I still haven’t finished writing up a proper blog, so here’s a patchwork of random industry news and opinion.
Last week the gambling industry finally got back together for their annual London jolly. I’ve never been before and I was hoping to attend, but circumstances contrived against me.
From the outside it looks like a lot of schmoozing, boozing and back-slapping, but I figured it would be a good opportunity to see what everyone is doing. Then I could report back once I’d hosed off the sugary glaze of the PR departments.
I was also keen to meet some of the responsible gambling leaders I’ve encountered over the last year. That would have been easy because they were all shoved together in a corner of the conference where they couldn’t poop on the party.
I don’t think I missed much though. Other than the usual slew of small deals, nothing groundbreaking seems to have come out of the event. There are other shindigs on the calendar (including one dedicated to ethical gambling), so perhaps I’ll turn up in future for a surprise inspection.
Isai’s Outstanding Achievement
At the nearby and concurrent International Gaming Awards, my old former mega boss Isai Scheinberg was recognised for his contribution to growing poker and protecting the game’s reputation. It was a thoroughly deserved award and I would have loved to be there to offer my applause and congratulations.
I owe him an enormous debt for the life I’ve enjoyed off the back of his labour, and probably an apology for being a frequently difficult and angry employee. If I seem outspoken and opinionated now, then just imagine me ten years ago when I was overflowing with youthful passion and ambition.
In recognising Isai’s achievement, I hope the gambling industry takes a moment to reflect on his philosophy. The players always came first, and the product was primarily provided as an entertainment option. Somehow, in doing things right and eschewing profit, he and Mark became incredibly wealthy and well-respected.
The greed and short-termism that now predominate are not the only way.
Credit is due for the way gambling companies have re-located their staff from the warzone. Ukraine is pretty much the first stop for anyone hiring skilled and affordable developers, hence gambling companies have a large presence there.
I know many companies have spared no expense in keeping their people safe, despite the huge logistical challenges involved. Playtech alone had to move hundreds of staff, then shared their learnings with other operators.
For balance, it’s important to point out that doing nothing wasn’t an option here. Development personnel are critical staff, so these poor people had to be moved to safety. It is the manner of the operation that is worthy of praise. Fast, efficient, sensitive and collaborative – all things untypical of gambling companies.
On the flip side, I’m cynical of the motives of operators who have curtailed business in Russia. It has been the grayest of gray markets for years, and the Russian government have been persistent in their efforts to bar gambling in the country.
To stop trading now is to give them, however inadvertently, something that they want. I appreciate the purpose of the war is a disgraceful land grab, but I’m sure Putin will be happy with any tangential wins he can get. They are wins he should be denied.
More than anyone else, the gambling industry has developed ninja-like expertise for circumventing the Russian sensors. That back door into the country could be used to educate players about what is really happening in Ukraine, because they have little or no other source of reliable information.
If the gambling companies feel uneasy about taking money from Russian customers (they obviously don’t, this is a pure PR gambit), then they could always invest any profits from the market into humanitarian charities doing crucial work on the ground.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the latest papers of Michael Auer and Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University. Michael is leading the way in providing data-based solutions for identifying problem gambling through his company Neccton, and Mark is the world’s leading academic for practical gambling research (based on my experience reading for a Psychology MSc).
One recent article has shown that an enforced hour break in play is highly effective at disrupting dangerous loss chasing behaviour. Presumably, that length of time is enough for the hot emotions of a bad session to dissipate, thus reducing the likelihood of continued negative behaviour. That is an important learning for any casino that is genuine in its desire to offer a safer product.
A different paper has shown that gambling companies can use machine learning to predict which customers are likely to set their own deposit limits. This should make it possible to tailor safer gambling messages to improve take-up and effective usage of safer gambling tools.
I tend to think that the upside of such fine-tuning would be marginal, but it is an area worthy of further exploration. I know they have two other papers under consideration that will deal more directly with predicting problem gambling, and I feel that has greater potential for positive change.
If I ever decide to pursue a self-funded gambling-related PhD, then these are the gentleman I’d be hounding for help. They’re safe for now though. Until I see more industry appetite for doing things better, I’m not prepared to waste my time.
It’s good to see the Committee for Advertising Practice taking some positive and practical steps while the rest of the UK regulatory machine sit in a state of permanent stasis and disrepair.
From October, gambling companies will no longer be able to use spokespeople or brand ambassadors in the UK that have a strong underage following. That seems a little tricky to enforce, but it’s a well-meaning common sense rule to have in place, i.e. don’t let entertainers flog gambling to kids.
Preventing underage gambling is not straightforward, and I fear these steps alone won’t make a huge difference, but it’ll help. Now for the government and UKGC to get their arses in gear.