Speech by Philip Davies MP, Co-Chair of the APBGG at the International Legislators Day & ICE Regulators Lunch, 7th February 2017
The Gambling and gaming industry makes a significant contribution to the UK economy – it employs over one hundred thousand and, depending on whose stats you use, it contributed either £10.3bn or £13.6bn to the UK economy in 2015.
My passion for the industry comes from the fact that as I was growing up my mum owned a betting shop in Doncaster. She was probably one of the first – if not the first – woman to own her own betting shop in the UK.
Regardless of whose stats we use, I think we can all agree that this is an important industry that really pulls its weight when it comes to helping to drive Britain’s economy.
Against this backdrop, last year the Government launched its second triennial review, with a firm focus on social responsibility.
The review is looking a number of areas including the rules around gaming machines and the future of gambling advertising.
The aims of the Government’s review should be laudable and sensible – to ensure that the right balance is struck between socially responsible growth of the gaming industry and the protection of consumers and wider communities.
We can all agree that consumer protection is crucial – indeed, many in this room are already doing good work to ensure that customers are protected.
Having an honest conversation
The conclusions of the Government’s triennial review must be based on reality and evidence rather than on perception.
The opponents of gaming machines are many and the myths they spin about the gaming industry have spread far and wide - something which underlines the need for the use of proper research and evidence based regulation.
Meanwhile, the national press often features stories that use extremely emotive language about gaming to pursue their anti-gambling agenda.
In Parliament, too, I have often heard colleagues make complaints about the gaming industry – often just based on falsehoods they have been told or read – without any actual knowledge of the industry or the facts
What is concerning is that some inaccurate messages about the gaming industry seem to be getting through to, and influencing, what the Government is thinking.
For example, it concerns me deeply when Senior Ministers are anonymously briefing The Times, as last December, that “the gambling industry’s luck has run out”.
And that’s why it’s going to be ever more important for the industry to communicate effectively about the many ways in which it promotes good governance.
In the private sector decisions are made based on evidence and logic as they cannot afford to do otherwise. However, Governments do not make logical decisions, they make political decisions and industry has to be better at understanding that.
We also have an increasing tendency in politics for people to call for things that they happen not to like themselves to be banned (and also to make the things they do like compulsory). It is important that the principle of freedom of choice is maintained.
The reality of problem gambling
The rate of problem gambling in this country has remained low and relatively constant for the last decade – less than 1% of the UK population has a problem with gambling – and that has remained the same since the introduction of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
That statistic is taken directly from the consultation document that the Government published when it launched the Triennial Review last year.
What we want to ensure is that people who do not have a problem can continue to gamble as they please and enjoy themselves, but those who have a gambling problem are properly protected.
We don’t ban everyone from drinking alcohol because some people are alcoholics and we shouldn’t restrict gambling for everyone just because a very small amount of people in the country have a gambling addiction. We just need to properly look after the addicts.
Low as its rates are, problem gambling matters. And it must be taken seriously.
In recent years the industry has taken real steps to protect consumers.
From deposit limits, account restrictions, and self-exclusion, through to the simple provision of advice, the industry has taken action to help people to help themselves.
But in my view this action has been far too slow and far too reactive.
Enhancing consumer protection
Given the current political environment, this is no time for the industry to be comfortable. It is under attack and has to help itself.
Could the industry take a more proactive approach? Do more to enhance consumer protections, to really demonstrate to the Government that it is doing its bit for consumers?
I think the answer to that question is yes.
Innovation and technology
It is clear that new technology is emerging that uses data to allow for the prediction and spotting of problem gambling – making it possible to intervene before a problem even arises.
At the moment, analysis of someone’s betting behaviour takes place after they have finished in a post-match analysis way. This isn’t good enough.
I have been hugely impressed with the fantastic technology I have seen at ICE this morning.
Much of this technology is still in the relatively early stages of development – but it clearly has great potential.
It could deliver real value to the UK market when it comes to protecting consumers, and much more of its focus needs to be on protecting customers.
There is someone here from a technology company called Service Now which is already doing great work in developing the technology we need to protect customers in real time not after they have finished.
So I call on the industry to embrace this new data driven technology. To plough investment into it - and to drive its progress on.
I want to see new technology on machines so that players - and their past gambling history - are identified through facial recognition or fingerprint technology
I want to see their play behavior monitored in real time, and I want to see the machines intervene automatically to slow down the speed of play, limit the maximum stakes or through other distractions for those people who are showing signs of problem gambling
This will also remove the burdens on staff who I think we often expect far too much from.
The UK gaming market has long been at the forefront of the world when it comes to implementing new technologies that help to better protect consumers
Our proportional regulatory environment is the envy of the world, so much so that it has served as a model for many countries’ own systems.
I want to see the UK market maintaining this, implementing new technologies and continuing to take the lead when it comes to protecting consumers.
And I would like to see this new generation of technology putting the UK at the very top of protecting problem gamblers, within an otherwise regime, and rolling out that principle and the technology right across the world.
But this is about more than technology.
It is also about a mindset and culture.
But the gaming industry is made up of companies that seem far more comfortable moving together as a herd than they do about moving as individuals.
I know there is someone here from a trade body for the industry, but moving at the pace of the slowest does not do them any favours.
Before I became an MP I worked for ASDA and I was responsible for the facilities and services we provided to our customers with disabilities.
One of the biggest issues we dealt with was the abuse of parking bays reserved for people with a disability. My predecessor had agreed with all the other supermarkets a joint approach
When our Chief Executive heard about this he hit the roof and said we should be competing with them not working with them.
This taught me an important lesson – we didn’t want to be as good as the other supermarkets at looking after our disabled customers, we wanted to be better. Gambling companies need to adopt a similar attitude.
There is an opportunity being missed. An opportunity for individual companies within the industry to strike out by themselves, to innovate individually - to secure a real competitive advantage through being able to protect their customers better than anybody else in the market.
I want to see companies across the industry competing against each other in order to deliver the best consumer protections possible.
There is one other thing too. Too many gambling companies have become faceless corporations. They need to be more human and let people put a face to the company
I would like to see gambling companies use their advertising slots on TV, not just to tell people the latest odds in the football at half-time, but to set out what they do to help and prevent problem gamblers
A Chief Executive who fronted up an advert to make clear that their company would never take money from someone with a problem and would always do everything it could to help someone with a problem I think would get a huge commercial benefit from it
New customers are surely more likely to join up to a company known for looking after its customers
So let’s have a system where we let people spend their money as they wish, but using technology to identify and protect the small numbers who develop a problem with their gambling
And let’s see the industry see the commercial benefits of being the best in the business at protecting and looking after the customers
This is a model that can work and that can then be rolled out from the UK right across the world.
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