The necessity to implement increased safer gambling protocols is a crucial component of everyday make-up, but with global lockdowns in place a heightened sense of awareness has been placed on such initiatives during recent weeks.

Forming a crucial of the part industry’s make-up throughout the year, concerns over the enhanced risks associated with gambling-related harm has been documented of late, with the current period of self-isolation both mentally and financially challenging for many.

After inking link-up with Lloyds Banking Group, enabling customers of Lloyds, Bank of Scotland and Halifax to access its gambling blocking software, CasinoBeats has caught up with Jack Symons, Gamban CEO, to elaborate on a multitude of discussion areas.

Coming a day after the Betting and Gaming Council have agreed to the voluntary removal of all gaming advertising on TV and radio during the lockdown, Symons addresses effective barriers, an onus on operators and the black market.

CasinoBeats: Responsible and safer gambling are crucial objectives year-round, but how important does this become during the current climate?

Jack Symons: Living through a pandemic is uncharted territory for all of us. For some, online gambling will be an enjoyable activity for whiling away time; for others it may be a problem.

To someone who has experienced the thrill, not much else is likely to compete with the excitement of gambling – especially where outdoor activity is limited. Indeed some players may find themselves tolerating higher losses, justifying higher spend on the current circumstances. We also expect many people in two minds about self-exclusion.

It’s easy to get carried away”

The void online gambling continues to fill, may be too much too soon. Also, we’ve not got as many ways to spend money now. With all these reasons, it’s especially important now for operators and affiliates to be sensitive to increased player vulnerability due to the impact of isolation.

CB: Many tools are available to help gamblers manage activity, which barriers would you deem as the most effective and helpful?

JS: It’s easy to get carried away. In my experience, it starts with £20. If the first £20 goes too quickly, I feel entitled to a second deposit. If I lost twice what I was prepared to lose, I’m going to choose ‘double or nothing’. If I’m down £80, I may as well be down £100, because that’s a ‘convenient’ number.

Losing £100 is £80 more than I was prepared to lose when I made that first deposit. So in for a penny in for pound… Along the way, I may have had plenty of opportunities to cash out but I somehow manage to persuade myself that I got sufficient play for my money and so I lick my wounds and move on – sure to chase another day. This is a trajectory many are familiar with. If you can’t stop, you need to – there’s a slogan!

My advice to gamblers is to stick with one gambling site and stay within limits. Having more than one account renders self-imposed limits more or less meaningless. If you can manage to gamble what you can afford to lose and you enjoy it then all is good and well. For those who struggle to moderate, you can use Gamban for a seven day trial (cool-off) if you want to take a break and decide on whether to continue for longer.

Longer term self-exclusion works best when multiple barriers are put in place; that’s Gamban, Gamstop and transaction blocking with your bank account(s).

For players, limit setting is more important now than ever”

CB: How much onus falls on operators as well as customers themselves regarding such issues?

JS: Clearly there’s a balance of responsibility – I wouldn’t like to crudely quantify by percentage but there’s certainly a bare minimum operators can strive to achieve. The good news for operators is that it’s now increasingly accepted that the burden of responsibility is not entirely upon their shoulders. From gambling-blocking software like Gamban, gambling transaction blocking at bank level and the UK’s national online self-exclusion scheme, Gamstop; there’s an ecosystem of effective tools and initiatives to protect players.

For players, limit setting is more important now than ever. Yet, with many different sites and platforms to choose from, every operator must recognise a collective responsibility to prevent harm, for if harm is allowed to continue, it will likely lead to negative outcomes (bad press, regulatory penalties, activism, a universal online stake reduction, mental health issues and suicide). So it’s in the interest of every operator to take action and stop the bystander effect that further damages the industry and wider society.

As an example, one of the smaller operators I’ve met brazenly boasted a sort of ‘pump and dump’ strategy, knowing full well the future of the business was imminent (< 3 years) due to fly-by-night acquisition tactics but traction seemed all that mattered in a market that’s proliferous in merger and acquisition activity.

How does a smaller operator reconcile short-term revenue (value) vs long term player protection (sustainability)? That’s hardly rhetorical – I urge larger operators to factor this into due diligence and take a longer term view on what you otherwise perpetuate by acquiring operators with nefarious trading histories. The ‘everything-to-gain-nothing-to-lose’ mentality is harming the industry more than anything. This operator was acquired very recently.

At the moment it’s just accepted that some people will be fine and others won’t”

Problem gambling can be complex and players can experience gambling harm in many ways. While some show signs of loss chasing, others may be binging. Some may not be losing much money but the time spent gambling can be a problem. Equally, £100 might represent a ‘flutter’ to one punter or a small fortune to another.

Then there’s the question of what differentiates a VIP customer from a problem gambler. The customer has to realise they have a problem before any of the self-exclusion tools or treatment options are effective. At the moment it’s just accepted that some people will be fine and others won’t.

The ‘elephant in the room’ is the fact that the industry will make money from both recreational players and pathological gamblers. So the question is, how accurate can the analytical, identification and affordability tools be at detecting problems before they progress and how proactive should customer support be at stopping activity (intervening) before it is too late?

CB: There’s been much talk of the necessity to impose further restrictions on activity, but is there a danger doing so could push people towards black market operations? How is this mitigated?

It must be very frustrating for the industry to come to terms with the fact that the more ‘responsible’ you are, the more likely you are to push players to greyer alternatives. That’s one of the known benefits of Gamban, that when a player self-excludes, they remove themselves from ALL gambling sites and apps, regardless of regulatory status or jurisdiction. I believe we’re unique in this respect. Indeed when affiliates targeted Gamban keywords, promoting sites they believed weren’t blocked by Gamban, we simply captured the very traffic they were directing prospective players to – thanks! 

The first challenge is to understand what the black market actually looks like”

Already – before Gamstop was even made a licensing condition for UKGC licensees, we’ve seen affiliate sites informing Gamstop registrants of casinos that aren’t part of the scheme. Equally, we’ve seen online casinos adopt merchant codes disguised as ‘Direct Marketing’ (5969), or similar, bypassing banking transaction blocking functionality that use specific merchant codes for betting and casino gambling (7995).

There will be a black market. The first challenge is to understand what the black market actually looks like. Having signed up to Gamstop, using transaction blocking and without Gamban installed, I am able to access, register and deposit with an online casino in the UK that isn’t regulated by UK Gambling Commission, without a virtual private network. I only know this because I was looking for a casino that would accept me in the UK, having previously signed up to Gamstop. 

Just as we’ve seen banks come to the rescue, I believe preventing black market operations is an area only internet service providers can assist with and players shouldn’t be able to gamble on unregulated platforms in a regulated market that mandates regulation and this starts by blocking them. Of course, with a constantly evolving block-list, this is an area Gamban is able to assist.

CB: How do you hope necessary actions being taken during the current crisis will heighten safer gambling protocols moving forward?

JS: It’s important that we continue to acknowledge and understand the diversity of vulnerability now and into the future. Understand your customer, intervene if necessary and provide the tools and support. Recognise too that harm reduction has an immeasurable impact on sustainability.