Robert Mabbett: Is it in the spirit of the game?

Robert Mabbett: Is it in the spirit of the game?

Robert Mabbett: Is it in the spirit of the game?
For those of you in the UK or for cricket fans around the world, you will have heard this phrase a lot this summer. It is in relation to the historic ashes contest held bi-annually between England and Australia, a contest where often due to the fierceness of the rivalry, the “spirit of the game” is brought into question. It is the moral dilemma of doing what it takes to win no matter the cost versus upholding the reputation of the sport you play or the industry in which you work. Phrased another way they are short-term gains which can threaten reputation and long-term sustainability. Sadly, our industry is having to face the same challenge when it comes to protecting our customers. Across the world, the threat of overregulation driven by a narrow viewpoint from a small minority is in danger of both diminishing the customer experience for the vast majority who play safely and more importantly stigmatising gambling to a point where those in genuine need of help and support are too ashamed to reach out. This has come about through an abundance of misinformation, manipulation of data and floored research which the gambling industry has at times felt powerless to challenge due to the influence on public opinion that this information has had especially when reported on by the mainstream media. Topics such as suicide caused by gambling and voluntary funding towards research, education and treatment as well as the reporting on the prevalence of gambling harm are extremely sensitive subjects for the industry to debate even though there are perfectly reasonable grounds to challenge them. Examples of the kind of misinformation spread in the UK: The reported 409 gambling-related suicides each year was an estimate based on overseas studies with little evidence to suggest this was the case in the UK as well as a complete disregard for the complexities of this issue. Similarly, the cost of gambling to society estimated to be an eye-watering £1.27bnper year completely failed to consider other issues such as co-morbidities, societal issues and the benefit of regulated gambling to the public purse. The rate of gambling harm is often blown out of proportion too with any score no matter how low on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) being included in calculations. This is not responsible reporting as gamblers with no issues will often score more than zero on the PGSI with no negative consequences whatsoever. This has led to reports of “millions” of people affected by gambling harm especially when you factor in those affected by someone else’s gambling which again I have seen in recent years go from an estimate of 6-8 people, then the 6 was dropped and it was just 8, then it was rounded up to 10 before someone decided hey let’s make it a dozen! It’s madness, where is the evidence to suggest this figure has doubled in the last couple of years? It does a disservice to the serious impact on those genuinely affected. It is so important that as an industry we challenge the use of data in this way. Not only for the reputation of the industry which has often been unfairly tarnished but for those who consume gambling. I believe that the real prevention of gambling harm comes from a well-regulated industry with great customer service at the heart of its safer gambling operation. Collaborating with the customer to meet their needs, building trust and having the confidence to act decisively, in my opinion, will have far greater benefits than some of the punitive and restrictive measures informed by bad data and inflicted on operators and customers around the world. It is not just the research either. In the past 5 years, the funding made available through voluntary industry contributions has skyrocketed. In the UK alone the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) pledged in 2019 that the money made available from their largest four members for the research, education and treatment of gambling harm would be increased significantly over the next five years reaching £100Million by 2024. To the BGC and their members’ credit, this has been achieved, in addition Many other gambling operators have increased their contributions too showing their commitment to safer gambling, some have made further funds available through their charitable trust and don’t forget the ever-growing funding made available through regulatory settlements and fines. So where is all this money going? I have no doubt that most of this funding has gone towards some fantastic projects that are making gambling safer and providing much-needed support for those in need of help. I am also of the opinion that this work has made significant improvements in tackling gambling harm but are we getting value for money and are we getting the quality of service that this level of funding should bring? I don’t just think it is acceptable for those who provide this funding to ask these questions I think it is absolutely essential. I was saddened to hear allegations recently of the misuse of this funding, claims of duplication of funding and dishonesty as well as cases of organisations and individuals being discredited or excluded from certain initiatives. It really is of the utmost importance that a good governance system is in place to manage the allocation and use of this funding as well as being able to demonstrate the outcomes and outputs through robust evaluation. This is a fantastic industry to work in and I would urge those within it to protect it by challenging questionable data and poor practices. We need to strive for transparency, accurate information and the highest standards in what we do because the public losing faith in the industry as consumers or in the support networks available because of this would be a travesty. Frankly, it’s just not cricket! Image credit: Casino Guru News

24 AUG 2023

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