UK betting leadership stands firm on collaborative approach despite media scepticism

Leaders of UK betting’s top five betting operators yesterday gave insights and opinions to the House of Lords Select Committee tasked with investigating the ‘Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry’.

Established in 2019, the Lords Committee continues its review of UK gambling seeking to gain valuable research and ‘reliable facts’ on unique industry factors and dynamics with for the purpose of developing better regulatory frameworks and oversight.

Led by Lord Michael Grade of Yarmouth, the Committee questioned a chief executive ‘witness panel’ formed by Kenneth Alexander (GVC Holdings), Ulrik Bengtsson (William Hill), John Coates (bet365)  Dan Taylor (Paddy Power Betfair) and Conor Grant (COO of  Sky Bet) – a late replacement for Ian Proctor chief executive of Sky Bet.

UK betting leaders were joined by Brigid Simmonds OBE, Chair of Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the newly established ‘single industry’ representative body for UK gambling.

Simmonds would begin proceedings by breaking down statistics of the UK gambling sector as a national employer and tax contributor, stating: “We are an industry that employs and supports 107,000 people in this country, contributing more than £14 billion to the UK economy.

“Tax-wise we make a contribution to the UK treasury of around £3.5 billion every year. We are obviously the major contributor for horseracing, at around £350 million a year, and frankly, horse and greyhound racing would not survive in this country without our support.”

The Select Committee would question the panel on issues related to public perception, in which Lords referenced UK media articles speculating that BGC had been established by gambling leaders ‘as an attempt to regulate itself before the government regulates the sector’.

Simmonds retorted the speculation, stating that the BGC had been established as incumbents ‘recognised that the industry had not been best in class’ and that its members were determined to make ‘big commitments and actions’ to change perceptions and tackle gambling harms.

Backing the BGC’s mandate, William Hill CEO Ulrik Bengtsson pointed to the significant progress achieved through cooperation established by forming ‘collaborative frameworks’ between betting firms which saw industry leaders adopt the ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on advertising.

“Under new commitments, particularly focused on under-age gambling, we have reduced the number of young audiences exposed to betting advertising by over 90%. That is real progress and highlights why collaboration is effective and beneficial,” Bengtsson told the Select Committee.

The CEO panel would detail further examples of corporate collaborative approaches which had helped raise £10 million for problem gambling harm research and that GamStop – the industry’s self-exclusion scheme – would be adopted by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) as a licensee requirement.

The panel of leaders accepts that a review of the  2005 Gambling Act is imminent and required. However, John Coates – joint-CEO of bet365 – warned the Committee of regulatory nuances attached to ‘channelling’ with regards to consumer take-up of regulated services helping prevent black market wagering.

“They call it channelling and it’s a vital point. At the moment bet365 is licensed in 15 different countries and we see dependent on the level of the regulation how open it is you see different levels of channelling,” said Coates.

“This has been one of the successes of the Gambling Act, in that channelling has been pretty high in the UK, when compared to other countries.”

Supporting Coates statement, the panel pointed towards a PWC 2019 study which detailed that ‘200,000 people had gambled on unknown and unregulated sites”.

Focusing on regulatory dynamics, the Committee would probe the panel on whether UK gambling required ‘alignment on the level of stakes and prizes’ permitted across land-based and online verticals.

Responding, Paddy Power Betfair CEO Dan Taylor underlined significant differences between consumer transactions undertaken in retail and online wagering environments.

Taylor emphasised that a review of the Gambling Act offered a unique opportunity in which operators could work with the government, reviewing an abundance of player data with a view to improve protections and making sure that players never spend beyond their means.

“What is incumbent on us, and where we need to work with the review to shape the regulation, is to ensure that protections are put in place for players that makes play affordable for them,” Taylor detailed.

Advising regulatory stakeholders, Taylor and the panel recommends that the review investigates how to ‘develop a joined-up picture of affordability’ coherent across the entire gambling sector.

Asked on what regulations for online gambling the panel would recommend reviewing, GVC Holdings CEO Kenneth Alexander highlighted advertising and consumer engagement concerns.

“We could jump-on to several factors that can be considered, and affordability is certainly one of them. Also is the industry too much in the face of the consumer, is there too much TV Advertising, too much Sponsorship,” Alexander said.

“When audiences watch TV sporting events, are they seeing too much  Ladbrokes, Coral, bet365 and the rest. I think that is the undoubtedly the case and has to be looked at.”

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