Last July, William Hill governance launched its ‘Nobody Harmed by Gambling’ corporate initiative, outlining the industry’s biggest individual commitment to minimising gambling-related harms.
Spearheading the FTSE betting group’s new social responsibility initiatives, Lyndsay Wright, Director of Strategy, Brand & IR details to SBC the significant operating and structural changes William Hill will undertake to fight problem-gambling on the front foot…
SBC: Hi Lyndsay, thanks for this interview. As part of a new leadership team at William Hill, why did you choose to launch ‘Nobody Harmed by Gambling’ as your new leading corporate initiative?
Lyndsay Wright: We want gambling to be a fun part of people’s spare time, which adds to the excitement of the sports they love. That’s why we must recognise the hidden side of gambling and get much better at helping our customers stay safe.
There are 430,000 people in the UK who are problem gamblers – and 2 million more people are at risk. Of those people who have experienced problems with gambling, studies have found that three in five have suffered depression as a result and 61% have missed work to gamble. It also has a serious impact on friends and family, with an estimated further 6 people affected for every problem gambler.
Our products touch two-thirds of the UK market, which gives us an incredible opportunity. We believe we can be the safest place to do gambling whether in shops or online, in the UK and even globally. Getting this right is critical to our long-term success as a business. We want our customers to enjoy gambling and stay gambling with us for the long term, which means only gambling what they can afford.
We believe that it’s only by setting out with a bold ambition that we’ll start to see the change we want and to have a positive impact on people’s lives. That’s why we’ve set out our long-term ambition that nobody is harmed by gambling.
SBC: Tackling problem-gambling harms, what unique legacy industry issues and dynamics do you feel have to be addressed by all sector incumbents?
LW: I believe that a crucial first step is facing into the challenge as a company and as an industry. We recognise that we have not taken seriously enough the challenge of problem gambling. For too long, we’ve talked about individual responsibility and small proportions of adults who experience problems. Every type of gambling product has the potential to cause harm to our customers. That is something we have to acknowledge and that harm is something we need to face into.
So this means widening the aperture of where we should act. Anyone can become at risk of problems with their gambling. But today, no-one has defined what really good, in control, gambling behaviour looks like. So we’re going to work hard on how we design our products, how we advertise them and how we interact with customers in ways that help all our customers stay in control. To take a simple example, too many people aren’t aware of the tools that exist to try to help. Just a third are aware of self-exclusion tools and only half are aware of limit-setting.
As we’ve looked again at our current approach, it’s also clear that to prevent harm from gambling, we need to look beyond problem gambling to customers who are at risk – and support them before gambling becomes a problem. We can get better at capturing and using data to identify those risky behaviours and intervene before gambling becomes a problem.
SBC: ‘Nobody Harmed’ was presented to the market by CEO Philip Bowcock, who detailed that a ‘new direction was needed’ to tackle problem gambling. However, why not wait for industry consensus on tackling the subject matter?
LW: This is one area of our business that shouldn’t be about competition, it should be about how we can collaborate better to find solutions that work. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the industry. For example, Kindred has been leading the way by innovating on this front, and SkyBet has been devoting advertising to responsible gambling. We’ve worked alongside the industry for a long time, and we will continue to do that.
But we also knew that we wanted something to drive our own action as a business. This is very much about us and our customers, and being alongside them. We think that will make us successful, and we’ll share what we learn along the way.
As an industry there’s more to be done – problem gambling rates haven’t changed and the scrutiny on the industry remains. In general, companies are expected to do a lot more to demonstrate their role in society, and gambling’s no different. That’s why we set this ambition to say what we want the world to look like and use that principle to determine what we’ll do to get there. This is where we start.
SBC: Your scheme places a high emphasis on working with communities and wider stakeholders on tackling problem gambling. How will William Hill develop this ‘open framework’?
LW: Problem gambling is a complex issue that often relates to other challenges in people’s lives, from work and relationships to health and addiction. That makes the harm from gambling a systemic challenge, linked to a range of social and cultural factors. That complexity means that there is no one single solution and no one organisation can achieve the ambition. We can’t tackle this alone.
