“Commitment to responsible gambling is ultimately about company culture,” states Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, as he examines a number of key issues amid the ongoing Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Now in its nineteenth year, the 2021 iteration sees the Washington DC-based non-profit target a pair of goals, those being an increase in the public awareness of problem gambling and encouraging healthcare providers to screen clients for gambling problems.

The initiative takes place during the month of March Madness, an annual NCAA basketball tournament that sees over $8bn wagered on its games and which forms the backdrop that the NCPG, and its partners across the country, aim to leverage to help raise awareness and create action for those suffering from gambling problems.

To begin the conversation, Whyte kicks things off by elaborating on the theme of PGAM 2021, as well as ongoing hopes of achievement: “The theme of Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) is Awareness + Action. The theme reflects our goal to 1) raise public awareness of problem gambling and 2) to encourage healthcare providers to screen for gambling problems. 

The heart of the campaign is a grassroots effort”

“While we have made great strides over the years in public awareness, many Americans still view problem gambling as a moral weakness, not a medical issue. And many doctors or other health professionals do not ask even their high-risk patients about their gambling, which allows many addicts to hide their problems.”

Before moving on to delve a little deeper into some of the initiatives that will be taking place throughout the month, as well as who has signed up to participate: “The heart of the campaign is a grassroots effort, so we provide the theme and free materials for individuals and organizations across the country to use or adapt as they see fit. 

“There are conferences, public service announcements, twitter chats, governor’s proclamations and legislative resolutions and additional awareness and screening efforts. Participants range from commercial casino companies to recovering gamblers, academic researchers to regulators.”

As numerous industry incumbents documents their own campaigns in alignment with PGAM, one key takeaway from responsible gaming efforts on a global scale is that of ensuring that the message continues to be spread all year round, and not just for one predetermined period of time. 

“Commitment to responsible gambling is ultimately about company culture,” he continues. “It starts with commitment from senior executives, developing a comprehensive plan with measurable targets, dedicating personnel and budgets to achieve those goals, and including those outcomes in the performance evaluations of leadership and employees. 

Ironically some of the most controversial gambling issues in the UK … are the very areas our leagues and sportsbook operators are pushing forward the hardest”

“We don’t remind companies about PGAM. If they have a culture of social responsibility they already live it year around.”

With this in mind, Whyte continues by touching upon how much onus he believes falls on operators, as well as customers themselves, regarding issues such as problem gambling and corporate social responsibility.

“While the individual gambler has the primary responsibility for their behaviour, the industry has a significant role to play in how they provide gambling,” it is added. 

“They can lean in to responsible gambling and cultivate positive and long term relationships. Or they can exploit gamblers to squeeze as much short term profit from a player until they burn out. The more data the industry collects on their players the greater obligation they have to use it responsibly.”  

To conclude, glances are taken elsewhere, in particular to a number of jurisdictions, the UK for example, where the industry’s relationship with sport is under the microscope. In a culmination to the discussion, Whyte picks up on what lessons can be drawn from this that the US can very much learn from. 

“One lesson is that the public has a passion for sports, but if they perceive gambling industry involvement compromises the game they love, the backlash can be significant,” he notes.

“Ironically some of the most controversial gambling issues in the UK—use of credit cards for online gambling; gambling sponsorships of leagues and teams; advertising during the game and particularly for in-play betting—are the very areas our leagues and sportsbook operators are pushing forward the hardest.”