We Need To Talk About Responsible Gambling
The gambling industry has launched its biggest ever campaign to promote responsible gambling. More than 127,000 staff in over 11,000 gambling venues in the UK and Ireland, encompassing bookmakers, casinos, arcades, bingo clubs and online gambling websites, are takingpart in Responsible Gambling Week.
The aim of the campaign is to spark a national conversation about what it means to gamble responsibly, conversations between operators and their customers, between customers and their family and friends and between industry stakeholders. We want to make people more self-aware of their gambling behaviour, tell them about the responsible gambling tools which are available on gambling websites and in venues to help keep their gambling safe and fun and, if they need support or advice, to refer them to specialist services offered by the charity GambleAware.
The gambling industry is under close political scrutiny and topics such as the prevalence of gambling advertising on television and the government’s timetable for reducing stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals are legitimate subjects of debate. I can understand that cynics might claim Responsible Gambling Week is more about public relations than driving behavioural change. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it is indicative of the industry’s tarnished reputation at present that there will undoubtedly be criticism, even when what it is doing is unequivocally a good thing, raising awareness of what it means to gamble responsibly.
As a lawyer who has spent two decades at a city law firm advising the gambling industry, I have witnessed a sea-change in the collective industry mindset in recent years. Responsible gambling is a standing agenda item for board meetings, staff are being trained to interact with customers that may be at risk of harm, more creative messaging is being trialled to get the responsible gambling message across, operators are investing in technology to help identify uncharacteristically risky or problematic behaviour on websites and machines and also to enable customers to set their own limits on deposits and stakes and multi operator self-exclusion schemes have been introduced.
No operator can expect to have a sustainable long-term future without putting a commitment to responsible gambling at the heart of its business. The fact that every sector of the industry has come together to drive this campaign, which has been a year in the planning, and agree common messaging tells its own story because they have frequently been at odds in the past. By speaking together with one voice, they can have maximum impact.
Everyone who has a problem with their gambling is someone who once thought that they did not, so the campaign is targeted at the widest possible audience, both regular customers and occasional players. Responsible gambling is part and parcel of the enjoyment of gambling as a mainstream leisure product. The campaign slogan ‘Let’s Talk About Responsible Gambling’ is designed to trigger conversations in gambling venues – about setting budgets and time limits, taking regular breaks, not chasing losses, and not putting gambling before family or friends – but it is not confined to them. The message that gambling is not the answer to any problem is also being shared by leading football clubs and at racecourses, on billboards at London Underground stations and across social networks.
For the campaign to be a success, it must be a national conversation. The focus is on preventing harm, rather than cure, so it must involve regular and casual players alike, many of whom may not believe that responsible gambling messages are intended for them, and for their families and friends who may never gamble themselves. We want the hashtag #RGWeek18 to be the focal point of the campaign and the easiest way to access down-to-earth, practical advice.
Gambling is a highly regulated industry and problem gambling levels and participation levels are statistically stable, but there is absolutely no room for complacency. The ambition must always be to lower those numbers over time and Responsible Gambling Week, which runs until November 7th, is only one part of a wider national responsible gambling strategy that also involves government, regulators, charities and educators. Responsible Gambling Week is about the industry practising what it preaches and behaving responsibly.
*John Hagan is chairman of the Industry Group For Responsible Gambling and a partner at specialist city law firm, Harris Hagan