In recent weeks, government officials have called upon the gambling industry to ramp up protection measures and provide additional funding for problem gambling treatment during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Speaking to SBC, EPIC Risk Management CEO Paul Buck explained that while additional funding for treatment would be welcome, further support for both research and education is key in mitigating gambling related harm.
SBC: Last week, DCMS released an open letter recommending operators implement a number of new social responsibility measures during the lockdown period. Do you think that these measures are sufficient? And how can operators ensure that they are advertising in a responsible manner?
Paul Buck: In the current climate, we must actively ensure the signposting for support services is freely available and promoted by all stakeholders. Any increase in funding for treatment would be most welcome and much needed, however EPIC believes that both research and education must also be funded to enable a fit-for-purpose, end-to-end approach to mitigating gambling related harm.
If we get the balance right, through effective research and education, trends can be better identified, more people can be educated across all age groups and demographics, people will be better informed and therefore less people will need to access treatment. Prevention is better than cure.
When it comes to advertising, there are some obvious steps that operators can take to ensure that responsibility is at the forefront of any campaigns, especially so, given the current climate and lack of sporting events. Heavy promotion of multi-channel use and large sign-up bonuses should be avoided.
Enticing sports bettors to access alternative products such as casino, poker and virtual sports should be approached with caution and strict limits encouraged. Safer gambling account management tools should be promoted to both new and existing customers and affiliates strictly monitored to ensure advertising through social media and via email remains responsible.
SBC: Covid-19 and government restrictions have led to sports players being forced to stay home, with a lot of spare time, has this increased the risk of problem gambling among athletes? and how can this be tackled?
Paul Buck: Undoubtedly covid-19 has increased the risk of professional athletes spending more time and money on gambling than they may have done previously. Sportsmen and women already statistically fall into the highest risk category when it comes to gambling related harm.
Factors such as the lack of adrenaline buzz, absence of competition, isolation from teammates, lack of physical and mental stimulation and boredom are all significant risks that athletes will face during this period of lockdown. It is therefore even more vital that increased support is available through these worrying times.
Individually, there are a number of steps that players can take to best equip themselves to ensure that gambling does not become a problem. Set limits in terms of time and money, take regular breaks, do not chase losses and most importantly, do not attempt to replicate the buzz and adrenaline of competition with gambling during this current period of uncertainty.
For the clubs, it is vital to ensure that they are playing their part and creating the right culture, by ensuring that regular contacts are made to the players and signposting to welfare and support services is available, promoted and easily accessible.
EPIC fully appreciates the risks that are posed to our clients within professional sport and we are actively making ourselves available to all. Through delivery of digital education and awareness sessions, provision of information packs and the availability of advice and support, we will continue to ensure that gambling related harm within professional sport is kept to an absolute minimum.
SBC: The message and education that Epic offers remains important, how have you managed to adjust to continue spreading that message there during these times?
Paul Buck: Like most companies, covid-19 has proved to be a challenge for us as a company, as historically and prior to the recent events, the majority of our education work has been delivered in a face to face setting. I am absolutely delighted however, with how my team has embraced this challenge and found ways of adapting to ensure our clients continue to receive the best possible service.
Within 3 weeks of being locked down, we have pivoted to create a digital platform and a virtual remote training offering to successfully deliver our various programs through a virtual classroom solution. To date, we have delivered sessions to our clients within the gambling industry, professional sport and schools, with over 650 people in total educated and trained.
In addition to this, EPIC has also been active in delivering our important message through other means, such as blogs, online resources, pre-recorded video content and interviews with various media outlets.
While recognising the face to face nature of our sessions will always remain vital to what we do, the quality of design and delivery of this new digital world that we have been able to create and deliver in such a short space of time has been fantastic.
The incredibly positive feedback and testimonials that we have received have shown me that digital resources will remain an integral part of our offering going forward post covid-19.
SBC: The UKGC has placed a higher emphasis on Consumer Protections. How should these be developed under a continued but questioned ‘collaborative framework’ with industry leadership?
Paul Buck: The only way to be truly collaborative is if all stakeholders work together towards the same goals. Input from all areas is key, including operators, RET providers, regulators and those with lived experience of gambling harm.
Striking a balance between the respective ideas and goals of all stakeholders above is the key to success, which is something that I feel is currently not quite where it needs to be. There needs to be better recognition and acceptance of all opinions and goals and focus needs to be placed on collaboration, rather than division.
Working together to identify and implement solutions to the most pressing issues quickly and effectively, will best protect customers from the most harm. Creating a schedule and timeframe for implementing changes and improvements will allow openness and transparency, while allowing all stakeholders to be held to account.
SBC: And finally, can you tell us what you will be promoting at SBC Digital Summit?
Paul Buck: The SBC Digital Summit is a perfect event to virtually catch up with our existing clients whilst connecting to new potential collaborations and partnerships. EPIC’s sector leading industry training is in high demand and we will be available to speak to new clients around our accelerated online & remote training proposition in addition to face to face.
We are also keen to meet new connections from the US as we expand in the states on the back of our groundbreaking deal with the GVC Foundation US, announced in March, where we will be working with the major sports leagues and NCAA universities across 14 states.