EPIC’s director of safer gambling, Dan Spencer, explains how EPIC’s presence continues to grow in the emerging US gambling market and why we make a point of using Problem Gambling Awareness Month to highlight issues that affect people in the States and the world over.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month has provided an elevated platform to explain the impact that EPIC Risk Management is having across the US, so as the month comes to a close, it’s an opportune chance to explain how our presence continues to grow in this ever-growing emerging gambling market and how we’re looking to lead the way in terms of player protection and minimizing gambling-related harm across the country.
We’ve been looking to raise buy-in across some large operators, multi-state operators, and we do that by using those with lived experience to come in and tell their stories.
This is an approach we’ve found to be successful the world over in new and emerging markets, and as the US market begins to mature and companies grow, the staff base is full of new starters that come in and might know very little about the industry to start with. As they start to learn about the industry, one key important thing that I think needs to be talked about is responsible gaming and the harm that can potentially be caused by gambling disorder, which as we know is a recognised mental health issue.
So, what we’re ensuring that we do during PGAM is exactly that – raising awareness around problem gambling.
We’ve had two major US operators commit to a number of sessions throughout Problem Gambling Awareness Month that will be open for not just their ‘responsible gaming’ teams, but also the wider business should they want to join. The sessions will consist of somebody who would consider themselves to be in recovery from gambling addiction coming and recounting that experience in raw and unfiltered long form.
This does a few things. One: it raises that awareness that we need. Two: it will talk about some of the signs to look out for. Three: it can detail the consequences, the strength, the importance and the severity of this illness. Four: it helps these operators that already want to make sure they’re avoiding harming people and it ensures buy-in across the whole organisation, so as they do grow with the maturing market, we can ensure that they do it in the right way, ethically and sustainably.
One of the things we have learned about gambling addiction is that it’s more about people and behaviour than it is about product and service, so as the gambling market changes – we’ve seen this the world over – you can learn from the emergence of igaming, which we don’t have here in the US yet, but may well be coming, and plan ahead. Traditionally, lived experience stories have often talked about betting in person, face to face, at a sports book rather than online, but the same principles apply. It’s still vulnerable people, often dealing with pain in their lives that they will turn into a behaviour like gambling in order to self-medicate in a way; it will be the same in the US. We can learn from people that have been harmed in the past to ensure that it doesn’t happen to people in the future.
This month we’ve been looking at four key themes throughout PGAM that organizations need to be aware of, and I think they are relevant to operators in the same way.
‘Regulatory compliance’ is a bare minimum. By its very definition we should be making decisions in our businesses to protect our customer base because we care about our customers. If we’re doing that – which touches upon another of our later topics in ‘Culture of Care, Welfare, Conscience’ – a by-product should be compliance, rather than the other way round. This isn’t about complying and then seeing how much commercial success we can have. It’s very much the case that compliance, player safety and customer service all go hand in hand with each other. If we’re doing the right thing from a humanistic point of view, we should be doing the right thing by compliance, and here in the States that is incredibly important where we have multi state jurisdictions, all with different levels of regulation. Ultimately, if we’re doing the right thing, we should be compliant with all of them.
Another theme was ‘Reputational Risk’. That goes without saying. We have a very competitive online sports betting market right now and we know that people’s decisions are based more and more around ethical values. I truly believe that the operator that does show care for their customer base protection and builds their brand in a sustainable and ethical way will be the ones that will be thriving in a few years from now.
We have also looked at ‘Adverse Effect on Performance’. We talked earlier about raising buy-in across the rest of the company. It’s very hard to do your job at any level if, when you go to bed at night, your conscience is playing havoc with the effect you’re having on the US population. We don’t want that, so in order for people to give their best performance at all levels across the business, we must all be pulling the right direction and be very comfortable with the level at which we’re doing that.
Finally, ‘Culture of Care, Welfare, Conscience’ probably speaks to the first three. Culture is incredibly important in online sports betting and again we’ve seen this all across Europe where certain operators have had a culture that’s ultimately ended up damaging their own staff base, because they have a culture of betting within the office and they’ve not managed that well, or they don’t have a gambling at work policy and so the culture of care doesn’t just fail to exist for the external population, but the internal one too.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons alongside the industry in more mature markets such as Europe and Australia, and we’ve really been there for the latter part of the journey across the last five years. Even now across Europe player safety is an entirely different landscape than it was five years ago, and largely that’s not been driven by regulation. To a point, regulation has helped smaller operators catch up, but we’re in a place in Europe now where the larger operators are innovating for the entire industry and others are falling behind it and trying to catch up. Largely that’s good, because with innovation comes better player protection and a more sustainable model built for the long term.
Across the last five years, we’ve been there on that journey. We’ve seen what does or doesn’t work, and now that we are partnered with the biggest names in the US, we can be there from a consultant’s role to ensure that the same mistakes are not made and we can fulfil the ambition of the USA being not only the largest but the safest market in the world.
Currently in the US market, we are providing education on an awareness and buy-in level but that is very much the start of things and it won’t be very long before one of one of the big operators will put down a real large commitment in terms of a ‘manifesto’ of what they will set out to do across the coming years for player safety, and they should be front runners, running out where regulation doesn’t currently exist and bringing their competition along for the ride for the greater good of a successful gaming industry. Let’s not forget that player safety and commercial success is not a balancing act, one leads to the other.
There still is a big gap between the level of commitment to player safety across the States compared to the rest of the world. From one standpoint, that is understandable, as we’re talking about a new market here, but I don’t think it’ll be very long before we see one of the large operators really make a stand on player safety.
Therefore, if you want to sell somebody ‘the why’ as to why EPIC can deliver that, it’s the fact we’ve got the boots on the ground and understand the US market thanks to experts with lived experience and years of connections, coupled with our global expertise that fuses together something quite niche that not many others can really attest to offering.
We’re authentic and we’ve got a team all across the US with a very diverse range of stories that we can learn from, and ultimately when you use EPIC – whether it be for training or consultation – what you get is a life experience that makes it very real for the audience. This isn’t theoretical learning, this isn’t advice of what we think might work, this is stuff that does work. I think that the industry has some extremely talented individuals within it all over the world, and a lot of that talent has been pulled in to the US market to help drive it along. If you want to balance that up by having the best talent in player protection, responsible gaming, or whatever term you want to use, then partnering with us fuses the best expertise of both worlds. We are very much leading this journey and we’re excited to be a part of it.
Concluding by looking broadly across the point of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, it’s probably the case that the people that read this story aren’t the ones that don’t need the awareness, but by and large, there is still a heavy stigma with gambling addiction, that ‘it isn’t real’, ‘it’s exaggerated’, ‘it only happens to stupid people’… this kind of thing.
In raising awareness, we’re trying to bust some of those myths and talk about gambling not as an inherently harmful product, but as a subject of addiction, so that when people do suffer with addiction, gambling is one of the things that they may turn to and it devastates lives in entire families. It takes lives in some instances. That is the reason for PGAM and why it’s so important is that we can open up the nationwide conversation on those facts.
Director of Safer Gambling, EPIC Risk Management