Sarah Harrison – UKGC – Diversity can help tackle the industry’s ‘ugly side’

Issuing her final industry address as Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), Sarah Harrison reflects on her two and half year leadership tenure, stating that she has seen ‘the good, the bad and ugly’ of the sector.

Speaking at today’s World Regulatory Briefing’, ahead of ICE 2018. Harrison seeks to breakdown the current industry priorities, that UK betting leadership must tackle in order to regain consumer trust and confidence, following a disruptive 2017.

As UKGC leader, Harrison states that she has moved to broaden the commission’s reach and input from wider industry stakeholders.

“I’ve tried hard to not be a regulator that sits in an ivory tower, and pontificates from on high. I’ve sought to get out there and meet both consumers and the people that work in this industry.”

Outlining ‘the good’ of the sector’s progress, Harrison states that from the shop floor to the boardroom, there is a genuine desire to change the industry and create fairer and safer gambling initiatives.

Harrison details that the commission has had success, at highlighting industry concerns put forward by smaller consumer groups on safer gambling, which have been made aware to UK betting leaders.

“I’ve been grateful for the opportunities to meet consumers and those seeking to promote their interests. The industry may not always welcome their messages but groups in GB like Justice for Punters, the Horse Race Bettors Forum and others should be listened to. Seeing consumers trying to drive positive change makes for a healthier industry and we should all encourage more of it”.

Pointing to ‘the bad’, Harrison is clear that UK operators have underfunded industry charity GambleAware, for its much-needed research into problem gambling, and its prevention, treatment and education.

“Just £3.50 is raised for every consumer who is at risk or is a problem gambler. This compares badly with many other countries and it is lamentable that Britain is towards the bottom of this particular international index.”

Furthermore, Harrison states that industry operators are not helping their cause, through poor customer services, which are unaware of problem gambling prevention/support schemes and processes.

“The area that I really wanted to highlight are the examples of extremely poor customer service that we hear about through our contact centre, from consumer groups and on social media. Some of these are quite basic issues, like not responding to complaints”.

Harrison states that industry-wide operator-to-consumer standards on problem gambling supports must improve. However, when detailing the sector’s  ‘ugly’ side, Harrison points to tacit issues which she feels have brought  ‘short-termism’ and short-sightedness’ to the industry’s current agenda and context.

“The tone of the debate, most frequently demonstrated in the discussion about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals has been unacceptable.”

“It is perhaps nevertheless unsurprising when the nature of the debate between different parts of the industry is often no better than what you might find on the playground. The spectacle of different sectors ripping chunks out of each other does nothing to improve a lot of consumers, or the industry and its reputation. Moreover, it represents a shameful waste of energy, a massive missed opportunity among industry leaders to take control and responsibility for this industry’s long-term future, on behalf of their customers and staff.”

Seeking to tackle, this deep-rooted issue for UK betting industry stakeholders, ahead of ICE 2018 Harrison urges for wider diversity in the sector’s representation.

Departing the UKGC, Harrison warns UK betting leadership, that failure to broach diversity matters, could see the industry lose its connection with the general public and its changing social attitudes and thinking.

“A push for a more diverse industry – not just on the basis of gender – is not about a desire for political correctness. An industry that has diversity in all respects and at all levels, will better understand its consumers and the wider public and will be more inclusive and open to different and new ideas. Armed with this, a business can better meet the needs of their customers, respond to the worries of society and be innovative in the way it meets challenges and seizes its opportunities.”

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Click on the below link to download the full transcript of Sarah Harrison’s UKGC speech at World Regulatory Briefing 2018. 

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