The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on gambling related harm recently set out its agenda for 2020, following the release of their interim report in November 2019.
We provided an analysis of this in an article first published in January. The APPG will next meet on the 12 February, when Neil MacArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission will give evidence to the Group.
At a time when the gambling sector is the source of increasing focus from all sides, Brigid Simmonds, chair of the newly formed Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has provided us with an insight in to her early days at the BGC and how she sees the challenges that lie ahead.
You have now been in post for three months. After many years representing the beer and pub sector, what is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far in moving in to the gaming sector?
In one of the first few days I attended the Betting Shop Manager of the Year awards and I was struck by the commitment and professionalism of all those nominated to what they do and the customers they serve. The challenge is really how we make sure we represent people like that to Government, regulators. It’s also been working with everyone to agree our Code of Conduct which all members must adhere to and understanding the major issues facing the industry.
The BGC represents diverse – and sometimes – competing interests. How will you seek to reconcile these?
By working together as one voice and making sure everyone has a say. Our Executive Committee has representatives from all the membership, from casinos to independent betting shops and international online companies. Our committees covering a wide range of issues will develop policy together and collectively we are all working together to deliver the Safer Gambling Commitments.
What are the Council's major aims and objectives over the next 12 months?
We’re focusing on ensuring our Safer Gambling commitments are implemented, and we are working with all our members to make this happen. We’re also recruiting new staff which will help us do more things and be more focused on what needs to be done. We want to reset our relationship with Parliamentarians, Ministers, regulators and the wider public, as collectively the industry has spent too long fighting with itself instead of showcasing all the good things we have done and can do to make betting and gaming an enjoyable and safe thing to do.
After many years of publicity and debate, the stakes on Cat B2 machines have been reduced. What is the next single biggest challenge facing the industry?
The impact of that decision is being felt very keenly, with over 1,500 shops closed or about to close. That impacts not just the staff who have been made redundant because of the decision, but high streets now have even more empty units and local councils are losing income from business rates.
The challenge we face now is why the Betting and Gaming Council was formed – to create a way of the industry speaking as one voice, together, rather than the separate and different voices we had seen. We want to make sure our members offer their customers great products which people can enjoy in a safe and responsible way. That’s why all our Members must adhere to our Code of Conduct. We need to reset our relationships with Government, civil servants, regulators and the wider public. This is a great British industry, generating £3billion for the Treasury, employing over 100,000 people and serving millions of customers. We have a lot to be proud of, but we also have a lot to learn and a lot to do to improve our safer gambling measures and thereby our reputation and our image.
Much of the press and publicity around the industry has a negative bias (the recent FA Cup rights deal being an example). How can the industry seek to influence and the change the narrative in the mainstream press around betting and gaming?
The FA Cup issue is an example of where we took action to turn the narrative. Once we had established the facts about the issue, we announced that our members with the rights to show these matches would waive their exclusivity, meaning now more people can watch the FA Cup than would have been the case. Our decision was publicly supported by the Government and Opposition front benches. The narrative will only change when are seen to act on areas of concern where improvements can be made and that is what we are determined to do.
The Conservative party manifesto promised to make the UK the safest in the world to gamble online, and described the Gambling Act as “increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age”. As such, it pledged to review the act, with a particular focus on tackling issues around loot boxes and credit card misuse. What expectations do you have of the new government to follow through on this given their commitment to “get brexit done”?
It’s clear that there will be a review and possible updates to the Gambling Act, but rather than wait to see what is proposed, we want to be on the front foot, speak to the Government, regulators, Members of Parliament about the major steps we’re taking now, as a new trade body, to make gambling a safe and enjoyable experience for our customers.
A review of the Act offers great opportunities to ensure it reflects what is going on now, rather than being fixed on the issues as they were in 2005. A lot has changed across the industry since the Act was passed, and we are now in a good position to show – together – what actions we have taken and what we can do working together with Government and the relevant department.
The APPG for Gambling Related Harm released an interim report at the end of last year. One of their pre-eminent findings was that, as a matter of urgency, stake and deposit limits be introduced in online gambling to reduce the harm that the industry is causing. What is the view of the BGC members of the opinion expressed by the APPG that they “do not see the justification for having slot machine style games online with staking levels above £2. If they are not acceptable in land-based venues they should not be allowed online”?
What we are clear about is that we are committed to ensuring a safe gambling experience for all customers using the wide range of tools that online operators have at their disposal. All our members continue to invest significantly in new technology to make full use of data and algorithms to identify risk of harm and interact with customers at an early stage, and to introduce new affordability checks on customers.
We promote online tools that enable people to track and limit the amount they spend, recently introduced a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling advertising and increased funding for research, education and treatment. We will continue to improve our customer protection measures and listen and respond to any concerns to ensure that we provide a safe and enjoyable environment which consumers and the wider public expect. We do have to remember that we operate in a world-wide industry and we want our customers to participate in a world class leading industry which the BGC represents.
The association between sport and gambling, and the perceived reliance of sport on the betting and gaming sector is never far from the news. The BGC recently issued a statement that members did not seek exclusivity for rights to screen FA Cup matches. What more can and should the industry do to improve the public perceptions surrounding the association between betting, gaming and sport?
The association between sport and gambling has existed for many, many years and rightly so. It’s part of the entertainment for the majority, it’s what makes horse-racing what it is, and it’s what builds excitement watching football. Without betting and gaming horse-racing for example, would hardly receive any funding. But, like everything else we do, we need to ensure our relationship with sport is professional and builds on our safer gambling commitments.
We have recognised some of the problems or perceptions, and that’s why, for example, we introduced the whistle to whistle ban, so none of our members run any adverts from five minutes before to five minutes after a pre-9pm and sporting fixture (excluding horseracing). This means betting adverts by our members are now non-existent during these games. We will also be introducing a new sponsorship code, very much in line with the one which already exists for alcohol companies. We need to set standards which work for both our industry and for Sports Governing Bodies.