1on1: John Hagan on tackling problem gambling together
1on1: John Hagan on tackling problem gambling together
John Hagan, gambling law expert from Harris Hagan and Chairman of the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), talks about the strides being made across the industry in this important area. Formed in 2014, the IGRG represents around 640 operators and 8,500 licensed premises in the UK and was the first industry initiative to bring the disparate elements of the industry together, with one voice in the area of responsible gambling. As Hagan himself says, this is an achievement in itself and here he explains to TotallyGaming.com, his hopes for building on these first steps and helping the whole industry to state its case more clearly to the government and the public.
Totally Gaming: What are the objectives of the IGRG?
John Hagan: The IGRG’s mission is to provide a better structure to promote socially responsible gambling in all gambling sectors in the UK. Individual operators and their trade associations are already very active in this area and I have no doubt will continue to be so. The purpose of the IGRG is not to replicate these activities, but to identify and undertake pan-industry initiatives that will complement these activities. Both the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) have high expectations of the IGRG, which we will endeavour to meet but first and foremost, the IGRG was formed independently on the initiative of industry operators in recognition of their desire to make a demonstrable improvement to social responsibility in the gambling industry.
TG: What projects has the IGRG been working on this year?
JH: The IGRG has developed a signposting system to direct people to information about self-exclusion and how to access self-exclusion from the various types of retail and non-retail gambling activities. Have a look at the signpost website - ‘Opt-in to Self-Exclude’ - which has links to the various multi-operator self-exclusion schemes and includes additional helpful information for consumers. The IGRG has been promoting the website with treatment providers, outreach agencies and local authorities.
TG: What areas have you identified where you think the industry can make more of its responsible gambling efforts?
JH: From its inception, the IGRG commissioned a stock take of the existing social responsibility activities in each sector to understand what was currently happening and to identify potential areas in which the whole industry could contribute to and benefit from. And, I would add, there is a lot more happening from a responsible gambling perspective than the industry is ever given credit for. The IGRG has helped to draw all those strands together and to inform the RGSB as they measure the implementation of their strategy.
As a result of the stock take, the IGRG identified several key areas in which a pan-industry approach could deliver results. These evolved into four projects, designed to complement each other and produce coordinated results. Social Responsibility messaging and training were identified as a key area in which work was needed to improve the industry’s activities.
TG: Which areas of messaging are you talking about here?
JH: First there is general messaging. The aim is to generate, trial and evaluate the effectiveness of ideas for social responsibility messaging that have a positive impact on gamblers’ behaviour. ‘When the fun stops, stop’ is an example of general messaging. Then there is player messaging. The aim is to assess and make recommendations on ways to develop and improve the effectiveness of play information to all consumers, which is bespoke to an individual’s own gambling behaviour. Finally, there is product messaging. Here, the aim is to assess and make recommendations on ways to develop and improve the effectiveness of product information to all consumers.
TG: What other projects are the IGRG working on?
JH: Perhaps the most ambitious and challenging project is to produce standard industry training in social responsibility, followed by tool-building to allow for effective evaluation of the success of the training, not just in terms of staff understanding and deployment, but also in outcomes for those customers that have developed gambling-related problems or those who are at risk of doing so. It is well-trained staff in call centres, betting shops, arcades, casinos and bingo clubs who are best placed to identify and interact with problem and at-risk gamblers and I believe that this project can really make a difference.
TG: How vital is industry participation in all this work?
JH: The industry’s engagement and participation is critical to all four projects. This is what the IGRG brings to the party. Industry participation is vital to obtaining information on current activities, establishing a vision for the future, testing messaging options, developing outcomes that are practical and workable and, critically, implementing them. Successful industry participation is vital to ensure that the operators have ‘bought into’ the implementation of the outcomes.
TG: And how important is continued industry cooperation in this area?
JH: I am straying into personal views now, but I would like to see a lot more cooperation both within and across sectors. I am increasingly struck by the commonality of language of senior executives from all sectors when it comes to responsible gambling and the sincere desire to do better.
We are in a very different place to where we were, even a year or two ago. The issues have moved from the compliance and regulatory affairs departments to the boardrooms of the biggest gambling operators in all sectors, and that is where the brave leadership is going to come from to shape the future of the industry. This is leadership which will be deserving of support and recognition from the Gambling Commission.
In an industry which far too rarely speaks with one voice, the IGRG provides the opportunity to do so, to promote socially responsible gambling and to back up those words with practical, workable responsible gambling initiatives for the benefit of all industry stakeholders and consumers.
Totally Gaming: As Hagan says, cooperation is vital if the industry is to play its part effectively in minimising the risk posed by problem gambling. We know from bitter experience that factionalism can be fatal to hopes of a fair listening at the level of regulators and governments, so groups such as the IGRG play a critical role.