Under sustained attack from the media, ministers, regulator, and often itself, industry analysts reflect on the British sector’s dramatic fall from grace in 2017. While divided over the true culprits, even the most sympathetic observers call for drastic measures to prevent the worst in 2018.
At the end of the 2017, the UK gambling industry has found itself in the last chance saloon. So said Tracey Crouch, the minister principally in charge of gambling policy.
The phrase has been repeated by gaming lawyers and consultants throughout December who, with some sympathy, urge operators to take the rising rhetoric seriously – or face far worse in 2018.
After last year’s Gambling Commission Raising Standards conference, David Zeffman, partner at CMS law firm and head of gambling and sport, wrote that the UK industry had been “hit by a tsunami”.
After the tone of this year’s edition, and having exhausted his “lexicon of catastrophe metaphors”, Zeffman says perhaps it’s time to concede to the last chance saloon.
The first at the conference to refer to a “tipping point” was GC chair Bill Noyes. “I don’t think the industry gets it”, he told attendees, before complaining about all-talk-and-no-action from operators; that voluntary contributions from firms paid to the charity GambleAware were still only at 60 percent of their 0.1 percent of GGY target, was a recurring indictment.
“The industry can be seen as beyond redemption and requiring tough action to tackle its worst excesses,” said Noyes. “Or it can be seen as a responsible part of the entertainment industry, which acknowledges that it has the capacity to cause harm and demonstrates a real willingness to invest in improvement, in prevention and in treatment.”
Zeffman himself signs off by saying: “I can only re-emphasise those comments and encourage you to read Sarah Harrison’s speech,” before highlighting one “particularly ominous extract”: “We are at a tipping point,” affirmed the GC’s outgoing CEO.
“Those that do not share this commitment, those who do not deliver for the consumer will find themselves in an uncomfortable position with their future in the industry increasingly in peril.”
Consultant David Clifton also chose to title a column titled, “Last chance saloon”, this time reading between the speakers at Gamble Aware’s Harm Minimisation conference.
He notes Kate Lampard, the charity’s chair, who opened her speech by saying: “I must say that it seems to me that current public opinion represents a serious existential threat to the future success of the gambling industry in Britain.
“My experience of the industry thus far is that it is not wholly undeserving of the flak that it gets.”
Interestingly Lampard, as well as GC executive chairman Tim Miller pointed to industry in-fighting as a root cause of the troubles.
“An industry that has devoted its energies to aggressively fighting amongst itself, served only to accelerate the rapidly falling reputation it has”, said Lampard, “and to secure essentially none of the changes to regulations each sector sought.”
While Miller added: “Stop battling each other and start tackling harm; stop looking over the fence and start looking at your own back yard; stop acting in a spirit of frustration and start acting in a spirit of collaboration.”
Speaking to iGaming Times on the topic, gaming consultant Steve Donoughue was more explicit.
“The land-based trade associations, except Bingo, should take much of the blame for creating this negative feeling in Westminster and Fleet Street to start with,” he said.
“The bookmakers atrocious lobbying over FOBTs combined with the arcades and casinos reckless joining in with […] has left the entire gambling industry in a terrible state with no political friends.”
In desperate times, Donoghue advocates “big gestures” that might steer the focus away from an obsession with problem gambling.
“Never has there been a greater need for a huge amount of Corporate Social Responsibility from the industry, of a size never seen before.
“I would recommend £10m donated to women’s sport as a starter. The equivalence of the salaries and bonuses of the past (and some present) CEOs who have got us to this sorry position.”