SGW: ‘Tis the season to play safely

Estimated read time 5 min read

As part of Safer Gambling Week, BetBlocker’s Duncan Garvie takes on a tone of reflection as he explores supporting industry colleagues and businesses  

Who could believe it? It’s already the latter end of 2023 and the year’s gone by in the blink of the eye. The festive break, when we take time to think about others, is just around the corner. But before we reach for the stockings and turkey, we have Safer Gambling Week.

If the festive season encourages us to think about others, this year I think that Safer Gambling Week should encourage us to think about ourselves. What do I mean by this?

Addiction within the industry

We spend a lot of time talking about how, for a subset of players, gambling can be problematic and what we should do about that. The problem hidden in plain sight is that gambling addiction is not just an external issue. There are many people working within the sector that are struggling with their own addiction issues, but for whom many of the ordinary support systems are unavailable. In fact, the levels of problems within the industry are far higher than average and far higher than we commonly acknowledge.

Why would support systems be unavailable to industry employees? Surely they have better knowledge and understanding of what is available than the average player? And no support services refuse to help industry employees? The answer is stigma.

As an industry employee, would you want to sign-up, for instance, to a national self-exclusion register, where you could be identified by your employer as having a problem? In the real world, this could have consequences for your current and future employment. Understandably, many people working in the industry are wary of engaging with any support that could flag their issue with their employer.

It’s critical that we both be vigilant for the signs of a problem within our teams and offer support that can be accessed anonymously. We need to start thinking about ourselves and protecting the people that we work with day-in and day-out.

Looking forwards not backwards

So much of what we all do in terms of responsible gambling is rooted in responding to a problem that has already occurred. When the crisis arises, we respond. And that’s the message that the majority of players have received. It’s easier to teach someone from scratch than it is to re-educate people after they’ve learned to do something the wrong way. We, collectively, have taught players that you don’t care about responsible gambling unless you have a problem.

We need to change this mindset. Would you get behind the wheel of a car drunk? Would you go rock climbing without a harness or helmet? Would you cut veg on a board you’d just used for raw chicken? There are so many activities in life where we default to safe practices. We don’t even think about it. We need to re-educate the public to see responsible gambling in this manner. It’s the click clunk of the seat belt before you drive the car. It’s the oven glove you put on before you grab the tray. It’s just what you do before you gamble.

We need to start thinking about how we talk about responsible gambling and how we communicate it to the public.

Supporting the supporters

This year has been brutally tough for the organisations that support those impacted by gambling addiction. The UK’s white paper into the Gambling Act 2005 review, while long expected and longer delayed, has thrown the previously stable RET system into chaos. The intentions of the new levy system are certainly positive, but the brutal reality is that the support systems in place to help many of the organisations that were working to mitigate the social harms caused seemed to be more of an afterthought than a priority.

The organisations in question are mostly charities. They run on budgets that most commercial organisations would consider entirely inadequate. When policy changes abruptly interrupt funding channels, there’s no cost cutting for many of these projects. It’s simply the end of the road. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen for multiple RET organisations this year.

Credit where credit is due – the GC’s System Stabilisation Fund has looked to offset this. And BetBlocker has to extend our heartfelt thanks to GambleAware – who are administering this fund – whose team have worked with us and listened to us when other agencies have left us feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable.

Their intervention is a big factor in BetBlocker having survived 2023 and something that I’m sure readers will understand is very important to me personally. But the support systems should have been in place before policy changes were announced and before organisations started to fail.

We know that there are many generous and supportive igaming businesses. Some of them are the other reason BetBlocker is still operation. Their generosity has literally saved our project. This last request is for all the industry. When the political systems fail or stumble, please fill the void and ensure that support services don’t disappear because the official structures viewed their funding as an afterthought. Help us through.

This Safer Gambling Week, let’s all think about ourselves a little more. About how we can look after our colleagues. About how we talk about safer gambling. And about supporting the services that support those impacted by gambling harms. Sometimes self-reflection is the most important thing we can do.

Duncan Garvie is the founder and one of the trustees for the charity BetBlocker. He has worked in the remote gambling industry for over a decade as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Official, managing disputes between consumers and online gambling operators


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