Corporate social responsibility; three words combined that the gambling industry is beginning to accept as an essential part of its vernacular far more often these days – and rightly so. They come with a weight of responsibility that cannot be shirked, shaken or shifted and there are no excuses for any company involved in gaming for failing to understand their full implications.
Reassuringly, the US sports betting sector appears to have made the first steps towards talking seriously about the issue, as evidenced by the American Gaming Association’s recent study on problem gambling conducted by the Mellman Group. It found that the majority of Americans are able to gamble responsibly, but with the caveat that more research is needed into the subject.
The sports wagering industry, perhaps mindful of the spectre of future litigation arising from problem gambling, is at least considering addressing its responsibilities. And it is doing so at a time where legal sports betting in the US is at best embryonic, rather than tackling the issue further down the line.
Is that enough at this stage? Paul Buck, Chief Executive of Epic Risk Management, a leading independent gambling harm-minimization consultancy in the UK and Ireland, believes more can be done now. It’s a view that he will expand upon at the inaugural Betting on Sports America conference in April as part of a dedicated panel which poses the vital question: Tackling problem gambling – what is effective?
Talking ahead of the event, Buck was keen to emphasize the importance of a consistent approach to CSR. “The biggest potential issue is that customer protection and sustainability isn’t concentrated on until it’s too late,” he said. “It feels like there is currently a fight for strategic position but very little conversations around safer/responsible gambling.”
He continued: “Each state and the US as a whole mustn’t wait until we have high levels of bankruptcy, criminal conviction, relationship breakdown and suicide before it starts exploring harm minimization efforts. They should be there from day one. Prevention is far more effective than cure with the issue of gambling harm and cheaper.”
According to Buck, measures such as child and adult education programmes, awareness campaigns, safer gambling micro sites, responsible advertising and much more must become the norm along with healthy collaborative relationships between operators and banks.
In terms of his overall message for Betting on Sports America delegates, Buck will testify that the vast majority of people can gamble and treat it as an entertainment activity, staying in control of time, money and cognition. He will add, however, that “…a percentage will suffer gambling related harms which, if left unchecked, can cause serious problems to health, relationships, finances and crime”.
“It is imperative that player protection measures are included in any plan for every operator and state if these harms are not to spiral out of control and cause long lasting damage,” he advised. “We need to educate our children as the first tech savvy generation. We need to help youth professionals and parents to have conversations. We need to help operators with responsible gambling plans and processes and educate employees in this industry. We also need a high profile sports programme so that if the NFL, NBA players etc can talk about it, then so can everyone else.”
He concluded: “Prevention is far better than cure with gambling harm and don’t delay in making this a priority so that we don’t have to play catch up in 18-24 months time.”