Departing UK regulator’s parting shot at gambling industry


sarah-harrison-uk-gambling-commission-speechThe departing CEO of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) delivered some strong words to the gaming industry before she headed for the exits.

On Monday, Sarah Harrison delivered a speech titled Is Responsible Gambling Enough? at the World Regulatory Briefing and International Casino Conference, the prelude to this week’s ICE Totally Gaming 2018 conference. Harrison, who will relinquish her role as UKGC leader at the end of this month, didn’t sugarcoat her view that the industry is in need of serious change.

Harrison lamented the view held by many industry types of the UKGC “taking a head-teacherly tone.” Harrison wondered what else operators should expect “when the nature of debate between different parts of the industry is often no better than what you might find in the playground.”

Harrison also took the industry to task for its treatment of women, calling it “a significant stain on this industry’s reputation.” Harrison noted that a stroll around the exhibition floor revealed “men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits.”

Harrison said the industry needed to ditch this type of sexism ASAP, while also warning that “future participation by the Gambling Commission in events like this will depend on there being change.”

Harrison rejected the idea that this stance reflected a desire to impose political correctness, saying “an industry that has diversity in all respects and at all levels, will better understand its consumers and the wider public.”

Last November, the UKGC mapped out its three-year strategy to ensure a “fairer and safer gambling” market. On Monday, Harrison detailed three aspects of this strategy: preventing harms, protecting the interests of consumers and optimizing returns to good causes from lotteries.

The industry-funded GambleAware charity once again fell short of its financial targets last year, and Harrison said she had “little confidence that, without further intervention, the industry will voluntarily provide the resourcing that is needed” to fund harm prevention measures.

Harrison noted that the government already has the power to impose a statutory levy on the gaming industry, which she believes would be “a fair and credible way of addressing some of the weaknesses in the current voluntary arrangements.”

Addressing the UKGC’s desire to enhance consumer protections, Harrison scolded the industry for having “either taken your eye off the ball or have willfully ignored what is expected of your businesses.”

Harrison said the most powerful driver for change in any industry should be the consumer, not the regulator. But the gambling consumer bears “a disproportionate share of the risk and tends not to have much access to information and data about their own pattern of play.”

The UKGC intends to “promote much greater transparency by putting independent and trusted information into the public domain,” such as the risks of particular products, treatment of customer funds and the level of complaints. Creating the equivalent of a Tripadvisor for the gaming industry will allow consumers to differentiate operators based on criteria beyond price and brand.

Harrison closed by detailing a number of “big, bold gestures” she wants to see the industry make, including a common framework for identifying and acting upon harmful play at an early stage; a single independent ombudsman scheme to handle customer complaints; a rethink of the business model that relies on a few high-spending gambling whales; and bringing an end to the “normalization” of gambling for young people, including curbs on social media advertising and taking a “hard look” at football-based marketing.