With globally mandated lockdowns becoming normality for hundred of millions worldwide throughout 2020, online betting and gaming sectors have been growing as a lack of sporting action saw punters turn elsewhere. 

Alongside those increasing numbers, however, was a heightened spotlight placed upon responsible gambling and the need to ensure players and correctly and fully protected when partaking in such activities. 

In the culmination of a two-part mini-series with Duncan Garvie, manager at BetBlocker, we continue the conversation by looking at increased protections, additional measures and VIP schemes. 

Garvie, however, begins by asserting: “One thing that I’m wary of doing is representing myself or BetBlocker as some form of ‘expert’ on gambling addiction or responsible gambling. We are not qualified to make that claim. 

“BetBlocker is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. It is far from foolproof. We simply saw an obvious service that should be made available to gambling addicts free of charge, and set out to ensure that service was made available.

“There are many academics and experts that can provide deep insight into the workings of addiction and are far more qualified than ourselves to give informed insight into how we as a society can help limit the damage that addiction causes. Any answer I give here is given from a limited perspective on the problem.”

The better informed everyone is the more likely people are to make well informed decisions”

Before moving on to look at how the industry could better work together to promote responsible gambling and protect vulnerable players: “With the above acknowledged, I do feel making a bigger effort to ensure that all players are aware of the various responsible gambling tools that are available would be a significant step forward in helping players to get hold of problematic behaviours before they become damaging.

“Significant portions of the industry are unquestionably starting to see this – we are speaking to numerous groups who are now looking to include information on services, like BetBlocker, in the information they provide to their players at relevant stages during the lifespan of a player, and have teams that are actively working to find out how they can best support players. The better informed everyone is the more likely people are to make well informed decisions.

“Alongside this, while some regulatory agencies have started tightening rules related to the management of players with addiction issues others could certainly tighten their requirements substantially. 

“One of the most significant potential improvements that could be seen for vulnerable players (outside of the UK and Swedish markets) would be for regulators to insist that where a player self-excludes with an online operator, that the self-exclusion is then automatically enforced at all properties on the license. 

“There is no good reason that a gambling company should be allowing known gambling addicts access to their services simply due to a change in url. The technology is available today to take reasonable measures to prevent this and there is no good reason not to engage it.”

This is a question of balance”

VIP schemes have found themselves under the microscope as scrutiny grows, with the UK Gambling Commission launching a consultation on VIP customers last month, which seeks to consider the proposed changes to the rules that operators must abide by when transacting with high value customers

“This is a question of balance,” Garvie begins when offering his take. “Every service industry has preferred customer schemes intended to encourage particularly valuable customers to come back to them rather than move to a competing service.

“The flip side to this is that it is unquestionable that for many of those people who ultimately experience addiction issues with gambling, VIP programs have played a roll in the escalation of their problem by incentivising them to engage with gambling beyond a point that was healthy or reasonable for them. In my opinion these factors both have to be taken into consideration when considering this subject.

“Telling a business that it cannot incentivise good customers is a restriction that is likely to be detrimental to many consumers who are not at risk. You are seeing this in some markets restricting promotions – massive rises in the popularity of unlicensed rogue operators who offer bonuses that their licensed counterparts cannot and take no interests in the welfare of players. 

“But allowing these incentives to be offered without consideration for the potential consequences is to absolve the business of any duty of care to potentially vulnerable people. Finding the line between over-regulation that will drive large sections of the population to the black market and ensuring that operators use promotional incentives in a responsible fashion is a challenge I personally do not envy any regulatory authority.”

“…The incentives being offered in VIP schemes are obviously something that players want”

Before concluding by looking at what actions would be recommended regarding such schemes, are additional measures necessary or would an outright ban be the way forward?

“Trying to balance protecting vulnerable people against freedoms, it would seem to me that an outright ban asserts that everyone classified as a ‘VIP’ should automatically be presumed to have addiction issues, or that they will have if they are offered promotional incentives to play,” he says.

“That doesn’t seem reasonable and the incentives being offered in VIP schemes are obviously something that players want, otherwise there would be no demand for them.

“That said, where an operator is going to offer incentives to encourage gambling it certainly seems appropriate that the expectations on the operator to monitor account activity and ensure that play is affordable to the ‘VIP’ should significantly increase. 

“This would likely mean that VIP programs are scaled back (limited to fewer players) as there would be a greater monitoring workload for the operator and that ‘VIP’ categorised players would be subjected to more invasive affordability checks.

“In the above manner, VIP incentives could still be offered but in a more controlled fashion that looked to ensure that problematic responses to any incentives being offered were more quickly identified and acted on.”