Interview with Rank Group’s Director of Public Affairs David Williams

"Safer gambling must no longer be allowed to exist in a compliance-oriented silo"

Reading time 4:05 min
David Williams tells Yogonet operators "must demonstrate a far more ambitious vision to embed safer gambling into the culture of our businesses by demonstrating faultless behaviour at every customer touchpoint." He believes some of the most eye-catching proposals to tackle problem gambling are unlikely to be a "panacea," but he welcomes the role of an Ombudsman, and securing appropriate levels of funding to support targeted RET services.

Ahead of his appearance at September’s SBC Summit Barcelona - Digital, Rank Group’s Director of Public Affairs David Williams spoke to Yogonet about the Grosvenor Casinos, Mecca and Enracha operator’s approach to player safety and how the industry can respond to political pressure on the issue of safer gambling.

What are the main safer / problem gambling issues faced by Rank? And do they differ much between land-based and online, and between casino and bingo?

The overarching requirement for any operator to make a meaningful improvement in safer gambling progress is to deliver a positive shift in colleague behaviour. This is most obvious in our venues with front-line staff in the vanguard of giving our customers a safe and enjoyable experience, but the cultural imperative to ensure every colleague in the business subscribes to the need for excellence in this space is huge, irrespective of platform. How we train our colleagues and how we manage customer interactions - on our digital platforms and in our venues - is critical to securing the right level of protection without introducing clunky and needless friction for the customer.

Did the UK Gambling Commission’s additional guidance on customer interaction during lockdown have much impact on the business? And is any of it worth continuing with?

The UKGC’s additional guidance must also be seen alongside the Ten Pledges provided and implemented by Betting & Gaming Council members, including Rank, who were keen to get on the front foot and demonstrate an elevated commitment to safer gambling as the unforeseen impacts of lockdown played out. Securing the correct balance between responding to the elevated challenges possibly faced by some customers during a pandemic whilst also ensuring operators are able to continue on their own roadmap of progress without being derailed by poorly-conceived mandates will always be important. Safer gambling is always evolving and, as operators, we welcome all measures that better protect those customers who need protection. By the same token, we need to resist and remove any unnecessary, untargeted friction that does little to benefit customers and serves only to increase the burden on operators and frustrate the vast majority of customers whose enjoyment of gambling may be compromised by clumsy barriers or interventions.

Problem gambling has caught the attention of politicians in the last few years and the likes of the Gambling Related Harm APPG and the Social Market Foundation have made a wide range of proposals (including stake limits for online slots, a total ban on gambling advertising and VIP schemes, a monthly deposit limit, and a single sign-on mechanism for all online operators). Do any of the recent suggestions really tackle the problem? And are there any you would like to see become law?

We welcome all constructive input to the ongoing discussion which seeks to offer better protection to those customers who experience gambling-related harm whilst ensuring operators are able to safely grow their well-regulated businesses with safer gambling at its core. Frustratingly, in some but not all cases, a desire to secure headlines at the expense of evidential analysis has led to a distortion of the discussion which, in real terms, will not protect those who need the most protection. Some of the most eye-catching proposals are unlikely to be a panacea in the way in which they have been presented, and will ultimately trigger sequences of events which could take those experiencing (or at risk of) gambling-related harm further away from the help they would get within the regulated system. Some recommendations - including the role of an Ombudsman, and securing appropriate levels of funding to support targeted RET services - are clearly sensible.

What can the betting and gaming industry do now to improve player safety, and in doing so, get ahead of calls for much tighter regulation?

The progress that the industry has made in the past year or two - irrespective of whether or not the progress has translated into public or media perception - has been significant. Tightening of regulation, where targeted and founded in evidence-based analysis, is not something the industry ought to resist. Beyond that, however, safer gambling must no longer be allowed to exist in a compliance-oriented silo. Operators must demonstrate a far more ambitious vision to embed safer gambling into the culture of our businesses by demonstrating faultless behaviour at every customer touchpoint. Rewarding excellence amongst colleagues and empowering customers to feel safe when they are engaging with us will rightly improve our chances of ensuring we are not subjected to misguided and poorly targeted regulatory creep.

Could technology have a greater role to play than regulation in improving player safety?

Data is indisputably king. Both in venues and across our digital platforms, the more high-quality data we can rely on to inform our safer gambling practices, interventions and systems, the better. However, it is only part of the story, and without the cultural desire from every single colleague to play their part in using data appropriately to provide a richer, safer customer experience, we’ll only get half way down the road. Blending the very best technological tools with the right mindset from colleagues who can use the technology will bring about more compelling improvements to the safer gambling piece than we might have imagined.

David Williams will be speaking in the Payments & Compliance Zone at SBC Summit Barcelona - Digital, the virtual edition of the global betting and gaming show. The event takes place on 8 - 11 September, and full details of the agenda, line-up of 200 expert speakers and the interactive exhibition are available from the official website. To join the 10,000 delegates from around the world, click here to register for free.

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