BetBlocker saw a pair of significant developments earlier in the year have a hugely positive impact on its ambitions for 2020 and beyond, after first the UK Gambling Commission officially approved the responsible gambling charity.

This was followed up by the company, which provides a free app that allows users to restrict their internet capable devices from accessing over 12,400 gambling operator websites, receiving a donation from Novomatic’s interactive division Greentube as part of its annual research, entertainment and treatment contributions.

In the first of a two part mini-series CasinoBeats spoke to Duncan Garvie, manager at BetBlocker, to delve into the details of these two developments, as well as taking a look at the much discussed problem gambling rates during lockdown.

“I honestly could not stress enough how much difference the UKGC’s recognition of BetBlocker as a responsible gambling charity has made to the service,” Garvie begins, before offering a deeper insight into the working of the group.

“For those of your readers who are not familiar with the mechanics of the UKGC licensing system, the license requires that licensees make an annual donation to charities that the regulator have acknowledged in each of three categories – Research, Prevention and Treatment. [Note – this is slightly confused by the fact that Prevention is exchanged for Education, contributing the ‘E’ in ‘RET’ in some documentation]. 

BetBlocker is entirely reliant on the support of donors”

“The regulator does not place any stipulation as to how much these donations have to be, simply that there has to be a donation.

“As a charitable entity BetBlocker is entirely reliant on the support of donors to keep the service operational. The introduction of the UKGC’s approval list for suitable charities presented both a significant barrier and huge opportunity for the service. 

“The practical realities for any charitable organisation within the UK market looking to obtain donations from UK licensed operators is that any budget that an operator sets aside for philanthropic cooperation is going to be directed to those organisations that the regulator has designated as appropriate. Obtaining that approval was fundamentally essential to the long term prospects for BetBlocker.

“Beyond this fundamental mechanic however, BetBlocker was – and still is – a small operation that is growing its profile within the industry. Being recognised by the regulator in this fashion has opened a lot of doors for us. 

“There are many good causes that gambling operators can choose to contribute to and the people in charge of those budgets are contacted frequently by the organisations – including BetBlocker – that are looking for support. The regulator’s approval provides a legitimacy that simply was not present before the publication of the regulator’s approved list.”

BetBlocker relies on charitable contributions from industry stakeholders, government and corporate interests, and individuals wishing to help them in the fight against problem gambling.

I would directly attribute every donation that we’ve received to date to gaining the regulator’s approval”

Last month the group asserted that every penny that is donated is spent on improving or maintaining the app, with the Greentube donation being invested in making the iOS app more challenging to bypass.

“In short I would directly attribute every donation that we’ve received to date to gaining the regulator’s approval,” Garvie continues.

“The Greentube donation made a huge difference to our service. We have tens of thousands of devices actively using BetBlocker at the present time. This increases every month and has sharply risen during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

“Even without improving the service – and we always have updates and improvements we would like to make – there is a running cost in maintaining our servers and ensuring that we have sufficient resources to ensure that the VPN that is required to provide the restrictions that BetBlocker offers is adequate for managing the number of devices connected to it. Donations from organisations like Greentube quite literally keep the lights on.

“It may seem dramatic, but when an operator make a donation to BetBlocker they are directly impacting the lives of thousands of people, many of whom are desperately trying to quit gambling and who rely on BetBlocker to help them control access to an activity that can be hugely self-destructive for them. We cannot thank those organisations who choose to donate to us enough!”

I’m wary of critiquing anyone’s response to this situation”

Much has been said and written regarding problem gambling rates and lockdown, with problem gamblers themselves telling the BBC that measures were a “recipe for disaster”. 

Garvie ends part one by offering his own views on this, as well as on actions taken by operators and regulatory authorities: “This is a tough question to offer any hard and fast answer to. There is no question that the COVID-19 lockdown has been a bad thing for many gambling addicts.

“The lack of other available activities leaves ‘playing a little’ seem more attractive. And traffic on the BetBlocker website has reflected this, nearly doubling since the start of the lockdown.

“However, I’m wary of critiquing anyone’s response to this situation. The simple truth is that short of stopping the lockdown and allowing everyone to go back to their normal activities – which would have resulted is massive additional loss of life – there are limited ways in which the increased interest in online gambling could have been mitigated over this period. Fighting human nature is rarely effective.

“The industry were quick to respond to the situation in as far as ensuring that their advertising partners were not engaging strategies intended to use to virus to acquire additional traffic.

“Beyond this, the industries decision to switch out their regular TV advertisements for adverts that focused on the responsible gambling tools that their services made available will have improved awareness of these tools. 

“The truth is that a shockingly large number of gamblers do not know about the support systems that are available to them if they do find their gambling is becoming problematic.
Whether more could have been done – that’s a question for smarter people than myself. The psychologists researching the behavioural expressions of addiction and those analysing the data to observe patterns.”