By Andy McLellan - 9th November 2012
While for most people gambling is fun and under control, for some it ruins lives
With the increasing availability of online gambling products, protecting vulnerable groups is more important than ever, warns Andy McLellan.
Gambling in Great Britain is on a roll. Some 73 per cent of adults had gambled at some time in the previous year, according to our last prevalence study in 2010. While the latest statistics show that 12.4 per cent of adults had gambled online in the last four weeks – up from 7.2 per cent in 2006.
At GamCare, we provide advice and help to people affected by gambling – gamblers, their partners, their sons and daughters. While for most people gambling is fun and under control, for some it ruins lives. Our HelpLine answers 100 calls a day and our counsellors treated over 2700 people in 2011-2012, many of whom were desperate when they contacted us.
Problem gamblers rarely gamble on a single gambling activity. Their gambling behaviour may encompass betting, machine-play and casino games, and all of these may be conducted online and in gambling venues. They may spend some time in the casino or the betting shop, they keep gambling on your phone on the train home, then they log in for a poker session – and maybe play some online slots at the same time. Around one third of our gambling callers in 2011-2012 gambled online – one half of women callers and one third of men. While the figure for men was little changed from the previous year, this represented an increase of around seven per cent for female callers.
The increasing availability of gambling products – on high streets, on mobile phones, on television, online – means that measures to protect players, to protect vulnerable groups and to help those in trouble, are more important now than ever.
In 2005, the British government legislated to provide a regulatory framework for online gambling. But as most UK citizens gamble on sites licensed in other jurisdictions, though they are probably unaware of this, this framework can only give consumers very partial reassurance. The recent EU action plan has a laudable focus on consumer protection – but we all know that such plans take a long, long time to have a tangible effect for citizens.
In the UK, we have pioneered a GamCare quality certification kitemark for online gambling operators. We audit a site’s player protection policies and practices. We advise where improvements are needed and help to raise standards. When an operator reaches our standard they are awarded GamCare certification – external confirmation that they take player protection seriously, and they practice what they preach. The GamCare kite mark is increasingly being sought by players looking for reassurance about the safety of playing on the operator’s sites.
To support our certification, we also provide training and eLearning packages for industry staff. These have been taken up by some regulators, too. Gradually, many operators are realising that they need to reassure consumers about the safety of playing on-line – indeed, they realise that GamCare certification can help build a customer base.
Investing in good player protection makes sense for everyone.
Andy McLellan is chief executive of GamCare