GVC Holdings chief executive Kenny Alexander hit back at the All-Party Parliamentary Group that accused him of “cowardly behaviour” and their recommendation of a £2 stake limit on online casino games, a suggestion he labelled “ridiculous”.
He also warned that should its recommendations be adopted, the UK could see an epidemic of problem gambling, with consumers pushed to playing via unscrupulous, offshore operators.
On 4 November, the UK's Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (GRH APPG) suggested a £2 limit on online slot-machine style games, following a six-month inquiry. The limit woulld be in line with the fixed-odds betting terminal (FOBT) limit that came into effect earlier this year.
While the APPG said the disparity between online and retail stakes was indefensible, Alexander said the two types of game were vastly different in terms of player protection.
“They said that because it’s £2 in slots, it must be £2 in online casino, but that’s like comparing apples and pears,” Alexander said in his keynote speech at Clear Concise Media's Reputation Matters event at the Soho Hotel in London on 7 November. “It’s completely and utterly ridiculous.
“We did definitely need the stake limit on FOBTs to come down,” he continued. “It didn’t need to go all the way down to £2, but it did and so be it. But to compare FOBTs and online casinos is completely false.”
Alexander said that, where it’s difficult to monitor FOBT players, it is much easier to recognise a potential problem gambler online.
“We – not just GVC but all licensed operators – have controls, techniques, mechanisms for complete visibility of our players that for FOBTs you could never have,” Alexander said. “You could go and play a FOBT, lose £100, then go down to the shop down the road and play another one and another one. It was very hard to control it, it had to be brought under control and now it has been done.”
“Online, though, we have so much more transparency. We can step in, we can monitor players’ behaviour and if it’s becoming problematic then we can step in.”
Alexander added that another difference between online gambling and FOBTs was the presence of a black market. The GVC chief executive said he believed a stake limit would only drive gamblers to play at unlicensed websites with no such regulations.
“The other difference is that there is no underground black market for FOBTs,” Alexander said. “They don’t exist. But if they put a £2 limit on online casinos, the day after that, virtually the same amount of people who used to stake more than £2 will go to the black market. They’ll play at sites in Costa Rica, they’ll play at sites in curacao, they’ll play at sites that may not be licensed anywhere. These sites will not be paying taxes – and GVC is the 20th-highest taxpayer in the UK – they will have no interest in responsible gaming, no interest in protecting the player.
“This epidemic of problem gambling in the UK, I don’t necessarily think there is an epidemic right now, but there will be one if they continue down this route because players will play at offshore, illegal sites. And there’ll be a reduction in taxes and more job losses. This reduced stake is flawed, does nothing to prevent problem gambling and is only going to make it worse.”
Alexander also said he was worried about the future precedent that could be set by limiting the stake on online games, with the potential for similar reasoning being used to introduce stake limits on other types of gambling.
“And where does it stop?” Alexander asked. “If you’re going to say that you have the £2 limit on FOBTs so now you have to have the limit on online casino, what are we going to do next? Are we going to put a £2 limit on the land-based casinos? Are we going to say you can’t spend more than £2 at the Palm Beach or the Hippodrome? Then what? Do we say you can only have £5 on the football, £3 on the greyhounds?”
When it released its report, the APPG said it was “appalled at the cowardly behaviour” of Alexander, who did not appear before MPs or send a GVC representative. However, Alexander said that he wished to take any criticism himself and did not want anybody else at GVC to be criticised on his behalf.
“I have many weaknesses, but I can tell you that I am no coward,” Alexander said. “I had a board meeting that had been in my diary for a whole year. It was in the Isle of Man, so I couldn’t go. I can also tell you that not a single listed CEO turned up.”
“I also knew that it would be lively, it would be a bear pit, punches would be thrown. And if punches are going to be thrown, then I will take it. I’m the CEO and I will take it on the chin. I’m not sending other people and putting them into that position. If I have to take difficult questions, I will take them. I have written to the chairman of the APPG group and I will happily meet her at any time.”
While Alexander was critical of the APPG report, he said he believed the future of the industry still looked positive.
“I think sense will prevail,” Alexander said. “I think we’re on the right path. I think the industry has a very, very bright future and we’ll come out on the other end in very decent shape.”