Last week YGAM supported the World Regulatory Briefing (WrB) conference in London. This blog outlines my impressions of the day and how a charity like YGAM may be able to support the debate around responsible gaming going forward.
My decision to attend and speak at the WrB drew some criticism on social media from a number of individuals and organisations who believe that the gambling industry should not be allowed to participate in policy debates on problem gambling. I see things differently. I believe bringing the gambling industry together to look at responsible gambling is exactly the right thing to do. As a former addict I totally understand the damage that gambling can cause to some people. My family and I were affected hugely, but I also agree that the majority of people do gamble within their financial means. I have learnt no matter what the gambling industry do, some people or organisations will attack them; this goes with the territory in an activity where views are affected by personal morality. What I find upsetting is when those who are trying to do something positive are criticised for simply engaging. Collaboration, sharing the insights of former addicts and actual action is the right way to proceed. This all starts with dialogue and I believe this dialogue needs to start within the gambling industry itself, but followed up in a timely way with measurable action.
I am not a campaigner nor is YGAM a campaigning charity. Our motivation is to work collaboratively to help people and reduce gambling-related harm. I admire the three established organisations helping gambling addicts; GamCare, Gordon Moody and the National Problem Gambling Clinic. I also admire people like Anne Evans, a YGAM Ambassador and retired teacher from Doncaster whose son tragically committed suicide following his addiction to gambling in 2010. Anne’s approach of working with her local MP, Rosie Winterson and the Senet Group has led to information being provided in her local doctor’s surgeries on problem gambling. That for me is an example of good social action undertaken in a positive way. I also cite: Frankie Graham who leads the work of Betknowmore UK, a social enterprise based in London which provides outreach services and informal counselling; and Paul Buck from EPIC Gambling Consultancy who helps businesses reduce organisational risk from staff who may have gambling addictions. These organisations provide innovative solutions-oriented approaches and I believe this is where the greatest good will be achieved.
I am still struck that the only sector investing any reasonable amount of funding in to the area of treatment for gambling addicts are the gambling industry themselves, principally via the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT). Given it is the gambling industry themselves that are putting gambling products on our high streets, in our cities and via remote gambling in our homes, it is entirely correct the industry financially contributes and they need to be recognised for their investment here. There is nothing wrong in my view with people like Anne Evans and I making a conscious effort to work directly with the gambling industry. I can say the industry is listening and supporting our work and because of that we are protecting people from gambling-related harm.
Two other speakers at WrB, Matthew Hill of the Gambling Commission and Dan Waugh (our new chairman at YGAM and a former industry executive) commented on the progress that has been made over the past ten years – in particular the willingness of companies to face up to the facts of the social costs of gambling (as well as its benefits).
I hope that delegates from the industry will continue this direction of travel and as well as working with the RGT and other established organisations, take a look at what YGAM is seeking to achieve and how we compliment (not compete with) existing services. When I set out to establish YGAM almost a year ago, I was very keen to listen and learn. I listened to the critics of the gambling industry, including those who like me who have been affected negatively. I also listened to young people, teachers, community mental health workers, parents and youth workers. Finally I listened to those involved in providing gambling – from the shop floor to the boardroom. What have I learned from this and how can a charity like YGAM contribute to the debate?
I am a firm believer that engagement with the industry is fundamental if we are to minimise gambling-related harm. Working in silos, consistently attacking the industry, or focusing efforts on particular products may not be helpful. Gambling addictions are complex and ‘dumbing down’ the debate is likely to be counter-productive.
The gambling industry is made up of a mixture of leaders with different personalities and motivations. From what I have seen, industry executives do take their responsibilities seriously and none wish to be associated with a product that causes their customers harm. That said, responsibilities to gambling-related harm are delivered very differently operator to operator. Often the public does not distinguish between different industry sectors; there is simply ‘gambling’ and so companies have a mutual interest in working together more closely than in the past. Events like the WrB are critical for sharing ideas and collaborating.
The process of delivering treatment by organisations funded by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) works well. The current level of funding is not sufficient but the industry’s contributions should be acknowledged.
One of the highlights of the WrB conference was listening to Jon Kelly, CEO Responsible Gambling Council, Canada. His vision for preventative education (as opposed to treatment) and what he has achieved in this space is truly impressive. If asked what the vision for YGAM is, it would be to replicate what he has created here in the UK and in time Europe. YGAM is the only UK Registered Charity with a primary focus on preventive education to reduce gambling-related harm. The work of GamCare and other treatment providers is excellent and our aim for YGAM is to build upon this structure, not compete with it; our focus will remain on preventative education.
A lot of effort (and money) is spent on understanding player behaviour, creating algorithms and messaging for players. While this is important work, the industry needs to accept that some people are more susceptible to gambling-related harm because of their personality. Like I said at the WrB conference I do not blame the industry for my addiction. I have an addictive and driven personality which has manifested itself positively in such things as my career. However this personality manifested itself negatively when I started to gamble. The vast majority of people do get enjoyment from gambling and I am a strong advocate for (i) more education material and (ii) more treatment for those, who like me get in to difficulty. There is a huge amount of stigma around problem gambling and if compared to things such as sex or drinking alcohol there is hardly any preventative education available. Shining a light on this space, moving the debate on problem gambling off one product (FOBTs) and adopting some of the work of the Responsible Gambling Council, Canada in the UK will be far more impactful than the status quo.
Finally some Registered Charities often have the beneficiaries of their social cause as trustees or non-executive directors. Could such an approach be adopted by organisations such as the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, Responsible Gambling Trust, Senet Group, the Industry Group on Responsible Gambling and even within the Gambling Commission?
YGAM is seeking to build upon our current industry partners which include Gamevy, PaddyPower and Unibet and there are many ways in which we would work together. These include employee volunteering and fundraising opportunities or research opportunities around youth gambling. Please feel free to contact myself or our Chairman Dan Waugh if you would like to discuss this.
Finally I am incredibly grateful to Clarion Events for allowing YGAM to speak at the event. I found the day incredibly insightful. Progress in harm minimisation requires all of us – industry, regulators, government, treatment providers, researchers and concerned groups to come together to find solutions. YGAM is unapologetically committed to a course of positive engagement and we hope you will join us.