Online gambling is currently under review in the UK.
I think it’s important that everyone takes a couple of minutes to get involved in this one as there are clearly problems on both sides of the debate. Evidence and research that I have seen by both the anti-gambling campaigners and industry elites are far from objective.
Resolving the outstanding issues are rather complex so please bear with me as I attempt to articulate my thoughts.
The Real Issue:
From the outset, it’s quite clear that the issue here is not acknowledging ‘problem gambling’.
All parties acknowledge the direct and indirect harm gambling can have on individuals and the social consequences that are produced. When somebody loses their job, their home or their life due to gambling addiction it is tragic. Nobody wants that.
The real issue is how the problem is addressed.
In order to to provide the best solution, the problem must be fully understood and accepted with a strong sense of realism. Recent media coverage and studies do not show this.
To me, they show two different groups of people expressing a biased argument, which is the real problem. In my opinion, the reality is to be found somewhere in the middle.
The two groups are:
- Promoting social welfare – gambling should be heavily restricted.
- Free enterprise – there should be little/no restriction.
Unsurprisingly, these views fall in line with different political views.
The somewhat liberal view is that the government should step in and that welfare/rehabilitation and education is the solution. No surprise when you consider this group is often made up of teachers, Cambridge graduates and wealthy trust-fund inheritors. They believe everybody is equal.
The somewhat conservative view is that people should be left to their own devices, take control for their own actions and just work hard at addressing the problem. Again, no surprise when you consider this group usually consists of private-sector workers, salespeople and self-made business owners. They believe life is tough, just get on with it.
There is ignorance to both of these groups views.
For example, both of these statements are true:
- People are not and never will be equal and regulation is needed to maintain a stable society.
- It’s not possible to fully solve problem gambling but addicts running riot is harmful to themselves and others.
To reach the best-case solution, we need as much integrity as possible and objective information…
Recent Study: Fact, Fiction or Misunderstanding?
Last week, several media outlets (including the times) were pointing toward a recent study, but a post-doctoral researcher.
This study highlights the problem on the left-leaning side of the fence. I don’t think it could be a ‘mistake’ that a post-doctoral researcher conducted a gambling study without understanding online gambling, especially when you consider the biases within that group mentioned at the top of this article.
This raises an important side-point; the Gambling Commission and many other bodies within the sector don’t truly understand gambling. I know this through my experiences at various corporate events within the industry over the last 10 years. No doubt, some individuals are very good at their job in many respects, but not understanding the functions of the marketplace thoroughly distorts the true picture.
I did wonder if this what had happened here, affording the author the benefit of the doubt, I asked how the study had accounted for arbitrage, matched betting, sports trading and betting exchanges.
This was the response:
Maybe it’s me, but the snipe about morals did not seem all that objective. Strange that a postdoctoral researcher should use a quote from the CEO of a company that focuses on casino gaming as their answer, instead of objective data/research.
However, I believe in addressing the facts, rather than attempting to undermine the messenger. So, to be clear for anyone that doesn’t quite get my point here;
- Gambling deposits are not gambling losses
- Sports betting is not a casino game
- This study is not objective
To quickly highlight how misleading that data is for anyone that still doesn’t quite follow;
The second-largest matched betting company has routinely boasted 350,000 users. Each user is educated on how they can open 50+ sportsbook accounts, deposit money, and bet against the same outcome on an exchange in order to extract a profit through bonus credits. To do this, they need to deposit the liability bet in the exchange also. The net result being;
- 50+ sportsbook accounts per person
- Up to 4 exchange accounts per person
- Depositing £50-100 per sportsbook account
- Depositing £’s liability in the exchange (£1,000 is fair)
Now, when the money passes back and forth between exchange and sportsbook account, the user is required to withdraw the funds and re-deposit it into another account to release the bonuses on offer. No money is lost overall as the bonus coupon’s provide a profit.
So, under the aforementioned studies logic:
Let’s assume on average only half of the accounts were opened and the money turned over.
- 350,000 x 27 = 9,450,000 betting accounts
Also, we may assume only £50 was deposited on the sportsbook side and £500 was deposited on the exchange side.
- 350,000 x £550 = £192,500,000 amount deposited
That looks like a pretty big ‘betting spend’ on behalf of the public, an alarming problem?
However, the reality is, it was really 350,000 people making use of bookmaker sign-ups as a side-hobby that makes them a profit each month, no loss.
Note: these are what I would consider being ‘fair’ ballpark estimates.
One friend already said to me in a private message that, if the study is accurate they have around a £180,000 betting problem. In reality, they have made a tidy profit.
There is another problem with this debate too; sports betting is winnable, a game of skill. A fruit-machine style casino game is not, to bracket them together is ludicrous.
As for the right-leaning side of the fence, that doesn’t work either. As I’ll explain next…
Foxes & Hen Houses:
Historically, the attempted solution from the likes of the UKGC has been to put operators in charge of social responsibility. It wasn’t all that long ago I see GVC (owner of Ladbrokes/Coral) was tasked with tackling the problem.
However, it’s important to say, this isn’t just GVC who have misused various gambling safety products.
Anybody who has bet at value, arbed or matched bet online will probably know of affordability checks and IESnare, a spyware program for tracking user activity for the purpose of preventing money laundering and gambling harm.
Why do they know about these? Because they are misused as a tool to identify shrewd players and target the most profitable customers, otherwise known as VIP customers, sometimes addicts.
This is why bookmakers and betting companies should not have any role in resolving the gambling harm issue.
The Best Solution?
To achieve the best solution we must first know the goal. Having looked around online myself, I still have no idea what this is to be?
At the moment, to me, it appears the two views are either unrealistic or unreasonable.
Until this question is answered and clearly defined, in a realistic setting, it’s not possible to provide a definitive solution. Where is the line being drawn?
Once this answer is known, I believe the best solution would be a data-driven approach to account data held by betting companies that is analysed by a third-party body that has no interest in re-targeting some for-profit whilst banning others for the complete opposite. This is the only way customer data will be used with integrity.
My Personal Thoughts…
It’s a tough nut to crack, and I could easily write 3 more articles on this topic and some of the points raised. I’ve tried to cover the main issues at the forefront of my mind without deviating too far but there’s just so much to say.
Either way, something needs to change going forward so make sure you fill out that survey linked at the top!
If you think you have a problem, please seek the relevant help.
Remember, doing anything in excess is unhealthy. Be it gambling, eating, work, alcohol or social media…