The Reality of Problem Gambling Stats
Although having 0.5% of its population being considered problem gamblers, the UK is still below the world 2% average.
21:36 29 January 2021
But for The Gambling Commission' Chief Executive Neil McArthur, these are still unbearable numbers.
The Commission has acknowledged being soft with operators in the past, and 2020 saw several restrictions imposed on an unexpecting industry. With a full review being on work to the now analogue 2005 Gambling Act, the gambling industry is being pushed to make everyone responsible for its share of the problem.
Understanding the Problem Figures
Approximately 340,000 Brits are considered problem gamblers. But this can be a very conservative number. Not because it compresses a sample of people admitting having a gambling problem during the 2018-2019 survey, but also for its extent. Considering that each problem gambler seven people are affected by its pathological behaviour, expands the harm to over 2.38 million being collaterals from problem gambling, making that initial 0.5% increase to 3.5% affected people. But For the Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur, these lives cannot be considered numbers.
In the UK problem gambling has become a soup with too many chefs. Although many gambling firms acknowledge the figures and their risk of occurrence, their answer is: this is not happening on my premises. Unlike the barman in the pub telling people when they have enough drinking, on several occasions, gambling operators have been the ones exposed serving patrons until they cannot take any longer.
A 2019 year study revealed that 2% of customers are making 83% of deposits. The data, collected from 9 operators, shows that VIPs are more likely to be addicts with an estimated 8% of all of them meeting the criteria for problem gambling.
If we consider cases like Chris Bruney, these results are unfortunately confirmed. The anxiety and shame of an accumulated 30K gambling debt, pushed Bruney to commit suicide, shocking his family. As the investigation revealed the young man's gambling problem, his parents condemned the operators Playtech “shameless practices”, claiming that the firm should know that something was wrong with their son’s behaviour. But Playtech did not make any questions about the source of funding, and the figure of £103,000 gambled away did not raise any alarms. Instead, Bruney got rewarded with bonuses, and free bets, as his high volume gambling granted him a VIP status.
The story repeats 300 times a year, as gambling-related suicides keep happening leaving relatives and close ones shocked. Under the Coronavirus lockdown periods, calls from problem gamblers in recovery looking for help spiked the helplines as revenues did for online gambling sites. Once the Commission finally took a step over to control the situation; operators found out that they were the ones to blame for the harsher conditions they got imposed.
Time for Reaction
Credit cards and television advertising got banned. The VIP program was watered-down, and the minimum age for participating got increased to 25-years old. Even a £100 monthly maximum deposit expense for gambling, is part of the game-changing measures the Commission considers necessary to prevent further damage to citizens.
While many may think the gambling industry is getting constricted to death, Chief MacArthur said that the real intention is to make the betting firms collaborate closely to prevent tragedies from repeating. One way to achieve it is by using the “single customer view” access to all operators. Considering that each online customer holds three betting accounts on average, there is a redundancy of data among different profiles for the same person. Because operators are very jealous with these stats, it can be hard to figure the real extent of any customer gambling habits. Although there is no further information about the considered mechanism, blockchain, the same platform for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could simplify things.
Collaboration for a Chain Reaction
Among the benefits of using blockchain, the crypto technology enables the creation of tokens containing customers’ account information, such as ID, funding sources and betting patterns. A famous casino site SlotsNBets has already implemented several changes regarding crypto payments and easier KYC verification. Operators will register, verify and share every transaction made by users, having each one a copy of the blockchain thanks to its decentralised nature. Once an operator identifies a customer as an at-risk problem, all access to gambling activities is forbidden, sending the alert to all operators in the network. The customer will go through all the necessary channels, such as GamStop, and counselling services to cool down its gambling urges.
The latter could get achieved if the industry representatives are willing to run in the same direction and pace as the Commission. The “When the Fun Stops, Stop" Campaign was heavily criticised and been considered bland compared to the other adverts used to attract customers. But as the operators keep doing the bare minimum for their protection, they will become the collaterals from the revision of the 2005 Gambling act.
Reviewing the Future of the Gambling Industry
Conceived to provide a regulatory framework for betting firms to operate, the 2005 Gambling Act was considered a revolutionary step into the digital era. But 15 years had been enough to consider it “analogic”, especially if we compare how the industry has evolved and grown. As innovative promotion techniques such as social media advertising and affiliate marketing have become strong enough to attract customers to more immersive games; mobile gaming allows them to flutter on any time, moment and place. With that kind of penetration, gambling operators leave customers at a disadvantage.
The 2005 Gambling Act review seeks to balance the powers, duties and rights to provide a safer online gambling environment for all involved sides. From the Commission powers and resources; to the licensee providing responsible advertising, sponsorship and branding of its services; the industry as a whole –customers included- will get facelifted after the Act review.
Until now, responsible gambling was more of an empty label for the gambling industry. Now, the wellbeing of customers is a peak priority. With the Gambling Act review on progress, betting firms must adjust to the ethical landscape, as there will be no longer second chances for the uncaring.