting for any problem gambling storm to blow over is not an option

Martin Lycka: Waiting for any problem gambling storm to blow over is not an option

With more markets opening up to legalised gambling across the US and Canada, Martin Lycka – SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain – believes that now is ‘high time’ for the market to focus on the implementation of safer gambling practices.

Kicking off the responsible gambling track on day two of SBC Digital North America, Lycka began his keynote speech by first giving an overview of regulatory developments across the US market. 

Praising the speed at which the post-PASPA market has opened up – with Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, South Dakota and Wyoming all joining the “US sports betting club” in 2021 alone – Lycka explained that now is the perfect time to focus on the introduction of “robust consumer protection measures with resolute focus on responsible gambling”.  

He said: “Low and behold, what a seismic shift this has been in just three years. At the same time, as an industry, we have been sketching out a sustainable way forward that will serve us well in the long run. 

“It is becoming ever more evident that the most efficient way of achieving long-term sustainability of the North American sports betting and igaming market is by introducing robust consumer protection measures with resolute focus on responsible gambling.”  

Drawing comparisons between the US and European markets, Lycka warned industry stakeholders to not make the mistake of “sitting on the fence and waiting for any storms to blow over” – explaining that the most important thing that states, operators and suppliers can do is to “get on the front foot” and take action. 

He continued: “If there is anything to learn from the UK and the wider European experience, it is that sitting on the fence and waiting for any storms to blow over does not pay off. I strongly believe that the North American industry is best advised to actively engage with responsible gambling matters and tackle them head-on with both enthusiasm and determination. 

“In other words, we might want to get on the front foot right here, right now, in order to prevent the simmering problem gambling concerns from boiling over. 

“Let’s not forget the old sports saying that defences win championships. Shoring up our consumer protection defences will give us an even stronger momentum for further economic development in the North American markets.”

Looking to the future, Lycka explained that the onus to provide help to at-risk customers clearly lies on the betting and gaming industry – highlighting that we must also steer bettors away from the black market.

He challenged the industry to focus on the ways in which the issue of problem gambling can be addressed, noting that we must continuously identify instances which could place gamblers at risk.

He said: “What is the challenger that we’re all up against? It is estimated that overall, approximately 5% of our customers are at risk of developing a gambling problem. This doesn’t mean that all of them will, especially if we can help it. 

“Clearly, the onus on the industry – being supported by regulators and third party suppliers – is to provide help to at-risk customers. At the same time, we need to cater to the demand of all customers that can, and do, play with us responsibly. We need to do that with the view of steering them away from the black market. 

“Here is our challenge: can we have an attractive product offering while protecting our customers from the scourge of gambling addiction? The answer, I believe, is a resounding yes. Yes we can, and yes we must.

“Exactly because the answer is a resounding yes, now is a high time that we focus not only on continuous identification of the problem that we’re facing, which itself is very important, but crucially and critically also on how it can be solved.”