Government over-reaction, shareholder mutiny and public opposition are all reasons why gaming companies must take their responsibilities towards problem gambling seriously.
That’s the view of Ron Finlay, chief executive of the Senet Group, who was speaking ahead of this year’s World Regulatory Briefing (WrB) conference on ‘Responsible Gambling & Reputation Management’, which will take place at Altitude in London’s Millbank Tower on September 10.
The Clarion-organised event will bring together leaders and decision-makers from gaming companies, regulatory bodies and charities to encourage a pan-European dialogue enabling the industry to better advocate and drive the adoption of responsible gambling methods.
The conference is supported by Finlay’s organisation, with the Senet Group itself formed last year by some of the UK’s biggest gaming companies to promote responsible gambling standards, not least in the light of criticism over the rise of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and growth of the sector’s marketing clout.
But while opponents may see Senet’s ‘Bad Betty’ ad campaign as a token effort compared to the billions of pounds made from FOBTs, Finlay argues that a serious attitude towards responsible gambling is an absolute necessity in the current market.
“Do you think anyone – in whatever sector – wants to see their product or their industry damage their customers’ health or well-being?” he said.
“If it’s morally wrong or even questionable, it’s also commercially unsustainable in an age where there’s not only massive scrutiny from governments, the media and the public but also a growing sensitivity from shareholders about ethical investment.”
Senior figures from the UK Gambling Commission, GamCare and the Reputation Institute and are among those that will also be present to discuss responsible gambling and reputation at WrB next month.
Representatives from Ladbrokes and Gala Coral – which along with William Hill and Paddy Power set up the Senet Group in an effort to promote their responsible gaming agenda and improve the industry’s reputation – will also lead discussions.
WrB delegates will surely be interested in hearing more about the success of Senet’s £2m ‘Bad Betty’ advertising campaign, which has sought to highlight problem gambling issues with the same irreverent humour that is used by gaming companies to promote their offers.
Senet’s rules restrict advertising of gambling products among its members, with marketing of gaming machines banned from shop fronts and 20 per cent of window advertising devoted to responsible gambling messages, while members are not allowed to advertise on trackside hoardings before 9pm.
Finlay is pleased with the progress of such self-regulation in Senet’s first year, and hopes the rules being imposed by the industry on the industry can make changes for the better.
“Self-regulation is good for all parties,” he said. “It should allow change to happen in a way that meets the needs of government and regulators, delivers good outcomes for consumers and suits gambling operators – all with little or no cost to the public purse.
“In the long-term, reduced harm from gambling is the priority, but this won’t happen overnight. I’d hope we’d gradually see the measures we’re taking change gamblers’ awareness, attitudes and behaviours. More operators signing up and taking social responsibility seriously will help.”
While Senet has focused on restrictions on marketing, Finlay has called for the gambling industry’s technological wizardry to also play its part. With a point that is pertinent to the WrB session ‘iGaming strategy: deploying big data to create a sustainable, player led organisation’, Finlay has called for the sector to use its advanced technology to aid the cause of responsible gambling.
“I hope operators will use data more thoughtfully to identify customers displaying risky behaviour and develop a range of responses to react appropriately to minimise potential harm,” he said.
“Technology also has an important role to play in enabling the industry to develop more effective self-exclusion systems.”