Tim Miller, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs and Research at the UK Gambling Commission, started his speech with a photograph of a man mowing a lawn. He requested that we hold that photograph in our minds for the duration of his speech.

The general theme of the speech was that the gambling industry should be doing better not only on social responsibility but also in its public image. In February 2017 the Gambling Commission published its findings from the survey “Gambling participation in 2016: behaviour, awareness and attitudes”. 

Drawing from that survey Tim said that 66% of people interviewed thought gambling was unfair and could not be trusted. 39% of people think that gambling is associated with criminal activity. Ouch!

Tim went on to say that such surveys along with other information would help the Gambling Commission determine its regulatory policy.

Now for the punchline. The image of the man mowing his lawn appeared again. He is concentrating on the job in hand, making sure he cuts in straight lines in the lawn. Then the next photograph appeared, same man, same mower, but with a huge tornado building up behind him. The inference was clear: the gambling industry was concentrating too much on the day job, and ignoring the whirlwind of social responsibility that was about to engulf it.

A thought not lost on one Russian delegate who said this was a wakeup call. He had experienced what had happened in Russia where, through public outcry, President Putin decided to make all gambling illegal. That is not to say there is a direct comparison between the United Kingdom and Russia yet. The UK remains a proper democracy, the courts are impartial and laws are proportionate.  

I am concerned, however, that the Gambling Commission will use opinion polls as part of its evidence upon which to determine future policy. 

The survey covered both gamblers and non-gamblers. 66% of people said they thought gambling operators could not be trusted.  However, in the same survey, participation in gambling (excluding the lottery) is 30%. The survey should have asked the question of those that do gamble: are you satisfied with the service provided and do you trust the operator?  That I believe would produce an 80% satisfaction score. 34% of those surveyed think gambling can be trusted and that portion of respondents presumably included a large percentage of the people who do gamble. Not asking that question implies bias.

39% think that gambling is associated with crime. Again, you could present is saying that 61% do not. Nevertheless, 39% is too high. Gambling has been legalised since 1961. I do not know of any criminal activity involved in gambling in the UK. So why is this figure so high?

The answer is the media. Those that believe gambling should be severely restricted produce a constant deluge of totally misleading stories about either casinos or bookmakers.  All too often we see operators portrayed as criminals.

The Gambling Commission, as the regulator, is on a mission not to educate in this case but to perpetuate the misleading information. The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is the government department which oversees gambling and also has responsibility for the BBC and other networks such as Channel 4, which is owned by Government.

The gambling attitudes survey proves one thing: it is not the gambling industry that has failed in the public’s perception of gambling but rather the regulator and Government. 

After 56 years of regulated gambling 39% of the public think that gambling is associated with criminal activity.  After 56 years it should be a lot lower. Let’s hope the right questions are asked in the next survey, so that the results will reflect the reality of the situation.

What is the gambling industry doing to change this perception? They are employing more people in regulation and social responsibility than ever before. 

What was apparent at WGES was that no one wanted to dispute anything with the Gambling Commission. Gambling is a licensed business and people are fearful of upsetting the regulator.  This should concern everyone because when asked questions the answers could be the ones the Commission wants to hear, not what it needs to hear. This change in attitude does not lead to good regulation.

As Jan Jones from Caesars Entertainment rightly said, the gambling industry needs to get ahead of the conversation and not always assume that regulators understand the gambling business. 

by Warwick Bartlett