When looking at implementing complex consumer advocacy measures, it is crucial that the voice of every consumer is heard according to Maarten Haijer, secretary general at European Gaming and Betting Association. 

Speaking on the ‘Customer Advocacy – Gambling’s Forgotten Discipline’ panel at the SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital, panellists discussed how calls have widened for the creation of an independent gambling ombudsman. 

However, discussion turned towards the effective representation of views in the face of a ‘vocal minority’ of gambling prohibitionists. Haijer pointed out that while there may be a vocal minority, the voices of every consumer must be taken into account – something which can often be quite difficult due to the lack of an ‘organised consumer voice’.

“First and foremost, I think it’s important to take the customer seriously, even if there is a minority of customers which have complaints or are unhappy with the way that the gambling industry behaves. Regardless of our own opinions, these are complaints that we seriously need to listen to,” he explained.

“Secondly, what I do think we suffer from as an industry is that the consumer is not organised. That is something that we noticed a long time ago, and it is pretty disappointing.

“We at EGBA have tried to have debates with European consumer organisations about gambling, but strangely when we tried to engage with such organisations on both a local and national level for us to be able to discuss issues relating to gambling from the consumer perspective, they shy away from the topic.

“The industry suffers from the fact that there is no organised consumer voice. Because of this, the people that are shouting the loudest are the ones being heard. We have tried to engage and alert consumer organisations, but this has not worked.”

Haijer was joined on the panel by Jenna Ekstrom, responsible gaming specialist at PAF, Jon Duffy, SVP for corporate assurance and regulatory affairs at Genting UK and Richard Hayler, managing director at IBAS. The discussion was moderated by Adam Bradford, co-founder of Safer Online Gambling.

Duffy explained that complex consumer advocacy processes should not be dictated by the ‘very vocal minority’ of prohibitionists, but rather through ‘healthy debate and evidence-led discussions’.

He said: “There is clearly a very vocal minority which would like to see extreme controls across the board. I certainly have no issue with them vocalising their opinions – I’ve actually learnt from what some of them have said, and on occasion, have implemented changes in my company based on their experience. That said, I don’t think a lot of what they say is needed nor wanted by the vast majority of gamblers.

“I like to think that my own views and those of organisations like the BGC achieve a balance of commerciality and care. However, working in the industry, I may be a little biased. The key, therefore, is healthy levels of debate and evidence-led decisions undertaken by those with the final say.”

When discussing the ways that consumer voices can be heard, panellists turned towards recent debates in the UK regarding the creation of a gambling ombudsman.

Duffy vehemently argued for the creation of an independent ombudsman, highlighting that the ‘current system is broken’.

“I think everyone would agree that the current system is broken. We’re dealing with a case right now, I believe that we’ve gone over and above to help this customer,” it was added.

“They disagree. IBAS is unable to deal with this case, so we’ve gone to the regulator – but we’ve heard nothing back. With cases that judge whether principle-based regulations are being broken, that – to me – feels like a job for the regulator. Clearly this is at odds with the ADR regulations. As such, we fully support the need for an independent ombudsman.”

In agreement, Ekstrom pointed out that the creation of a gambling ombudsman would be beneficial to the gambling industry on the condition that it represents the views of both the operator and consumer.

She noted: “I believe that having a gambling ombudsman is a good idea providing they serve the needs of both the operator and the consumer. As a gaming operator, it can often be quite difficult to find a balance when it comes to this. We have had players that have gambled via multiple operators, then return to us to claim their money back.

“Of course, if we do something wrong, I fully agree that the funds should be returned. But it’s really hard to determine the extent of our responsibility when it comes to helping the consumer.”