In it’s Winning Post blog last month, Regulus Partners’ Dan Waugh questioned how much licensees trust the Gambling Commission.
As those great sages of 1980s pop, Depeche Mode once sang, much in life boils down to a question of trust. The regulatory establishment issued a test of the gambling industry’s trust [last month] by putting operators on notice that requests for commercial data would expand substantially in the future. Information about play patterns is required to gain greater insights into harmful gambling – and to use these to inform prevention policies.
This is logical and in many respects is simply the extension of a well-trodden path. Over recent years, the British gambling market has provided a crucible for some world-leading research on gambling related harm – precisely because the industry has opened up to researchers. However,it also raises important questions of trust.
While the decline of public trust in the gambling industry is well- documented, there are signs that licensee trust in the regulatory establishment may also have weakened (possibly connected to an increase in fear – some may see this as a good thing, but it does not always achieve the ends intended). The occasional tendency to misinterpret or sensationalise research findings has not helped – and may need to be curbed if operators are expected to engage willingly with the call for data in a way that achieves positive results.
The decision to announce the data sharing requirement rather than asking licensees directly is also curious and may be symptomatic of a trust deficit (possibly sub-consciously, but further fuelling the risk of unintended consequences alluded to above). Given the calls in some quarters for industry to be frozen out of the process, there may also be some unease that research becomes something that is done to operators rather than something that they are part of – which a public rather than collaborative call for evidence is likely to fuel, in our view. The question of what might happen if data requests are refused is left hanging – but as we have seen in the area of RET funding, voluntary-compulsory arrangements create ambiguity and tend to be unhelpful.
As we have written previously, more scientific research and reporting of gambling-related harm is long overdue and regulatory drives in this direction are to be broadly welcomed in the name of sustainability. However, the absence of regulatory interest in the psychosocial benefits of gambling may raise concerns of policy imbalance. Licensees have a choice for how they respond to the call for data. We must hope that a positive response will be rewarded with greater inclusion in the future – and that this in turn contributes towards the much-needed restoration of trust across stakeholder groups.