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A very British race to the bottom

| By Jon Bruford | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The unedifying tale of a Tory MP taking cash for questions highlights how low the gambling industry’s perception stands in the UK, writes Jon Bruford.
Race to the bottom gambling

I read a story recently that shocked me to my very core – shocked me, I tell you. 

A British politician has been suspended following a standards committee report accusing the minister of corruption. Blackpool MP Scott Benton earned his suspension after two journalists posed as gambling industry investors and he agreed to pose questions in parliament for the industry.

That in itself isn’t illegal, it’s that he agreed to do it for cash money. Not even a lot, he seems to have been a bit of a bargain at £4,000 a month. If the reporting on this does nothing else, it at least establishes a price list for MP services. The industry should certainly take note of that, at least.

I know, it sounds crazy – a Conservative politician, corrupt in the UK? It beggars belief.

Sarcasm, lowest form of wit, et cetera. But what can you say about the ruling body that hasn’t been said before? What bothers me with this one though, is that our industry was used to make poor behaviour look even worse.

“The moustache-twirling villain”

When did we become the excrement used to smear a character? When – and how? – did we become the device used to show how low someone’s character is? 

We’ve basically become the moustache-twirling silent movie villain. Tying the innocent public to train tracks while cackling and rubbing our hands together in glee.

I’ve joked on more than one occasion that when in a social situation, I tend to tell people I work in banking or real estate, rather than the gambling industry. 

I don’t actually do that. I just think it’s funny to suggest those particular fields are in some way nobler than our area of industry. But the joke seems to have become reality. The only bonus here is that I’m already prepared for those social situations, I’ve got the tools to hand.

Do we deserve this status?

Mostly, obviously not. But there can be a colossal disconnect between what we say and what we do. Not always, of course; there are great people in our industry, innovators and thinkers, people doing solid work everywhere. 

Conversely, there are also businesses talking about how incredibly important responsible gambling is in their active markets. They don’t use it in their grey market ventures however. Businesses that only apply the standards when it suits them, who spin a nice line in bullshit. That’s their prerogative, of course – but it makes a really easy target for our critics.

All for one, one for all

Some businesses go a step further and don’t just give our critics the ammunition. They also load the gun, give it a nice polish, hand it to them, and paint a nice circle on their back in luminous paint. This is while standing just a few feet away so they can’t possibly miss.

And that’s what’s happened with the handy guide prepared by 1XBet. It shows sports fans how to place bets in countries where the practice is illegal, or where it doesn’t have a licence. 

The company had its fair share of controversy (for example, another newspaper investigation in the UK saw it pushed out the UK in 2019 after it was found to be “promoting a Pornhub casino”, among other charges). I don’t think its guide is a huge surprise to most of the industry; it’s in line with an awful lot of content out there by the less-salubrious affiliates working the grey markets. 

The problem for us is, we all then get tarred with that exact brush. We become newspaper fodder. It doesn’t matter what good we can do in the world, it doesn’t matter the things we do that nobody sees, that go unreported. We are held to the lowest standards possible, because that’s how we are perceived by the media and, consequently, by the public. 

As far as the media goes, it’s just about how we can go lower. That’s their only interest.

Make the horror stories history

And what can we do about that? The only thing we can truly influence is what we do with our own businesses, our own teams, the cultures we propagate and the standards we hold ourselves to. 

Nobody’s perfect, but like I always say to my kids: if you’re in a situation where there is a choice between being a berk and not being a berk, always choose to not be a berk.

If we want to grow the industry, cleaning up that perception would be a stunning first step. Be active, begin the difficult conversations. Show what we do, how we fund research and support for those with problems. How we are developing software and tools to detect issues early, supporting research. Promote the great minds working to improve things, elevate them and make those voices heard. 

Hold ourselves to higher standards so the bad actors are shown to be exactly that – an outlier and not the norm. We can, and do, do great things in the world. It would be nice if someone chose to shout about that for a change, but to achieve that we have to make the horror stories history.

I think we should start doing that in 2024. WHO’S WITH ME???

Jon Bruford headshot

Jon Bruford has been working in the gambling industry for over 17 years, formerly as managing editor of Casino International and presently as publishing director at The Gaming Boardroom, with Kate Chambers and Greg Saint. He owns a large dog with a sensitive stomach and spends his free time learning about stain removal.

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