Gambling with Reputation

September 17, 2017
Ed Coke

It’s been a tough few days for the UK betting industry recently. First, was fined a record £7.8 million for ‘outrageous’ failings around vulnerable and problem gamblers. Then, the Labour Party stated it would forbid betting firms to advertise on football shirts if it came to power, citing concerns over their exposure to under-18s and failure to tackle gambling addiction.

Add to this mix the long-running regulatory concerns around Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), offshore tax status and the challenging working environments faced by many retail staff, and it is clear the betting industry’s reputation is under attack from many different stakeholders at the same time.

Outside of its customer base, the industry appears to struggle to establish reputation capital among those who will directly shape its future. In addition, there is limited support among the general public, with betting companies often viewed with suspicion, and a perceived lack of responsible business behaviour.

Although the work of the Senet Group – an industry body dedicated to Responsible Gambling – is admirable, to external stakeholders, it looks like betting firms are struggling to balance shareholder return with building a culture of Corporate Responsibility.

So what can be done to breathe new life into the reputation of the industry? Firstly, there is a great opportunity for betting companies to go beyond adhering to the letter of the existing regulatory framework. Those that voluntarily aim for the highest compliance standards, or establish much closer collaboration with problem gambling charities could benefit in the same way that alcohol companies do in their support for anti-drink-driving or responsible drinking initiatives.

Second, a betting firm that proactively reduces the number of FOBTs or limits the payouts on these machines could really benefit reputationally. That may sound like turkeys voting for Christmas, but unless there is some concession in this area, the industry will continue to become much more tightly regulated than it is already. Much better to have half the loaf than no loaf at all.

Third, the industry needs a leader to emerge in tackling these issues and clearly communicate about them. Which CEOs are speaking out regarding Corporate Responsibility? Which companies are truly engendering a world-class employee experience to attract the best talent of tomorrow? And who is prepared to sacrifice short-term financial gain for greater longer-term sustainability in their business model?

My belief is the industry needs a much clearer understanding of its stakeholders’ expectations if it is to plot a successful route in improving its reputation, specifically in identifying which areas of Corporate Responsibility would yield the biggest dividends.

Unless this insight is created and acted on, my bet is the lack of focus on Corporate Responsibility will lead to more cases like the fine, and a continued poor reputation as a consequence.