Social responsibility: Tim Miller urges ‘clear and coherent commitment’

Social responsibility: Tim Miller urges ‘clear and coherent commitment’

Thursday, September 14, 2017 Posted by James Walker
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On September 12, European gambling industry delegates gathered at London’s OXO2 Tower for the World Regulatory Briefing.

During the event, Tim Miller, executive director for the UK Gambling Commission, pulled focus on social responsibility and reiterated the need for “clear and coherent commitment” from operators to reduce gambling-related harm.

“Alexander Pope once said: ‘Blessed is he who has no expectations, for he will never be disappointed’. The reality is that we all have expectations – as individuals and as a society. And we are all on the receiving end of people’s expectations.

As a public body, we face clear expectations from government and Parliament, from those we regulate and from the public. And as businesses, you face expectations from shareholders, from customers and from society.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of recognising that society’s expectations of an industry often go beyond those imposed by law or regulation. That, in effect, there is a social contract that sets the ground rules within which an industry can operate. The challenge is understanding what those expectations are of your industry and then acting to meet, or perhaps even exceed, them.

It’s fair to say that at the moment we don’t have a clear enough picture of the behaviours and attitudes of gambling consumers. This is an area where much greater work will be needed over the coming months and years.

However, there is some research that might at least give a flavour of what consumers think. At the Gambling Commission, we carry out regular research, not just into levels of participation but also into public attitudes toward gambling.

Our research provides an important insight into what the public are thinking. Last year over two thirds of people agreed that they should have the right to gamble whenever they wanted, perhaps suggesting that gambling’s place in society is assured… for now.

However, in the same survey we saw that 69% of people felt that gambling was dangerous for family life and nearly eight in every 10 thought that there were too many opportunities to gamble.

Recent research carried out by Populus also confirms the challenges that the gambling industry have in meeting society’s expectations. Both the public and members of Parliament were asked for their views about a range of regulated industries.

For both groups, gambling came out as the least trusted. They were then asked whether those industries need more or less regulation. Gambling was the only industry where people and their elected representatives were united in their views – with a majority favouring more regulation.

So where does this leave us? Taken together we find that there is still widespread support for the existence of gambling as a leisure activity but significant concerns about the way it is being offered. In a nutshell, society is happy for gambling to exist in Britain but is looking for it to be fairer and safer.

For me, responsible gambling is one element of a wider drive towards safer gambling. And if we don’t see the responsible gambling agenda within that wider context of harm reduction we risk not having the impact, the successes that we need to have.

Because too often discussions about ‘responsible gambling’ actually end up becoming discussions about ‘responsible gamblers’. Many of the initiatives that aim to promote responsible gambling require the gambler themselves to acknowledge that their activities are a problem and to act to protect themselves.

Developments like multi-operator self-exclusion schemes – which are seeing greater awareness and take up from consumers – do little to make the product itself safer. We seem, too often, to be seeking to mitigate the harms that arise from gambling and not thinking enough about how we can stop those harms from happening in the first place.

We’re getting better at thinking about the responsible consumption of gambling but see little discussion or progress in the responsible supply of gambling. Put simply, the focus of much activity is too late.

Limiting our ambitions to simply make gambling more responsible will not be sufficient to tackle the wider harms that society faces. Only with a clear and coherent commitment to reduce gambling-related harm, to make gambling safer, will we address this wider impact.

As a teaser to this speech I did a short interview with TotallyGaming.com. I was asked how we achieve the balance between social responsibility and competitiveness. I have to say that I struggled to answer at first because I’ve never really considered the two as mutually exclusive.

It simply cannot be the case that we face a binary choice of that nature. To, in effect, argue that responsible businesses won’t survive, whilst those who ignore their obligations will thrive.”

Totally Gaming says: As Miller reaches the end of his first year working with the industry, he reflected back on the many people he has met who were “genuinely committed” to making gambling a safer activity. While he noted that achieving this aim is difficult, he said society will only truly trust the gambling sector when its proponents address the important issue of social responsibility in a thorough and whole-hearted manner.

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