It has been another week when the issue of affordability checks has dominated the world of iGaming.
The UK Gambling Commission’s consultation on the issue closed on Tuesday, with Conservative MP Laurence Robertson expressing worries about the potential ‘devastating impact’ the proposed enhanced affordability checks may have on the horse racing industry.
Robertson is the MP for Tewkesbury, which is where Cheltenham Racecourse is located, while he also acts as parliamentary adviser to the Betting and Gaming Council.
He stressed that racing may not survive if the £350m that the betting industry provides is reduced. As reported in the Racing Post, he said: “Any reduction in this income as a result of people being diverted to the black market, or being put off betting altogether, as a result of over-stringent measures being taken would be disastrous for the sport.
“Any steps must also avoid unintended consequences should customers refuse – quite reasonably – to provide their private financial data to operators. While the unintended consequences may manifest in the form of a devastating impact on sport, such as racing, another is generating consumer harm through driving customers to sites which will not make these onerous requests upon them.”
On these concerns of pushing people to the black market, Robertson added: “Once those customers leave the regulated market, both the regulated industry and the commission lose the opportunity to protect those customers. The risk posed by this should not be understated.
“Therefore, I ask that the commission works with the industry to establish a risk-based approach which protects customers and avoids arbitrary limits which may drive a range of unintended consequences that could ultimately increase problem gambling.”
The threat posed by the black market was also stressed by William Hill Group CEO Ulrik Bengtsson, who cited last week’s PwC report which noted a ‘sizeable increase’ in the number of players using such sites and the amounts wagered within a two-year period (210K > 460K and £1.4bn > £2.8bn respectively).
He told SBC News: “There are people in the anti-gambling lobbying regimes that seem to deny that the black market exists. To me that’s sort of saying that the Earth is flat. It’s very clear that there is a black market for gambling and I think anyone should be worried by the fact that the numbers have doubled in about a year.”
He also urged caution over the review, continuing: “These figures appear to have increased because of the tighter regulations introduced over the last couple of years.
“When you make changes that this review will bring, you have to get them right. Otherwise, it will not be to the benefit of the customer, it will not be to the benefit of the operators and will not be to the benefit of the government. You’ve got to get it just right so that everyone lands on their feet on this one, most importantly the customers because they are not protected at all outside of the regime.”
The counter-productive effect of strict rules was highlighted in the German market this week, with gambling sites which are not authorized to operate in Germany seeing an overall increase in traffic. This has led to a 54% reduction in domestic activity overall, while revenues in the German legal sports betting market are 16% lower than that of the previous year. Some of this is attributed to the lack of sport in the Spring, but despite picking up in the Autumn, revenue is still down relative to 2019.
The iGaming figures are also depressed, with DSWV President Mathias Dahms saying: “It becomes clear that the strict regulations for virtual slot machine games have channelled the market away almost overnight – unfortunately in the wrong direction. It is unrealistic to believe that German customers will get used to the excessive restrictions of the State Treaty and come back to licensed providers as long as they can play with competitors who offer them much better conditions. We urgently need improvements to the regulations and a functioning enforcement against illegal offers. Otherwise, established providers willing to regulate will withdraw from the German gaming market.”
The other big news this week was Kindred adding a new ‘transparency metric’ which will see the company report the share of corporate revenues ‘derived from harmful gambling’ within its figures.
The move is part of the operator’s safer gambling strategy and is tied to a pledge to get the figure down to 0% by 2023. For Q4 2020, Kindred said 4.3% of gross winnings came from players deemed ‘high risk’. They also reported a 75.7% ‘improvement effect’ following customer interventions, with the firm claiming around 98% of their customers gamble responsibly.
Kindred Group CEO Henrik Tjärnström highlighted the importance of the new approach, while warning against the black market: “Reducing harmful gambling in society is a long-term process which requires a fact-based, open, and constructive dialogue, not least with decision-makers. We want to contribute to that. The most important thing decision-makers can do right now is to reduce the flight to unlicensed gambling operators, who fail to provide players with any safety measures whatsoever. The so-called channelisation must increase.”
