RG WEEK SPECIAL: CHANGING THE CONVERSATION
The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling’s (IGRG) Responsible Gambling Week has grown rapidly since its 2017 launch. With negative mainstream perceptions meaning that operators’ commitments to safer gambling are often met with suspicion, it has never been more important. IGRG chair John Hagan explains its aims to Daniel O’Boyle and how the sector needs to prove its year-round commitment to these.
Responsible Gambling Week’s messages for 2019 are designed to be hard to miss.
These will take in pop-up and banners adds on online gambling sites, advertising space in Football League stadia and matchday programmes, posters in betting shops and the screens of gaming machines.
All will include the week’s slogan, “Let’s talk about responsible gambling,”
For John Hagan, partner at Harris Hagan and chair of the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), making the message hard to avoid was a major part of one of the IGRG’s goals for the week: to make it clear that its messages were for everyone.
“What we are trying to do is to make the safer gambling messaging part of the experience for everybody. It’s a perfectly normal, responsible thing to set limits on how much you spend, on how long you’ll play for. It’s like putting on a seatbelt when you get in a car. It’s for everybody. By having these messages everywhere we’re trying to get that message across to all gamblers and not just those who are experiencing problems with their gambling.”
The ubiquity of a slogan, however, is naturally secondary to its content and to Hagan, “Let’s talk about safer gambling,” means exactly what it says.
While there will be many targets for the week, Hagan said that the number of conversations about responsible gambling will be among the most important, alongside making players aware of responsible gambling tools and engagement with RG week resources.
“An important part of the week is our Responsiblegambling.org site which is an information hub for everything you need to know about safer gambling, and will be available year-round,” Hagan said. “But I also want to hear about the number of conversations being had in betting shops and casinos, I want to hear about the number of interactions there have been in the online world.
“I’d also like to think – and we can’t measure this – that there would be many conversations going on among friends of people who gamble, between family members, that responsible gambling week has acted as a natural trigger for those conversations to happen both in the shops and at home”.
Yet if surveys are any indication, those conversations that occur around the UK may not be kind to operators.
In the Gambling Commission’s 2018 report on gambling behaviour and attitudes, 71% agreed with the statement that gambling is dangerous for family life, 58% agreed that gambling should be discouraged and 25% agreed that it would be better if gambling was banned altogether.
A May 2019 poll from YouGov may have contained an even more worrying figure for operators promoting responsible gambling messages during the week: 71% of respondents said operators were ‘not serious’ when they say they want people to gamble responsibly.
“I think that it is undoubtedly the case that the industry has a poor public reputation at the present time for lots and lots of reasons,” Hagan said. “And as a result, unfortunately, it is likely that many people will see this campaign and view it with cynicism.
“What that says to me is that even when the industry does something that is unquestionably good, when it’s raising awareness of how to gamble responsibly, when it’s telling people where help is available, even then it’ll be viewed with suspicion.
“But my experience, working and being immersed in this sector for 20 years, is that I’m seeing positive cultural change from the CEO down to those who interact with gamblers on a day-to-day basis. I’m seeing enormous improvements.
“This week is part of that but there’s a bit of a lag and it will be some time before the results of all the efforts that the industry is making now are seen by the wider public.”
Hagan added that he believed there was still a significant cohort of society whose opinions on gambling could be swung by positive action from the industry.
“The surveys are showing that the public has a dim view of the industry,” Hagan said. “But what I say to that is that the public takes a dim view of most things. They certainly take a dim view of politicians. I don’t know where we fall in the spectrum.
There are broadly, and I’m generalising enormously here, but broadly three categories. There are people who are gambling consumers, love what gambling offers and think that it’s great. Then there’s a group who are against gambling and frankly will be against gambling no matter what the industry does. They will not be happy until gambling is banned.
“So who I’m hoping to reach [those in that first group] who gamble themselves, who need to be treated openly and fairly by operators, and then those in the middle who maybe don’t gamble themselves but think the industry can do better. And those are the people who I would like to see that the industry is improving, changing, doing better and that this week is just one part of that.”
While much of the public may not believe operators’ commitment to such messages, Hagan said that doesn’t take away from the importance of awareness. Hagan highlighted that awareness of specific tools such as the National Gambling Helpline and self-exclusion tool Gamstop, which will both receive focus in IGRG messages, could still do with serious improvement.
“I think awareness is extremely important, and that’s the reason for the week,” Hagan said. “And I don’t think there is enough awareness yet. Not enough people are aware of our responsible gambling messages and a huge number believe there should be such a campaign.
“But it’s critical to understand that this is just one suite of measures that operators should be taking year-round. Year-round, operators should be exploring the development and trialing of algorithms to identify those that play online who may be experiencing harm and then interacting with them. That’s a key focus for operators throughout the year. This week is just one part of that.”
While Hagan believes that there has been positive change in the industry, he says that doesn’t mean there haven’t been failings. In Hagan’s view, many issues operators have with problem gambling start with a lack of knowledge of the customer, making it difficult to recognize when they are gambling with money they can’t afford.
With affordability checks and mandatory loss limits often discussed as attempts to solve problem gambling issues, Hagan says it’s important to strike a balance between addressing clear problem gamblers and excessive interference.
“I think, where the industry at the moment is at is that they should be addressing obvious unaffordability,” Hagan said. “If someone is gambling well beyond their means or experiencing obvious harm from their gambling, they should be reacting and interacting with the costumer as appropriate in relation to that particular customer.
“The further you move away from the line being obvious affordability, the more difficult the territory is and I would have to await the outcome of further industry work and consultation before I could say how to address the specifics.”
While Hagan says he has seen a great deal of improvement in his two decades in the industry, he still wants to see operators’ commitment progress further, treating RG as they would another business area with all of the technological and financial investment that entails.
“I want to see the industry approach responsible gambling the way they approach every other aspect of their business – they’re putting technology into it, they’re interested in how it works, they’re evaluating how it works and they’re making improvements.
“They’re not just sticking something on a website for appearances sake, they’re constantly looking at new ways to do this better and improve what they’re doing.