Dishonourable Mentions

There are a few things that have caught my eye since the last blog, so rather than try to come up with 1000 coherent words on a single topic, I thought I’d do a short rollcall of shame.

Entain – The gambling giant that owns Ladbrokes, Coral, bwin and PartyPoker among other big names. Formally the non-descript and shady sounding GVC Holdings, they deserve top marks for a clever re-branding that positions them primarily as a place of entertainment. If I was looking to give the illusion of respectability, that’s probably what I would do to.

Unfortunately, putting sprinkles on a baked turd does not a cupcake make. In October I was headhunted by an internal recruiter about a CRM role. I was careful to explain that I did not think a job which is fundamentally about maximising customer value would be suitable for an ardent proponent of responsible gambling.

The recruiter was undeterred. They proudly explained how seriously the company take responsible operating and directed me towards the company spiel. I read it, conceded they presented a good face and agreed to talk.

I told them a bit about my past career and reiterated my concerns that I might not be a good fit unless they were proper, for-real serious about responsible gambling. Again, the recruiter was optimistic and ended the call promising to return with further information about the scope of the job.

Then silence. Out of courtesy, I followed up with them.

More silence.

Weeks later, I have been fully ghosted. On paper I was an excellent candidate, with a genuine passion for doing things the right way. That is a perfect fit for the image they are portraying.

But when it comes down to it, they aren’t *really* interested in responsible gambling. They are interested in profit, and my (mostly) ethical position might have impeded that goal. Rather than admit that and apologise for wasting my time, they decided to be rude and unprofessional.

That is the real Entain.

The UK Government – Gambling legislation has been largely untouched since 2005, so a review is long overdue. It was supposed to happen this year, but the talk is now of it happening early in 2022. Fair enough they’ve had Covid and Brexit to deal with, but a lot of the problems there are of their own making.

Speaking as a freshly-turned 40 year old, sixteen years doesn’t seem like that long a time. But it is. The first smartphone only entered development in 2005, and didn’t make it to market until 2007. That means our current gambling laws were drafted before anyone had even conceived of little black rectangles that can access all the world’s knowledge.

So this is now urgent. The laws are not fit for purpose and need changing. What’s the delay?

The current round of sleaze might have something to do with it. According to the Guardian, there are 28 MP “consultants” either on the payrolls of gambling firms or receiving freebies. They know bugger all about gambling so they have to provide value somehow.

A cynic might suggest that they’re simply lobbyists being funded to delay the implementation of new rules and soften their impact. My contacts within the industry confirm that companies are very nervous about new rules and are desperate to keep their exploitatious gravy train on track. That is strong motive for skullduggery.

I really hope the furore over MP’s second jobs genuinely leads to change, and these top-level public servants are made to focus solely on their £82K PA main job. Boris is saying he wants to scrap second jobs, so maybe it will happen. However, it is already far too late for effective, modern gambling legislation.

Flutter – I’ve got a few bones I could pick here. For instance, there was a dubiously opaque trading statement that claimed a £60M shortfall in earnings was due to adverse sports results in October – even though there weren’t any. The way I see it, they either did a crap job of basic bookmaking, or they were trying to mislead investors.

In addition, PaddyPower (probably their biggest brand) were recently named and shamed by Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back as the worst offender for targeting children with their advertising. Any points they get for their ingenious content are lost when the recipients are kids.

But I’ll skim past those despicable actions and get to the worst thing they’ve done recently.

I made it clear in my previous blog that Safer Gambling Week was a pointless industry sham, and the folks at Flutter went out of their way to prove me right. In the middle of their own whitewashing propaganda exercise, they managed to send a mass promotional email to their most vulnerable customers – excluded problem gamblers.

Of course, senior figures did their best to “own the issue” and “do the right thing” because of how they “take responsible gambling extremely seriously”. They did all the things the PR handbook says they should do to limit the damage, and to an extent it worked. A lot of industry lackeys and brown-nosers lapped it up. The head of their UK operations was even being praised for his actions.

That is brazenly and stunningly pathetic.

It is unlikely that the CRM person that carried out this action did so on purpose, but it is possible. I was at PokerStars when the customer survey guy went rogue and sent a mad apocalyptic conspiracy theory email to thousands of customers.

I was also there when the head of the social media poker product decided to bump his KPIs by removing the 18+ restriction on sign ups (that decision was quickly reversed when it was discovered, but the culprit stayed in the job for several years afterwards). It is amazing what people can do if they’re in a bad place, or simply a bad person.

But that actually misses the point. Whether this was accidental scumbaggery or not, it should not have been possible. Those emails should have been ring-fenced and put safe from the reach of marketing hands as soon as they were identified as vulnerable customers.

This was not a case of excusable human error, it is an example of gross negligence. Leaders and CEOs in gambling cannot claim to care about responsible gambling, least of all during Safer Gambling Week, when they are clearly not making even basic efforts to protect players.

Somebody senior must lose their job over this and the UKGC must levy a fine that reflects the severity of this breach. Anything less than eight figures will be a slap in the face to responsible gambling.

Bobby’s Bets

I had a smattering of £5 punts on the finale of the T20 World Cup, and as usual betting against England was a profitable exercise. I’m now up a hefty £15 since the last blog.

I was unfortunate to miss out on a £110 payday when Adam Zampa was pipped as leading tournament wicket taker by Hasaranga’s cheap wickets from the qualifying round. Not to worry, the fun is all in the anticipation, not the reward.

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