UK Betting Leadership Stands Firm On Collaborative Approach

Leaders of the top five betting operators in the UK yesterday gave the House of Lords Select Committee insights and views on the’ Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry.’

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

Led by Yarmouth’s Lord Michael Grade, the Committee challenged a chief executive ‘ witness panel’ consisting of 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 Sky Bet’s chief executive Ian Proctor.

Brigid Simmonds OBE, Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the newly created’ single industry ‘ representative body for UK gaming, joined the UK betting members.

Simmonds commenced the proceedings by splitting up the UK gambling industry statistics as a national employer and tax investor, 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 will challenge the panel on public perception concerns in which Lords cited UK media reports speculating that gambling leaders had set up BGC’ as an attempt to regulate themselves before the government regulates the industry.’

Simmonds responded to the rumours, explaining that the BGC was formed when incumbents ‘ recognised that the industry has not been the best in class’ and that its leaders were determined to make ‘big commitments and actions’ to change perceptions and fix gambling harms.

In support of the BGC’s mandate, Ulrik Bengtsson, CEO of William Hill, pointed to significant progress made through collaboration formed by establishing’ collaborative networks’ between betting firms that saw industry leaders implement the’ whistle-to-whistle’ ban on ads.

Bengtsson told the Select Committee: “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.”

The CEO panel would then discuss more examples of corporate partnership strategies that had helped raise £ 10 million for problem gambling damage studies, and that GamStop–the self-exclusion system for the sector–would be accepted as a licencing condition by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).

The leadership panel agrees that a review of the Gambling Act of 2005 is inevitable and appropriate. Nonetheless, John Coates, the joint vice president of bet365, advised the Committee of Regulatory Nuances attached to’ channelling’ with regard to the use of controlled services helping to discourage wagering on the black market.

“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.”

The group, in support of Coates ‘ argument, referred to a report by PWC 2019 documenting that ‘200,000 people had gambled on unknown and unregulated sites”.

Focusing on regulatory complexities, the Committee will investigate to the tribunal whether UK gaming needed ‘alignment on the level of stakes and prizes’ allowed across land and online verticals.

Dan Taylor, CEO of Paddy Power Betfair, responded by highlighting significant differences between customer purchases in retail and online wagering environments.

Taylor emphasised that a review of the Gambling Act provided a unique opportunity for operators to collaborate with government, review an array of player data with a view to improving security and ensuring players could 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 recommend that the review investigate how to develop a coherent’ joined-up picture of affordability’ across the gambling industry.

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

“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.”