The development of responsible gambling initiatives has grown in prominence in recent years, as European regulators overall their countries’ gaming legislation, and in the US more and more states are beginning to open their markets to legalised betting.

In the latest episode of the Double Espresso Show, Rasmus Sojmark, CEO and Founder of SBC, spoke to three experienced gambling industry figures to discuss the importance of responsible gambling and sustainability initiatives, analysing what has been done so far and what the objectives should be for the development of a future strategy.

In his introduction to the episode, Sojmark highlighted the importance for the sector to understand responsible gambling, stating: “To work for responsible entertainment, there needs to be a fundamental understanding of safer gambling problem gambling and player protection.

“We already consider ourselves an entertainment industry, like many other industries, but we cannot really use the word ‘responsible’ if we ignore the inherent problems that gambling is causing to some people.”

The first interview of the day was with Martin Lycka, Senior Vice President of US Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling for the Entain Group, who outlined his company’s approach to responsible gambling and the development of these policies in the burgeoning US markets.

Lycka argued: “The industry has already gone a long way – we are in a completely different position than we would have been even three or four years ago, and ultimately that success will be measured by what you’ve just alluded to are the long term sustainability of this industry. 

“And to my mind what’s crucial in that regard is the fact that our industry allows 98-99% of our customers that can and know how to gamble sensibly and responsibly to enjoy themselves, whilst catering for those who are not in that position.”

Moving on to the sustainability and responsibility of the American market, Lycka added: “In my view, the US has a true opportunity to become the front runner when it comes to responsible gambling measures.”

“In an ideal world it would be working as two way traffic. Clearly there are lessons to be learned from what the industry has been through in the UK as well as in Europe, and at the same time we are all in particular – the operators that if you will just landed on the American shores – we’re also learning the American way.”

Additionally, Lycka further elaborated on the need for authorities and licensed operators to clamp down on the black market, arguing that this is a ‘logical commitment’ and a ‘no brainer’.

The SVP also stated his belief that operators should also ‘go beyond the letter of the law’ and ensure their approach to responsible gaming is ‘going beyond the individual compliance requirements’ in order to achieve self-regulation. 

Finally, betting companies should focus on educational initiatives, by means of gathering data on customers and ‘putting it to the right use’ in order to better protect bettors.

The next guest was Paul Buck, CEO and Founder of Epic Risk Management, one of the leading companies in the development of player protection and safer gambling policies.

Beginning the interview, Buck was asked about how problem gambling is measured, to which he replied that the issue is incredibly complex, making it difficult to effectively measure the extent of gambling related harm.

“I think you have to measure it by how many people are suffering direct or indirect gambling related harm,” he began. 

“The truth is we don’t really have any comprehensive prevalence surveys, either in the UK, or anywhere in Europe. So the reality is that we probably don’t know how to really measure the levels of problem gambling.”

However, similarly to Lycka, Buck stated that he does believe that operators are ‘on the right track’ with regards to combating problem gambling and bolstering player safeguarding. 

“I think there is still more work to do, but (the industry) is definitely on the right track with many of the operators, and things like the Gambling Act review in the UK, the new regulations in the Netherlands – these are kind of things that are bringing gambling into the  digital age, but ultimately the goal must be that we get $0 or £0 from people who are suffering gambling problems.”

Moving on to the development of player safeguarding and safer gambling policies in the US, Buck remarked: “It is very difficult to compare the US with the UK because they’re completely different markets for the simple reason that in the UK you’ve got one country with one regulator, and one set of rules. 

“It’s not perfect but it should be relatively simple, what you’ve got in the US is obviously you are going to have 50 different states with potentially 50 different sets of rules, and it’s a much more complex landscape. So for me, if the 50 states have different rules, and everybody does a different thing it’s going to be chaos.”

Buck also identified the states of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey as ‘standard bearers’ for responsible gamlbing in the US, stating: “They lead the way by having dedicated responsible gambling resources from the staff of the Gambling Commission in those states. 

“They oversee projects, and in Massachusetts’ case they also commissioned research agendas with local universities, as did New Jersey, and they’re also looking at the prevalence of problem gambling in their state.”

Continuing to focus on the development of responsible gambing initiatives in the US, Buck argued that action must be taken now whilst the US sector is still a ‘bank canvas,’ and not later as gambling related harm could become a ‘much bigger problem’.

He added: “Whereas if you do it now and the whole gambling ecosystem works together collaboratively across adverts and offers and education and research and things like that then they’re (the operators) getting ahead of the game.”

Finally, Sojmark spoke to Liv Biesemans, Group Deputy General Counsel, Kindred Group, who shared Lycka and Buck’s positive views on the ‘important strides’ made by the betting and gaming industry with regards to player protection and addressing gambling related harm.

“I do think the industry has made important strides in recent years, not in the least in terms of having that mindset shift, which was extremely important. And there’s now a clear understanding and awareness that consumer protection is the only way to achieve sustainability in our sector.”

Discussing Kindred’s achievements regarding sustainability and responsible gambling, Biesemans pointed to the company’s commitment to generating 0% of revenue from harmful related gambling, as well as a devotion to ‘creating long term sustainability by providing our customers with a safe and secure and most of all entertaining online experience’.

In order to achieve this goal, Kindred has adopted a classification system for customers as well as a ‘widely used scientific model,’ which Biesemans went into further detail on.

She commented: “We use the same approach because we don’t believe in ‘one size fits all’, it’s really that every customer is different. And so we classify our customer database as well from no risk, to low risk gamblers to pathological gamblers.

“I think it’s really important to underline that 85% of our revenue comes from the no risk to low risk gamblers. So the majority of our customers do not have an issue with the service, and they can play online and they enjoy the product and the services that we offer.”

Discussing approaches to responsible gambling in the US, as the market continues to grow and mature, the Kindred Group Counsel said: “We strongly believe in an approach that is fact based, and behavioural-less. We need to look at what the customer is actually doing.

One thing that we’ve learned from Europe is that we see a standard limit that applies to the entire customer database – there’s no scientific support that this will actually tackle problem gambling. 

The question that we should be asking ourselves is ‘what is this individual customer actually doing on our platform?’ And ‘how can we support him considering his financial means and his support system? 

“So that fact based decision making has been lacking in Europe for many years, we see a change now, when there’s a problem that actually needs to be solved, we see a stronger focus on affordability checks, source of income checks.”

This approach, she argued, has been primarily driven by a combination of anti-money laundering (AML) legislation, but also an increased focus on responsible gambling, of ‘knowing from day one’ what a customer spends and what they’re budget is, in order to ‘avoid any issues down the line’.

Finishing her statements, Bieseman’s remarked: “I’m very hopeful that we’ll see some really interesting collaborations in the US, with operators with those technologies, digital solutions. Hopefully within the regulatory framework that exists, we can make that work because I do think that there’s a huge potential in that for the US customer.”

Finishing this episode of the Double Espresso Show, In his concluding remarks Sojmark noted: “I would say that we can easily pick this up again, because there’s many more key topics and issues we can discuss around this very topic because It’s so wide and it’s so important in the industry to get everything right – in Europe in the US, even in other places in the world – to create this responsible industry, which I think we’re always striving forward especially as I could understand from my guests in the studio today.”

Double Espresso Show Episode 2: ‘The goal must be that we get 0% revenue from problem gamblers’