For us, it is an important early step to bring together people with insight into the challenges, ideas for solutions and aspirations for the future to explore how we can collaborate on this shared agenda. We’re holding an event in November, bringing our own leaders together with a variety of leading thinkers and practitioners, not only experts on problem gambling, but also from adjacent areas of health, relationships and community, and innovators to help disrupt our collective thinking. We are committed to embracing the new ideas that come out of the day.
SBC: Furthermore, you have placed sustainability and responsibility at the forefront of your day-to-day operations. Internally how have William Hill teams and internal stakeholders reacted to ‘Nobody Harmed’?
LW: We’ve had a lot of internal support for this. That matters because our colleagues are a crucial part of delivering on this ambition. Our colleagues have been at the frontline of this issue for years and have a lot of great ideas and passion to help us find solutions that work. It’s crucial that each of us is empowered to act on that and to do what it takes to make a difference. We’re creating more ways to get our colleagues involved.
We’ve consulted with a core set of expert colleagues in early-stage activity, to better understand what we’re doing today and where the gaps are – and develop this strategy. That includes experts in responsible gambling and customer engagement, as well as our Executive Team and Board.
We’ll also hold internal ideas crowdsourcing events and shape an initiative a programme to get colleagues from right across the business out to meet and work with problem gamblers and the organisations that support them. We want to make a positive impact through those efforts, and at the same time get a deeper insight into the challenges and the best ways to help.
This agenda also forms a big part of our new values, recently introduced. We have a real opportunity to make gambling-related harm a key part of what we mean by ‘eyes on the customer’ and ‘give a damn’. This is about giving people permission to do things differently and doing more to empower our colleagues with the understanding and skills to make a difference.
SBC: A core objective is to develop a ‘Responsible Gambling Innovation Fund’. From your perspective, how can innovation and technology tackle problem gambling, and does the industry need fresh ideas in tackling this complex issue?
LW: We absolutely need to continue to embrace new ideas, from inside our business, across the industry and from other sectors who’ve made headway on similarly complex challenges. The fund will be used to pilot the best new ideas coming from our colleagues or external partners. It will be supported with a fund of £150,000, and we’ll share what we learn.
Within that innovation, technology presents a huge opportunity to help us tackle this issue. We’re working to help customers stay in control by giving them better access to better data about their own gambling, as well as identifying markers of harm to stop behaviours before they become problems.
For example, algorithms that can analyse those data are a vital tool in identifying customers who are at risk of harm and helping drive our decisions on how best to interact with them. Alongside others in the industry, we have made good early progress on deploying algorithms both online and in betting shops. But it’s just a start. We’re continuing to improve and work on this to get a deeper view of the factors that lead to risk in the first place so that we could intervene with customers at risk earlier and in a more and targeted way.
SBC: Finally for William Hill as ‘Nobody Harmed’ is an open corporate initiative, moving forward how will you share your knowledge and findings with industry competitors?
LW: As we developed the approach we’re taking, we had a mantra internally to ‘learn out loud.’ That means being transparent about our successes and failures – and sharing what works so that others can benefit.
This isn’t going to be a smooth ride. There will be bumps along the road. For example, when we launched the ambition, there was a lot of support and engagement but also, as expected, some scepticism. It’s so important to us to share what we are doing and what we find. We know that it’s only by doing that that people will see we really mean it. So we will continue to meet and discuss with our regulators, other companies and experts on the issue, and we will continue to convene forums to share insight. And as we get further along our journey we’ll publish what we learn.
We’re one of the largest bookmakers in the UK – and there’s a responsibility that goes with that. We can, and we must tackle harm from gambling. Society expects it, our customers need it and a sustainable future for William Hill depends on it…
Lyndsay Wright Director of Strategy, Brand & IR – William Hill Plc
The Betting industry’s regulatory and social responsibility agenda will be discussed at the upcoming ‘Betting on Sports Conference’ (#boscon2018 – Olympia London-18-20 September 2018). Click on the below banner for more information…