Has igaming reached a fork in the road?

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Entain’s chief governance officer Robert Hoskin believes that the industry has two possible futures: harsh regulation or innovative technology-led solutions, including those from his own company. Can those solutions be accepted by governments and regulators?
Fork in the road

In introducing Entain’s new Advance Responsibility and Care (ARC) technology – an AI-powered series of tools designed to reduce gambling harm – at the Entain Sustain conference, the operator’s chief governance officer Robert Hoskin made a bold claim about the future of safer gambling.

“I believe we are at a major fork in the road in the future of gambling,” he said. “One route is poor regulation. It takes away the rights of people to do as they choose, it takes a heavy-handed approach to checks, limits and ultimately play.

“That route only offers more problems, driving players to the black market with insufficient player protection checks.

“The other route is ARC.”

There is no doubt that Entain believes its new solution, which offers a number of automated interventions for at-risk customers, including a forced “cooling-off” block if required, is a key tool in fighting gambling harm. It believes it can be more effective than rules imposed on the operator by any regulator.

But no operator can set out rules and regulations itself, regardless of how big it is. So do regulators, legislators and governments see a solution that comes from within the industry as a road to a sustainable future? In Hoskins’ view, they should.

“I do believe that solutions to certain problems that come from within the industry are going to be important,” he tells iGB. “Ultimately, those making decisions understand the consequences of poorly thought-out regulation, and they will want to take an approach that is effective in reducing harm.”

“If you look at France, there are serious limits on product availability. Or you can look at Sweden, where they’ve introduced a number of heavy-handed rules. Players in these countries have gone to black market websites instead where there are no protections. 

“We were involved in commissioning the report earlier this year from PricewaterhouseCoopers that found the black market is real and it is growing in the UK. This is the risk presented by heavy-handed regulation.”

Adults in the room

Right at the beginning of Hoskin’s keynote speech at Entain Sustain, he appeared set on rejecting the idea that gambling’s risks extend to a large number of customers.

Instead, he referenced recent Gambling Commission data which found that the percentage of problem gamblers declined to 0.3% in September 2021, while the total portion of people at risk was 2.9%.

“Most people, and by most I mean 99%-plus, derive harmless pleasure from betting,” he said in the speech. “They bet within their means, accept their winnings with joy and their losses with a rueful smile.

“And we know this for a fact.”

“However, these falling figures have not happened by themselves. We’ve been working tirelessly to ensure that we have a system in place that spots the signs of harm, intervenes with customers and stops customers on a harmful trajectory.”

But despite the reminder, Hoskin rejects the idea that the industry is not getting credit for its part in any reduction of gambling harm. Again he stresses that – where it counts – there are adults in the room who can see progress, thanks in part to the work of industry body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

“I believe the industry is getting credit where it matters,” he says. “The BGC has been a very important part of that, willing to showcase the industry’s achievements in raising standards and lowering harm.”

Point of pride

Ultimately, the ARC tool is a clear point of pride for Entain. Hoskin explains that in order to find a solution that worked, it consulted with a number of gambling experts, combining this with its own knowledge of how customers use Entain sites.

“It’s all based around these marker-of-protection models,” he says. “We’ve used Harvard’s division of addiction, their learnings. We’ve used the research and input from Professor Mark Griffiths in the UK, and we’ve also used lived experience, that input from the EPIC Risk Management brigade. 

“It’s based on the best research out there, it’s given a practical slant from EPIC risk management and then we’ve used our technology to guide customers through that and we will offer them a portfolio of safer gambling tools.”

While there may have been bumps along the way, he says that Entain was now confident that the tool was as effective as possible in lowering harm.

“There are always unintended consequences or new learnings when you roll something out,” he said. “With every single development there are always new things you need to learn and tweaks you need to make, so it’s a constantly evolving process. 

“We’ve done huge amounts of testing, developing and tailoring to get the maximum impact.”

But despite these efforts to position itself as a leader in reducing gambling harm, Entain, unlike some rivals in the space, has opted not to set a specific target for the elimination of all problem gambling with its brands. In Hoskin’s view, the main targets anyone in the industry should set need to be wider, with the entire industry working to reduce the overall rate of harmful gambling rather than restricting this thinking to an operator-by-operator approach.

“I think the focus needs to be that the level of problem gambling in the UK has gone down but we need to continue to bring that percentage down further and further and further, through innovation and using technology,” he says.

As Entain and the rest of the industry face a pivotal year ahead in terms of regulation, it will have to hope that innovation and technology – rather than hard-and-fast rules – will be the route they are permitted to take.

Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

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