Tjärnström was back in the iGaming media later in the week, stressing that the move was a ‘leadership milestone’ and part of a ‘logical progression’ towards Kindred’s commitment to promoting safer gambling. He also said the development of such a strategy involved ‘commitment, resources and planning’ never before seen in the gambling industry, largely as there was no previous guidance.
Moving to the Netherlands and responding to concerns raised by Dutch MP Stieneke van der Graff, Dutch Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker says the protection of children and young adults from gambling-related harm will be a key focus for the government when the market liberalises later this year.
The market is set to open on 1 October, with the laws regulating the market coming into effect on 1 April. These laws will focus on customer protection, with Dekker saying that licensees will have to ensure adverts do not target minors or young adults. Advertising restrictions will also be in place.
Dekker said: “For higher-risk games of chance, it is prohibited to broadcast adverts for this on television between 6am and 9pm. For other games of chance, this prohibition applies between 6am and 7pm.”
Dekker also stressed that licensees must have policies in place to help those suffering from addiction as well as preventing addiction in the first place. Dekker continued: “To be able to connect sufficiently with the Dutch system of addiction treatment, it is necessary for the licensee to engage an expert organisation when compiling information regarding addiction prevention.
“This will improve the quality of the information and the interest of the player to protect them from gambling addiction monitored.”
Advertising Standards Authority
Moving back to the UK and the Advertising Standards Authority’s latest report says that age restriction violations in UK gambling advertisements have fallen.
Adverts involving age-restricted products such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling, were monitored from October to December 2020. Across 49 websites and 12 YouTube channels, 47 age-restricted advertisements were found in violation of the ASA rules. A further 21 advertisers had age-restricted marketing programmes on 23 websites and eight YouTube channels with a predominantly under-18 audience, but only three adverts were related to gambling. These were across three different websites but published by the same advertising agency.
Gambling charity GambleAware and research organisation Expert Link will join forces in a new initiative to deliver a network of people across the UK with lived experience of gambling-related harm.
Focusing on equality, diversity and inclusion, it will represent the whole of British society, with the aim of participating and influencing the national debate about safer gambling. GambleAware will fund the project for 18 months, with the aim that the group will become sustainable and independent after that.
“We know there are other lived experience groups already out there doing good work in this area, and this new group will fill any gaps and reach those who are harder to engage with,” GambleAware research director Alison Clare said.
“Our ambition is to see this independent network grow and develop so that it can help inform all aspects of the gambling debate, from policy and regulation to research, treatment and prevention.”
GamCare and YGAM are cooperating with the Cambridge United Community Trust (CUCT) to launch the Kick the Habit campaign. Prevention and awareness will be the initiative’s primary focus, and CUCT will promote it through podcasts, articles and interviews via social media channels. On prevention, sessions will take place in schools providing education to youngsters on gambling addiction, including loot boxes.
Finally, late last Friday, GAMSTOP announced that over 55,000 women are self-excluding from gambling websites. This tallies with GamCare’s announcement that the number of women struggling with problem gambling is increasing at double the rate of men. However, only 1% of women seek help from the National Gambling Helpline.
GAMSTOP says that surpassing 50,000 self-excluding women is important as it highlights ‘that online gambling addiction, often regarded as being a male problem that is linked to sport, is having an increasing impact on women.’
Anna Hemmings, CEO of GamCare, added: “We must get to grips with the unnecessary shame and stigma women feel around asking for help with gambling. Gambling is not just a male activity, and it can affect women in significant, potentially life-changing ways.
“Our dedicated Women’s Programme has told us that we need to remove barriers for women to access help with gambling-related harm – the issues that women are facing are often hidden from support services.
“GamCare is pleased to be able to work with GAMSTOP so people registering for online self-exclusion can also be swiftly connected through to specialist support and treatment services, which greatly increases the chance of sustaining a recovery from gambling harms.”
Andrew Morgan, Director, Dam Mad Media