Industry chiefs say gambling curbs need to strike right balance
Curbs on online gambling proposed by the Labour Party this week need to strike the right balance between protecting customers and allowing them freedom, William Hill chief executive Philip Bowcock said on Friday.
However, Bowcock added there was common ground between the industry and politicians over gambling policy, as did Sky Bet executive chairman Richard Flint who said operators should be prepared to embrace a "culture of limits".
The comments followed a speech on Thursday from Labour deputy leader Tom Watson in which he suggested the party could seek to impose restrictions on spending online if research suggested it was necessary.
Watson said checks on whether bettors could afford the sums they were staking were at times inadequate and there needed to be enhanced protection of customers from bookmakers.
Bowcock said the "devil was in the detail" but added: "People acknowledge that we need to do more. I think people acknowledge that things are being done and that more could be done. That needs to be to evidence-based. This is about looking at spend levels and understanding people's behaviour. One individual's £5 is another individual's £500.
"Therefore we need to find a balance between protection and freedom but if we have got the right data analytics in place we can identify those people whose behavioural patterns are either changing and/or are indicative of problem gambling."
Flint, speaking on BBC4's Today programme on Friday, said he thought much of what Watson said was correct.
He added: "The problem Tom identified is there are too many people losing money too quickly that they can’t afford online. We need to work together as an industry and with the government to limit that.
"To his credit he wasn’t too specific or too blanket [on spending proposals], and I agree that we do need a culture of limits in the online world. We need to be careful that we set those limits in the right way.
"I think the limits on spend, rather than stakes, is the right way to go and those limits should be based on affordability. But the principle, and what Tom’s trying to achieve, is the right way to go."
Flint said the experience bookmakers had been through in relation to the reduction in stakes on FOBTs, along with a better understanding of problem gambling, made them more receptive and eager to change.
He said: "There’s been a cultural change over the last couple of years after the experience of FOBTs and, to be frank, the combination of a better understanding of the issues and the threat of higher regulation and taxation has meant the bigger firms in the industry are up for this and have to handle the problem in a way we haven’t in the past."
The impact of more rigorous checks on whether customers could afford the amounts they were spending would likely lead to a drop off in revenue, Flint admitted, although he added the reduction was likely to come from the sort of people the bookmakers should be seeking to help.
"There will be some online firms in the short term that would make less money as a consequence of that as spend won’t happen but then some of that spend shouldn’t happen anyway," he added.
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