Richard Flint: My four-point plan to win back public trust for the sector

In an exclusive op-ed for EGR, Sky Betting & Gaming CEO Richard Flint outlines how the sector can create a sustainable industry trusted by regulators, politicians and customers

Today at ICE I will be setting out how I believe the online gambling sector can create a sustainable industry that is trusted by regulators, politicians, and above all, by our customers. Importantly I don’t believe there is a silver bullet to this, no one measure or one company alone that can get us there. Nor do I believe that I or Sky Betting & Gaming as a whole have all the answers. Like all companies, we do not always get everything right. But nonetheless, I believe the time has come for a mature conversation about where our industry is and where we should aim to be.

Before discussing potential solutions it is important that the industry recognises that it has an issue. And I don’t just mean a PR or reputational issue. I mean a genuine, evidence based issue that it must play its part in addressing. As Bill Eadington, Professor at the University of Nevada Reno, said “problem gambling is the Achilles heel of legal gambling”.

We know that some gamblers experience severe harm and that harm is not restricted to themselves but affects those close to them as well. But in the past our industry – and I include Sky Betting & Gaming in this criticism – has not done itself any favours in its attitude towards harmful gambling.

There have been encouraging signs recently that this is starting to change and we are finally moving away from the marginalisation of harmful gambling as an issue for a minority. The major online players in Great Britain, including Sky Betting & Gaming, now need to build on this start and become part of the solution rather than part of that problem. And to do so we will need to work together and we need to support the work of regulators and government.

A key part of how we will do this is in our use of customer data. I would like to suggest that the industry adopt a four-point plan to harness technology and customer data to help reduce harm:

1 We must use customer data to understand player behaviour, and monitor for signs of harm;

2 We have to promote safer gambling by improving the accessibility, awareness and understanding of self-help tools such as deposit limits and cool offs;

3 We must interact with customers who show signs of harm, discuss their gambling behaviour with them, and present details of their behaviour clearly; and

4 Finally, we will have to increase our interventions with customers to stop them harming themselves in the most extreme cases.

Many individual operators are already trialling this type of approach in one way or another. And I believe there is a role for the industry to play in discovering which markers of harm are most effective. In doing so we can help identify the most commons signs that an individual may be gambling in a way that is out of control or beyond their means.

But I also believe that once the most effective ‘signs’ of such behaviour have been identified the Gambling Commission should enshrine these specific markers into their licence conditions and codes of practice.

This additional clarity and detail within the LCCP would ensure an industry-wide, consistent approach to the first two aspects of my four point action plan. But I also believe that eventually, the Gambling Commission should be much more prescriptive in its regulation of the actual interventions that follow the successful identification of a customer who may have problems with their gambling.

At the moment we use a combination of telephone calls, emails, SMS messaging, onsite and in app communication to our customers. Across all of these channels we may highlight a customer’s behaviour, nudge them towards the use of responsible gambling tools, signpost them to treatment and support, and generally check they are comfortable with their spending. In extreme cases we suspend or terminate customer accounts.

But the research regarding what a successful intervention looks like is limited. And guidance from the regulator is vague. Again, I believe the industry should play a role in helping to test different messages and interventions to customers. And this testing and research should then form the basis of additional clarity within the LCCP.

Once every operator is using a common set of markers of harm and has adopted a common approach to intervening with customers who display potentially harmful behaviour we will have gone a long way to creating a sustainable industry that tackles problem gambling.

This is the only way we will reclaim public trust and ensure a sustainable and proud future for an industry that really does provide great pleasure and enjoyment for millions of adults in Great Britain.

Regulation | Richard Flint | UK