Working in regulated markets means that operators must implement responsible gambling and social responsibility measures at all levels and regardless of the cost, says Pavlos Sideris, director of Double Up Media.
Over the past few years, gaming jurisdictions, new and old, have significantly strengthened their responsible gaming regulations and frameworks; even Curacao recently announced plans to reform its gambling laws to include player safety guidelines for its operators.
Kidding aside, from wagering limits to betting budgets, reality checks and self-exclusion tools, level of responsible gambling education, investment and in some cases mandatory account limits are now considerable on the main regulated markets.
Proponents of responsible gambling rightly recognize the harm that gambling can cause, the social responsibility that operators must embody, and the need for consumers to be protected from potentially harmful exposure to gambling.
In fairness, the biggest UK operators already have accessibility controls and other responsible gambling measures in place, which is already having an impact on their revenue. But when the UK Gambling Reform White Paper is published and its recommendations are finally enacted, all licensed operators in the UK will have to comply with the new legislation.
Stories and individual cases of problem gambling are inherently emotional, which has led, in some cases, to the issue being sensationalised by parts of the UK press. These stories have also drawn government and public attention, although the current rate of problem gambling in the UK is relatively stable, according to the latest Gambling Commission data.
The UK market is one of the most highly regulated gambling markets in the world and, as in most other major gambling jurisdictions, responsible gambling is recognized as an essential aspect of regulation, inseparable by design. For the most part, operators are managed by a system of audits and fines.
However, many of the larger operators also flout their own self-proclaimed rules and statements of intent when it comes to responsible gambling, anti-money laundering, or simply protecting potentially vulnerable players.
The list of UK operators who have been fined by the Gambling Commission (UKGC) is long and includes many of the country’s biggest operators, such as Entain, which has received a record £17m penalty in August 2022.
The list of breaches included serious breaches of the group’s social responsibility duties. UKGC said the operator was slow to interact with players who potentially suffered damage to the game and cited examples of Entain allowing a player to spend £230,000 with just one safer game interaction. It also allowed self-excluded players to join other Entain sites working under different brands.
To show its seriousness, the Entain case led the UKGC to say it would not hesitate to call for the license of the group to be withdrawn if similar failures were discovered within the group in the future.
“This is the second time this operator has broken the rules in place to make gaming safer and crime free. “operation a very real possibility. We expect better and consumers deserve better,” says UKGC.
The UKGC is, for the most part, market reactive and, due to the nature of the business it investigates, takes a long time to render its decisions. But when major issues are highlighted, such as the slowness of operators to engage with customers exhibiting high-risk behavior, the Commission reacts, exposing a circular relationship between the regulated market and responsible gambling.
What it also shows is that financial pressures are relevant to even the biggest groups and will look the other way when significant revenue is at stake. Indeed, as the UKGC shines a spotlight on the biggest large operators, it is widely believed that RG failures are commonplace among smaller groups.
Despite many UK regulated slots sites take social responsibility and player commitments seriously, this is not always the case as many equate failure to comply with regulations with profitability.
Speaking to the SBC Summit held in September in Barcelona, Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA)underlined the current view of stakeholders when he said: “I believe that regardless of the percentage of damage caused by gambling, the operator should focus on safer gambling policies and address this percentage people in a much more engaging and productive way. So I think we have to let go of this idea that the percentage is relevant as an operator. It’s the operators who have a future in the regulated markets.
The debate is currently focused on the need to ensure that new gambling regulations do not unduly affect operators’ ability to generate profits, as stricter responsible gambling regulations have a negative impact on businesses and, from a traditional accounting point of view, increases costs and decreases revenues.
For the UK, gambling reforms are clearly underway and only the timing is uncertain. But with affordability checks, additional know-your-customer checks, restrictions on bonuses and buy-in promotions, the industry is trying to strike a careful balance between player safety, over-regulation and the ability to generate profits.
Additionally, a recent PwC report highlights the link between authoritarian regulations and the growth of unrelated offshore operators. The fact that the report’s conclusions coincide with the gambling industry’s arguments is a factor we should always be aware of, but the need for regulatory balance and proportionality should also not be discounted.
Yet, in the modern age of Internet gambling, it is not possible to separate regulated markets and responsible gambling. The fact that operators are fined when they break the rules shows that regulation works, even if it is reactionary, or after the event. Therefore, come what may, operators will have the choice of bearing the costs of increased regulation or exiting regulated markets altogether.