Is the industry the solely responsible for problematic gamblers?

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Exclusive criticism of the industry for a complex issue such as pathological gambling is not fair and emphasizes the need to have a realistic assessment of the level of gambling issues

The efforts to make gambling safer, as well as mitigate the risks and negative effects of their excessive gambling, are among the priorities of the Romanian gambling industry too.

In our case, a good part of the industry has already voluntarily assumed compliance with the standards and principles of social responsibility, proving to be involved in the CSR projects that the Responsible Gaming Association carries out and which Romanian Bookmakers support, along with the other actors from market. However, at the ICE London exhibition this year, representatives of the UK Gambling Commission did not shy away from making harsh comments on the number of gamblers, hinting that only the gambling industry is responsible for this situation. Is it fair that operators are the solely responsible?


In a speech entitled “Changing Mindsets” on the safety of gambling, Neil McArthur, CEO of UK Gambling Commission said: “The Health Survey, conducted in 2016, by far the most important one we have up to this point, shows that in the UK there are approximately 340,000 problematic gamblers. This is totally unacceptable! It is said that there are still 1.7 million people at risk of becoming problematic gamblers. Again, this is totally unacceptable! And none of these statistics take into account many other lives, families and communities that are also affected by the damage that people with gambling problems bring. Honestly, it’s a totally unacceptable state and we have to radically reduce these numbers.”


For a successful cooperation on this topic, it is necessary, first, to agree on a fundamental aspect: in order to be able to scale our efforts to prevent and combat the negative effects of excessive gambling and the problems generated by them, a realistic assessment of the number of such consumers is needed, as well as the incidence of the development of gambling problems among the population. And, at the same time, by assuming responsibility not only by the gambling industry, but by a collaboration between all the factors that influence the daily life, respectively the education, the standard of living, etc.


The figure of 1.7 million people cited by McArthur, that came as a result of the answers to the questionnaire for indicating gambling problems distributed in 2016 to a sample of approximately 14,000 people from England, Scotland and Wales, then extrapolated to the entire UK market, it refers to an estimated number of players, classified into “low risk” and “moderate risk”. According to Jackie Ferris and Harold Wynne, creators of the “Problem Gambling Severity Index” (PGSI) questionnaire, that was the basis of this survey, the two categories indicate a low or moderate risk “of developing certain negative consequences.” Thus, contrary to the Gambling Commission’s claims, the 1.7 million people are not “players at risk of becoming problematic gamblers”, as most of them do not progress to a compulsive gambling diagnosis. Moreover, Ferris and Wynne describe people at “low risk” as being unlikely to have adverse consequences because of gambling, while at “moderate risk” people “may or may not have adverse consequences because of practicing” gambling”.

Most consumers consider themselves responsible for when and how much they play

Experts from Regulus Partners, the UK’s gambling consultancy, believe that scientific observations have been ignored in favor of accusatory rhetoric and wonder if we should be so worried about so-called “at risk” players? About 70% individuals of the 1.7 million players identified in the Health Survey were classified as “low risk”. In the UK market, with a population of 67 million, it turned out that about 340,000 players could develop gambling addiction. Romania, with a population 3.5 times smaller than the United Kingdom, does not exceed the proportions, being at the lower limit of the European average for the consumption of gambling, with 0.6% of the population over 18 as practitioners who have crossed the entertainment line, respectively about 98,000 players predisposed to potential gambling problems. The European average indicates 0.5 – 2% individuals with gambling problems from the total population over 18 years.

Given that the game for recovering money is the most common justification for the players who answered the questionnaire, it may seem more plausible that a large part of the players at “moderate risk” were included in this category because they did nothing but try to recover their losses. Moreover, as after the launch of the study, teachers Paul Delfabbro and Daniel King wrote, it should be borne in mind that not all behaviors analyzed in PGSI have a dramatic character: “It is questionable whether some of the elements identified are really injury indicators. For example, tracking losses, playing harder to get a higher level of enthusiasm, or betting on bigger amounts than the set budget are behaviors that can really lead to injury if repeated too often”. 

And then it is worth asking: who is responsible for managing this risk? Is it fair to talk about this industry only in the negative way? The industry contributes about 1 billion euros to the GDP of Romania and 300 million euros to the state budget, through direct taxes, the corporate income tax and other taxes collected annually, which represent 1.3% of the total national taxes. It has created over 45,000 jobs, paid rents, professionalized and attracted top executives. In other words, the industry has become an important link in the economic chain in Romania.


Preventing gambling risks should be viewed as a collaborative effort, involving both industry and society, healthcare organizations, educational institutions, and even consumers. Jamie Wiebe and Jon Kelly, representatives of the Gambling Council of Canada, wrote last year that “all parties involved have a role and a contribution in preventing the development of problematic gambling. No organization can do this alone.” Then, is it fair that the operators are solely responsible for the figures as above? It is known that these problems develop on the background of already existing emotional problems that the person manifests in everyday life, so they are an effect of a situation. The effect of the individual’s unaddressed problems.


Also, the British specialists raised the issue of the autonomy and personal responsibility of the players. The 2016 survey indicated that about 1.2% of players said they “occasionally” feel guilty for gambling. Therefore, to what extent should the industry be held accountable if the players themselves feel guilty or self-critical about participating in gambling? Unfortunately, it is more handy to use statistics on the incidence of pathological gambling, statistics that, in most cases, have not been generated by studies, but by the desire to generate an alarm, to put the gambling industry on the wall. But, basically, the above aspects, supported by reality, should not be neglected. A 2019 study by the authors Gray, LaPlante, Abarbanel & Bernhard revealed that between 9 and 10% of participants responded that the responsibility for developing game problems lies with the players rather than the operators. Most consumers consider themselves responsible for when and how much they play and bet.


Of course, gambling excessively can cause significant damage, especially when operators behave negligently or unethically or in cases where the effects of aggressive promotion, placement and positioning of products in this field have not been well understood by consumers. Excess has negative effects not only on gambling. Shopping, eating, adrenaline generated by driving a car at an accelerate rate, alcohol, all of which can lead to unwanted effects if exaggerated.  However, exclusive criticism of the industry for such a complex field like the compulsive play is not fair at all. The company must distribute the responsibility is a serious manner, and one thing is certain: the gambling industry, without having a concrete legislative constraint, takes consistent steps in self-compliance, respect and promotion of the principles of social responsibility.


Problem                 Gambling                            Severity                           Index                              Questionnaire

Author: Editor

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