Reluctant Credit

Last week I had the opportunity to nip over to the Isle of Man to catch up with old friends and colleagues. It’s been a few years since I last visited, but to my delight very little has changed.

The landscapes are still stunning, the towns are still charmingly bleak and crumbly, and the karaoke is still raucous. As far as I could tell, the only changes were that the horse tram has been scaled back, and the government has spent millions inexplicably trying to reinvent the roundabout.

Most importantly though, many of the people that made it the best period of my life are still there and calling it home. I had three incredible days, marred only by the absence of Karen and Steve. I can only imagine the appalling hangovers if they were still with us.

Whilst I’m still wallowing in this happy nostalgic mood, I thought I would take the chance to say positive things about some gambling operators. I can’t and won’t pretend that they’re doing enough to tackle the social harms they cause, but they’re getting some things right. Today I’ll give grudging credit, seasoned with just a dollop of scathing scepticism.

When I first got this blog up and running, I had a short conversation with a passionate but slightly disillusioned Head of Responsible Gambling. During our exchange I asked what effort he and his team made to proactively contact the site’s big winners.

I have watched on aghast as life-changing payouts were painfully frittered away in the hours after they were won, and I wanted to know if any preventative measures were in place. Or, far worse, if the company employed the predatory casino tactic of trying to win the money back by technically fair, but morally foul, means.

I know that gaming firms routinely employ VIP hosts whose remit is to do this. They will do all they legally can to keep winnings in play. I have been a part of this problem myself. At the height of my gambling industry scumminess (circa 2010), I frequently pondered mechanics I could introduce to deter cashouts and boost profits. Thankfully I never went through with any of them.

At his company though, it was a laissez faire approach. While he would love to proactively contact winners, the reality was his resources were dedicated to meeting regulatory obligations. Compliance was king, and anything more was a pipedream. Given the dark alternative, I thought that was the best I could realistically hope for and thought no more about it.

That was until last week, when one of my Manx friends told me about a recent five-figure slot win of his friend on 888. Not long afterwards, the friend received a call from the company to congratulate him and offering to cash it out directly. No trickery or hard sell, just a genuine act of good customer service and protection.

In fact, to me, it sounds like a true best-practise act of responsible operating. If 888 are doing this routinely then they get a big gold star, and I hope their competitors find the resources to do the same. There aren’t many big winners among the thousands of unhappy losers, so it’s not asking too much to treat them well and accept the loss in good grace.

Speaking of one company doing a good thing and setting an example to the rest – I’m going to award a second, slightly smaller, silver star to the folks at Flutter Entertainment (the current entity of my former employer).

A couple of weeks ago, they announced they would be capping the amount their under-25 British and Irish customers could deposit (net) per month. If I’m being critical, I think the amount of £500 is too high (it’s well above the median for net deposits), and I don’t think it should be restricted based on geography or age, but it is a start. This should help to protect some of their more vulnerable customers.  

Now, there’s every chance that the motivations are pre-emptive with gambling laws under review in both countries, but to my knowledge, nobody else has taken this step, so it is admirable. It’s a gauntlet to the rest of the industry that concedes they can and will do better.

I don’t think for a second that the other gambling behemoths are going to up the ante and role out more stringent restrictions across more markets, but they just might copy them so as not to be outdone.

And once the technical capacity is in place to manage these types of restrictions, it is trivial to adjust them. If Flutter wanted to up the age tomorrow to 30, and expand it to the rest of Europe, they almost certainly could. Who knows, perhaps this is just a trial and when the data is in, they will take a bigger, more encompassing step.

They also claim they will increase the deposit limit if an individual is prepared to undergo a thorough process of means testing. I don’t have a problem with that. It shows they’ve thought it through and have the processes in place to manage the outliers who can legitimately afford to gamble for higher amounts.

The whole thing demonstrates that what should be done (restricting deposits by default), can be done without badly affecting civil liberty. It proves the protestations of the pro-gambling lobby are meaningless bluster and can be happily disregarded. Well done Flutter Entertainment.

Okay, that will have to do for paying dues to the baddies, I’m starting to feel unclean. Next thing you know I’ll be spouting rubbish like Jimmy Saville did a lot for charity, the Cosby Show is still a very watchable sitcom and Piers Morgan makes some excellent points.

So fear not, I have plenty more outrage saved up for another day. This trip down Manx memory lane opened my eyes to an arm of the industry that had completely escaped me and has me madder than ever. Next time, I bring the fury.

Bobby’s Bets

I was sad but £16 richer to see Usyk beat AJ on points. The odds of 2-1 on an undefeated cruiserweight champion just seemed a little too generous to me.

The win would have been a lot bigger as Usyk was still 11-10 to win going into the twelfth round, when it was clear he was miles ahead and Joshua was out of ideas. I regret to say I failed to get on the bet because at 11pm on a Saturday in a rowdy Liverpool pub, I couldn’t remember the CVV code for my stored debit card.

I have since given £10 back to the bookies betting on Premier League draws and hapless European golfers. A poor return on my Sunday dabbling.

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