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CMS Gambling Conference 2020: Putting the customer first

Dan Waugh (Partner at Regulus) introduced the panel session by giving a brief overview of what had changed in the industry from a regulatory perspective since the last CMS gambling conference, before introducing Richard Flint (former Chairman of SkyBet), Brigid Simmonds (Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council), and Ivor Jones (Equity Analyst at Peel Hunt). 

Dan kicked off the discussion by asking Richard for his views on whether the industry pays enough attention to problem gambling. Richard commented that whilst it was once the case that not enough attention was paid, the matter is now on all operators’ agendas. He explained, however, that he is not certain that across the board this attention is given with the genuine intention to reduce harm or more as a matter of managing the message externally, with “some parts of the industry that focus more on the former and not enough on the latter”. 

Dan queried why consumer advocacy in favour of gambling appears to be lacking. Richard explained that the nature of gambling means that there is an “oppositional relationship” between the punter and the operator, and that unless freedoms are actually taken away, it is difficult to see where this advocacy will come from. Brigid agreed with this, explaining that there is “inbuilt snobbery” with gambling and that it is the industry’s responsibility to change this attitude by raising standards. Ivor meanwhile explained that consumer advocacy was ultimately hampered by the shame often associated with gambling. 

Dan then moved on to ask the panel for their views on the upcoming government review of gambling, and what their hopes were for this. Richard explained that whilst there is a need for a review, there are inherent risks with this taking place in the context of the current “loaded and not always well-informed” public debate. He hopes that the use of data – for the purposes of assessing affordability and customer interaction – would receive focus as part of the review, and that ways to reduce the volume of advertising without taking it away altogether should also be considered. Brigid commented that she didn’t believe there was any need for a new act to replace the Gambling Act 2005. She hopes for the tensions between player protection obligations and GDPR compliance to receive focus, as well as the applicability of business rate relief for betting shops being explored. Ivor meanwhile explained that he hoped the possibility of giving payment providers some form of responsibility for gambling-related harm could be reviewed, as well as ways of de-isolating online gambling and the potential to remove the requirement to segment non-remote verticals by premise. 

Dan opened the debate to the floor, and the panel touched on the potential of responsibility for problem gambling related matters shifting from DCMS to the Department of Health, and the lessons that the US market could learn from the UK. 

Dan wrapped up the session by asking each panellist to summarise what the key areas for the industry to address are going forwards. Richard stressed that regulations around customer interactions should be clearer, and that there should be a genuine consideration of how this is done in the best interests of the consumer. Brigid explained that the work already being undertaken (for example around affordability and collaborating with banks and charities) needs to continue and that the industry needs to make it clear to its customers that it does care about harm prevention. Ivor meanwhile explained that the industry still needs to better understand the problem of harm, and what “problem gambling” really is.

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