Kenneth Alexander: GVC – ‘Industry cannot be turned into a political football’

GVC Holdings’ Chief Executive Kenneth Alexander has responded to criticism of his leadership, made public this week by the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gambling Related Harm.

Opening the ‘Reputation Matters – gambling sector in the spotlight’ keynote event, Alexander spoke on GVC and the industry’s combined efforts to reduce problem gambling harms and further support treatment and research networks.

Referencing his 19-year career as a gambling executive, Alexander underlines that the betting industry has ‘changed night-and-day’, however the biggest change he has witnessed relates to ‘the scrutiny the industry, has come under with regards to problem gambling’.

“Let me be clear, I don’t want any problem gamblers at GVC, and I’m sure it’s the same at William Hill, Flutter, bet365 and the rest. In terms of our industry we know that to be sustainable, we have to be responsible,”  Alexander remarked.

Stating that all leaders recognised the difficult issues surrounding problem gambling, Alexander praised the industry’s ‘collaborative efforts’ in tackling the subject matter head-on.

“Together we have ended sports advertising, implementing the whistle-to-whistle ban. At GVC we have invested significantly in funding Harvard research programmes, and all major operators have now increased voluntary contributions from .1-to-1% towards research, education and training.”

Reflecting on collaborative efforts undertaken over the past 18-months, which have delivered ‘sophisticated tools to spot problem gamblers’ Alexander stated: “I don’t think we (the industry) get the credit we deserve.”

Stating that he ‘understood the need for scrutiny’, Alexander detailed his own personal engagement with gambling addicts, whom he visited as a responsibility in GVC’s takeover of Ladbrokes Coral.

“I have no issue with scrutiny, you can question our business models and ask us to change the way we operate, to better protect problem gamblers. But, where I have a real issue is in our industry becoming a political football, with certain individuals trying to force decisions and regulations that are not evidence-based,” Alexander stated referencing the APPG’s recommendations to Parliament and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).

The APPG chair Carolyn Harris had criticised Alexander of ‘cowardly behaviour’ for failing to attend an executive meeting on problem gambling measures, with GVC’s CEO further criticised for not sending any company representatives.

Alexander underlined that he could not make the meeting as he had a board appointment in the Isle of Man, and had asked the APPG to reschedule.

Recognising that the APPG hearing would likely become a ‘bearpit’, GVC’s CEO refused to send ‘lieutenants’, stating that he should be the one to ‘face the punches’. “If they want to speak to me I will meet them anyplace, anywhere, any time.”

Turning to the APPG’s recommendations, Alexander would castigate the group advocating for a ‘£2 stake limit’ on online casino wagering, mirroring 2019’s FOBTs reductions.

Whilst Alexander understands why the government introduced its FOBTs reduction, GVC’s leader detailed that copying retail restrictions to online casino disciplines would simply be dangerous and counterproductive – remarking that the recommendation appeared to have been made without an understanding of digital systems and controls monitoring problem gambling.

“To compare the FOBTs to online wagering is completely false, we have controls across all licensed operators in the UK, we have developed mechanisms with complete visibility over the player – which could never happen at a betting shop.”

Furthermore, Alexander outlined that a £2 online stake limit, would simply revive a black market for operators based in soft jurisdictions such as Costa Rica and Curacao.

Recognising, that the betting’s image has been damaged by a series of negative news stories and media narratives, Alexander notes that the industry needs help in its portrayal.

As the leader of the UK’s ‘20th highest tax contributing company,’ Alexander detailed collaboration as the key to fighting the negative connotations which have been attached to the industry, underlining that newly established Betting and Gaming Council will help the industry achieve this directive. “We’ve made massive strides, there is much more we can do, there is much more we will do, but let’s keep it in context. Let’s not let the industry be bullied around by people who are using it for their own agendas.”

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