Sarah Harrison takes parting shot at industry and ICE

Coinslot UK Gambling Commission Sarah Harrison
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Departing Gambling Commission CEO Sarah Harrison delivered a speech titled “Is Responsible Gambling Enough?” at the the World Regulatory Briefing and International Casino Conference, sending a message to the gambling industry regarding its treatment of women, its funding for GambleAware, and its social responsibility measures.


This came only a day before the world’s largest gaming show, ICE, with Harrison explaining that while she did not want to be seen as “taking a head-teacherly tone”, what else did operators expect “when the nature of debate between different parts of the industry is often no better than what you might find in the playground”.

Speaking specifically about ICE, Harrison criticised the industry’s approach to the show, saying that a stroll around the exhibition floor revealed “men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits”.

She added that its treatment of women is “a significant stain on this industry’s reputation”, issuing the ultimatum that “future participation by the Gambling Commission in events like this will depend on there being change”.

However, as this was said before the start of ICE 2018, the Commission’s CEO may have jumped the gun – and fired her very own blunderbuss. Indeed in 2016, before 2017’s Hollywood scandal, Clarion Events added the following passage to their exhibitor’s manual: “Clarion Events, organisers of ICE Totally Gaming, are committed to ensuring a respectful representation of all sexes at the show.

“In the spirit of the 21st century when both men and women play strategic and decision-making roles in businesses, we encourage all our exhibitors to be mindful of how their support staff, promoting their products at the show, is represented to avoid any offense and stereotyping.”

The organisers are looking to drive a deep and long standing cultural change at the event, with Clarion Event’s head of content Ewa Bakun explaining in 2016 the company’s tactful yet meaningful approach.

“While personally I think we can effect change through regulations, this is perhaps not the route we advocate for the show,” said Bakun.

“While we don’t want to act as moral police and enforce strict dress code rules for support staff, we can make recommendations (like the one above), expose various points of view, encourage different approaches and applaud positive, more progressive examples.”

With over 50 different countries and cultures represented in London’s Excel during ICE, this careful approach by Clarion Events is one that considers, rather than commands, taking into account cultural relativism to achieve lasting change without resentment. Where Harrison has stepped in – in the 11th hour – with her chainsaw, the Clarion Events team have been working for two years with a chisel, slowly but surely changing the outdated habits of the industry.

Moving onto less controversial industry issues,the Commission’s CEO also expressed concern that Gamble Aware once again fell short of its financial targets last year, with Harrison stating she has “little confidence that, without further intervention, the industry will voluntarily provide the resourcing that is needed” to fund harm prevention measures.

Noting that the government already has the power to impose a statutory levy on the gaming industry, Harrison suggested this “a fair and credible way of addressing some of the weaknesses in the current voluntary arrangements”.

Further criticism from the Commission came regarding consumer protections, with Harrison scolding the industry for having “either taken your eye off the ball or have willfully ignored what is expected of your businesses”.

While acknowledging that the most powerful driver for change in any industry should be the consumer, not the regulator, Harrison said the average consumer holds “a disproportionate share of the risk and tends not to have much access to information and data about their own pattern of play”.

Henceforth, she continued, the Commission intends to “promote much greater transparency by putting independent and trusted information into the public domain,” such as the risks of particular products, treatment of customer funds and the level of complaints. She outlined that creating the equivalent of a Tripadvisor for the gaming industry will allow consumers to differentiate operators based on criteria beyond price and brand.

Closing her speech, Harrison detailed several “big, bold gestures” she wants to see from the industry, including a common framework for identifying and acting upon harmful play at an early stage; a single independent ombudsman scheme to handle customer complaints; a rethink of the business model that relies on a few high-spending consumers; and bringing an end to the “normalisation” of gambling for young people, including curbs on social media advertising and taking a “hard look” at football-based marketing.

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