Efforts by gaming companies to make a positive impact on society are often met with cynicism. It’s important to ignore the doubters and to push through actions that have real positive impact, writes Laura Da Silva of DigitalRG.net

YESTERDAY’S announcement by GVC Holdings that it was to ramp up its responsible gaming and social responsibility efforts was an interesting, if limited, example of how operators must start to act and think if they are to have a positive impact on society.

In particular the £500,000 commitment to fund the UK-wide roll-out of GamCare’s Youth Outreach Programme is an especially welcome move. Responsible gaming strategies have to date been lacking in early intervention elements.

The company’s release was heavy on commitment but rather light on details. For example, it says that it will “support a move to ban gambling adverts around live football, before the 9pm watershed”. Great.

Only it doesn’t make any mention of how it will support such a ban – will it block broadcasters from promoting its brands around football coverage until this ban is introduced?

The announcement of a “multi-million pound research partnership” with a major academic institution is something that we will look at closely.

After all, similar projects have been agreed, carried out, and sunk without a trace. In fact, one of GVC’s brands, bwin, agreed a similar deal with Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School around 2008.

Equally light on detail is the £4m investment in responsible gaming, planned for 2019. While this may be double the sum spent in 2018, it remains unclear where this is going, and what it aims to achieve. It would be interesting to read about tangible impact objectives backed by hard KPIs in addition to amount of money spent.

Of course, it’s a positive sign to see such a large company make such wide-ranging commitments to responsible gaming and CSR. And if GVC CEO Kenny Alexander can use even a fraction of his skill in closing deals to act as a social responsibility advocate, we have gained a formidable ally.

“It’s easy to be cynical …and THERE ARE some THAT will never be convinced. That doesn’t mean efforts should stop

This announcement should however sound a starting gun on other operators not simply copying GVC, but trying to emulate its efforts. It’s easy to be cynical about gaming companies’ efforts to position themselves as more responsible companies, and there are some that will never be convinced.

That doesn’t mean efforts should stop. Far from it – they should be stepped up, with companies committing to upholding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, ramping up responsible gaming programmes and supporting charitable foundations. These start with remarkably simple things to implement – indeed most of the larger operators already look to meet the SDGs; responsible gaming programmes are mandated by law in most markets, and charitable initiatives are generally supported by operators. And it goes beyond with larger scale projects that will have a true positive impact on society in the long-term. For example, Unilever has now started talking about “rebooting capitalism”.

I’m not suggesting gambling companies set a similar goal, but at a time when major conglomerates start talking in such terms, it shows there’s a scope to be big, bold and ambitious.

“It takes one major player to make a move, then others rush to follow.

What can occasionally be frustrating is a reticence by gaming operators to take the first step. No company wants to be the first to take a stance for or against a certain subject. It takes one major player to make a move, then others rush to follow. It’s once this tipping point is achieved that things start to move and when it comes to social responsibility, it’d be nice to see an industry so often accused of being “in a race to the bottom” in what is effectively a “race to the top”.

Social responsibility in the gambling industry is perhaps slowed by cynicism from both sides. The industry’s critics see it as reputation laundering, and some within the sector see it in much the same way, or a hoop to be jumped through rather than a way to change how a business is run.

It’s worth looking at Nike making former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of its advertising campaign for the 30th anniversary of its ‘Just do It’ slogan. There’s a degree of cynicism in getting an American football player who doesn’t play American football to front a campaign, especially when it’s stoking controversy to boost brand recognition. But the figures don’t lie – Nike saw sales increase by around 31 per cent over the Labor Day weekend, besting a 17 per cent increase in 2017.

All cynicism aside it’s aligning itself with his protest against racial inequality in American society. Yes, it’s helping a billion-dollar business shift sporting goods, but it has a fundamentally positive – and powerful – message.

This concept shouldn’t be alien to the gambling industry. Operators have used photoshopped pictures of the rainforest, or a truck with sportspeople claimed by England but of foreign extraction to sneak important social messages through to consumers. It doesn’t hurt that it boosts brand recognition along the way. DigitalRG’s sister company Filter06 is a creative agency focused on sustainable branding, so I’m saying from experience that I know this is possible.

It’s easy to be cynical about social responsibility, but it’s important not to let this derail the progress towards important goals.

Laura Da Silva is the founder of DigitalRG.net, the gambling industry’s first dedicated social responsibility and responsible gaming platform. The solution provides operators, suppliers and lotteries with all necessary tools to assess, refine, launch and monitor CSR, responsible gaming and sustainability programmes, as well as completing licence and industry certification submissions.