When the FUN stops?

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The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about the latest slogan being used by the Senet Group.

The Senet Group is the vehicle set up by Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral and Paddy Power to “Promote Responsible Gambling Standards”. A recent press release explained that the Group will include the following message on all advertising:

“When the Fun stops STOP”

There is no evidence that this message or any other form of subtle messaging will have any impact on gambler behaviour. The majority of at-risk gamblers, who were not adequately considered in the recent Responsible Gambling Trust FOBT research, will perceive they are still having fun when they descend into problem gambling. A problem gambler will not be able to stop, as they are addicted. That is the very nature of addiction. To compound this, it is often only when a gambler has hit rock bottom that reality sets in and the addiction is acknowledged. These gamblers are already broke before the “fun” stops.

As Marketing Magazine explained: “The move will help the industry fend off further regulation of its marketing from government”, which is supported by this headline in the Mail on Sunday: “Bookies hedge bets with safe gambling ads in attempt to ward off government regulation”. An excellent article in the Irish Independent also offered an insightful analysis.

But could there be an alternative motivation at the heart of the Senet Group? The Group members don’t want their FOBT revenues – and therefore their fun – to stop, so are taking all kinds of actions to delay the ultimately unavoidable FOBT stake reduction. This new advertising measure could well prove to have as little impact as the bookies’ Code of Conduct has been – with the Senet Group probably on course to join P3 and the Gambling Business Group in the graveyard of responsible gambling initiatives.

One measure the Group has already introduced is limiting betting shop window advertising. At the same time, the text message marketing of FOBTs has increased, and in-shop tournaments have continued. Is this socially responsible? The other gambling sectors have every right to be furious with the Senet Group bookies for effectively implying that their “responsible gambling standards” are superior to all non-members.

However, the fun is stopping for some Senet Group members in certain markets of their remote gambling divisions. It has taken a long while for the wild-west standards of remote gambling regulation to start to move in the right direction. Companies such as Ladbrokes, which have profited from grey markets in which certain activity may not have been formally approved, are retreating from these markets.

If a jurisdiction claims that remote gambling is illegal, except if approved and licensed by the jurisdiction, then such jurisdiction should never have been considered a grey market. It is socially irresponsible to avoid gambling taxes whilst profiting from problem gamblers in any jurisdiction.

The four founding members are also members of the Association of British Bookmakers, which asserts through use of a Code of Conduct, that harm minimization can be best be achieved by staff intervention rather than by other measures such as stake reduction.

These members all have remote gambling platforms which should have perfect information on gambler identity, transaction records and therefore a more than adequate basis upon which to intervene. It is far easier to apply interventions online than in betting shops where there is no mandatory gambler identification or any correlation of transactions to the customer. Also betting shop staff may be young, inexperienced, single staffing and feel intimidated in trying to intervene.

If Senet Group members are genuine in their harm minimization proposals for betting shops, then these should have been instituted in their remote platforms long ago. Members should be able to provide data on the following:

- On which date did staff interventions start, and on which remote platforms?
- What are the intervention triggers on each remote platform?
- In what percentage of live accounts was an intervention applied in 2014?
- What percentage of accounts intervened in resulted in self-exclusion or account closure?
- What percentage of accounts intervened in resulted in operator-forced account closure?
- What is the average number of interventions per intervened account?

The Campaign does not anticipate that this data will be published – in fact, it questions whether it is even available.

With a Senet Group “lunch and launch” event to promote the “When the FUN stops STOP” message being held in Westminster on Tuesday January 20th, it will interesting to learn who from the “gambling establishment” of DCMS, the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, the Responsible Gambling Trust and the All Party Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group is willing to indulge this PR exercise.

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