Comment: More women in suits doesn’t mean less women in bikinis

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In an excerpt from his Regulus Partners blog post “Time to discriminate as blanket criticism offers little comfort”, analysts Dan Waugh expresses concern that the Gambling Commission may be losing the trust of companies in the industry.


The use of promo girls has been a feature of ICE ever since I have been attending and – I am told – is a characteristic of some other expos too.

A quick search on Google produces examples from the automotive trade, technology companies, brewers and distillers, energy drink producers, bankers and yes  – even newspaper publishers.

Based upon interviews captured in the Guardian, it appears that some of the hostesses at ICE experienced unwanted advances (innuendo and touching) from (presumably) male delegates.

This is unacceptable. In addition, some attendees (principally but not exclusively women) may be offended by it all and their feelings warrant consideration.

However, while tacky and tawdry, it is not (yet) illegal and it has little to do with our gambling laws.

It is also hardly the fault of Britain’s gambling CEOs who were censured for it in the press. ICE is an international trade fair where the vast majority of exhibitors are non-British companies; many are not even licensed by the Gambling Commission.

As Marina Hyde wondered in her Guardian column, given the number of regulatory issues facing gambling,perhaps the use of hostesses at ICE “should be a little further down the Gambling Commission’s list of give-a-tosses.”

The swimsuit issue is just a part of the story. Distaste at the use of promo girls appears to be the start of a narrative that links seamlessly to issues of gender diversity (the scarcity of women in boardroom positions in gambling) and problem gambling. It goes something like this: “If more women were wearing suits instead of bikinis then companies would care more about harm”.

I am not sure that I buy this – for a start if most of the companies that employed girls in swimsuits and body paint at ICE are not British then the cultural link to our boardrooms is hard to trace.

However, what I think is beside the point. If there is robust evidence to support these claims then something should be done. I am just not aware that any compelling evidence has been produced.

Instead, it seems to me, correlation has been painted as causation.

Last year, Kate Lampard, the chair of GambleAware suggested that one of the reasons that problem gambling was not being addressed properly was the male dominance of gambling company boardrooms. She went on to relate how, shortly after her appointment she had been subject to a hostile reception from male members of gambling’s senior management.

This should not be trivialized – Ms Lampard deserves both our sympathy and our admiration; those who attacked her ought to be ashamed – but only those who attacked her.

To paint male gambling executives en masse as misogynist dinosaurs simply because a number of them may be is to employ gender stereotypes for the purpose of denigration – and there is nothing admirable about that.

As a man, I am ready to admit that many women have me beat for sensitivity and brains; but the idea that greater gender diversity in boardrooms will lead to a more caring industry is too simplistic.

I have worked with some wonderful, brilliant women in my career but I have also come across some fairly cynical individuals – and have formed the view that empathy and decency are not gender-specific in this game.

We need to understand – using credible research – why it is that more women are not represented in gambling’s C-suite. How much is choice and how much bias? If we don’t understand the nature of the problem, we risk arriving at poor solutions, making wrongful accusations and damaging trust.

I believe the Gambling Commission when it claims that trust in gambling companies is in decline. It is difficult to argue against the fact that some operators have managed risk in this area with reckless abandon.Many of the leading companies are at least now trying to address this.

What concerns me is that the regulatory Establishment (DCMS, the Gambling Commission and GambleAware) may be losing the trust of gambling companies. The generalized attacks on the industry for individual failings; the dislocation between the LCCP and informal threats; the misleading statements, unsubstantiated claims and sensation-seeking all risk poisoning the relationship.

Amongst the consequences of this may be (to echo Sarah Harrison) “a shameful waste of energy”.

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