Ralph Topping's Blog

Welcome words from Maria Miller

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There has been a lot of media speculation over the last 12 months regarding DCMS’s likely position on gaming machines in Retail betting shops.

In her opinion piece in the Sunday Times yesterday, the Secretary of State Maria Miller made her position very clear. She has been both constructive and helpful.

The technical changes to the ABB’s voluntary Code for gaming machines was launched on 1 March and will, I am sure, go a long way to answering some of the perennial questions around problem gambling. Strengthening the Code once we’ve had time to judge its effectiveness was always the industry’s intention.

I welcome the Gambling Commission’s consultation and firmly believe that the Code should be a mandatory requirement across the entire industry.

Before I cover a couple of points, it is important to dispel a myth that gaming machines have driven an increase in problem gambling – this is wrong on two fronts. Firstly, the experts say problem gamblers typically use six to seven different products. The issue is, therefore, about player ‘behaviour’ and it is not as some would have you believe product-centric. Secondly, the prevalence of problem gambling in the UK was always low by international standards and based upon the recent health survey in England it has reduced from 0.9% to 0.5%.

Therefore, as it is not product centric, I believe other sectors should also consider a similar Code-based approach as problem gamblers are not confined to the betting shop sector. They are of course to be found using National Lottery products and 16 year olds are allowed to gamble in premises where question marks exist in my mind about sufficient scrutiny.

In terms of advertising, the liberalisation brought about by the Gambling Act was always likely to produce a significant increase in gambling adverts. Again, I have no issue with reasonable restrictions on this front as I told investors and analysts on Friday. But thought needs to be given to context: according to recent Ofcom research, the advertising spots associated with gambling across all commercial TV channels have increased from 0.7% in 2006 to 4.1% in 2012. In terms of this analysis, 38.8% relate to Bingo, 29.6% Online casino and poker, 25.6% Lotteries and Scratch Cards and, only 6.6%, relate to sports betting. I have no issue in accommodating reasonable changes to the current voluntary Code and at William Hill we are happy to be involved in any dialogue in this regard.

Finally, self-exclusion is an extremely important subject but it is not one that is easily resolved; I am not aware of any industry or sector that operates a similar system in this regard. However, William Hill has rigorous Retail and Online self-exclusion processes which we are happy to review in line with the Secretary of State’s suggestions.

Maria Miller has made a number of pragmatic suggestions and she concluded by saying “The gambling industry is an important part of our economy but growth cannot be at any cost and this is about finding the right balance. I call upon the sector to put social responsibility at the heart of its business and ensure growth comes from customers who are fully in control of their gambling.” I agree and I will ensure that William Hill will lead the way on this and I am certain that the entire betting industry will adopt a considered and supportive approach.