Tottenham Report: Wanted — More chief responsible gaming officers, please!

May 13, 2024 11:00 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
May 13, 2024 11:00 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

I’m not usually overly excited by new-hire stories, but the announcement late last month that Lori Kalani had been hired as chief responsible gaming officer at DraftKings caught my attention. 

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Kalani wasn’t a familiar name to me; she hasn’t held high-profile positions in gaming before. She’s a lawyer, albeit an accomplished one. However, the creation of this role at the top of the hierarchy in one of the world’s most prominent gaming companies (Kalani reports directly to DraftKings CEO Jason Robins) stood out as both breaking new ground and well overdue. 

It made me wonder why DraftKings was the first to do this. The UK and the rest of Europe have had decades to prioritise responsible gaming to this degree. Yet on the whole, responsible-gaming officers have been hired into director roles, reporting into legal or compliance functions. 

Kalani’s role gives new significance to responsible gaming. It makes a statement about what should and shouldn’t be tolerated and marks DraftKings out as a business in pursuit of brand recognition beyond its gambling peers, among the top entertainment companies in the world. 

Kalani’s own comment in the announcement of her appointment, no doubt carefully crafted by a media adviser, highlighted the position DraftKings intends to take among its entertainment peers. “I have long admired DraftKings’s impact as an entertainment and engagement platform that brings a community of gaming enthusiasts together,” she said. The sentiment is not that of a company trading on legacy gambling tropes.  

None of this is to say DraftKings will meet all those high expectations. We’ve seen many an operator on this side of the pond fall foul of inadequate player-protection measures. The appointment of one individual doesn’t immediately erase the chance of mistakes; ultimately, gambling has the potential to harm and it may not be possible to totally eradicate risk. But it does make a loud and clear statement about DraftKings’s efforts to be held accountable. There’s nowhere for Kalani to hide if they do fall short. 

So why hasn’t Europe already done this? Kindred, for example, has placed responsible gaming very high on its agenda for many years. Several years ago, it launched an effort to reach zero percent revenue from harmful gambling and since February 2021 has committed to report the metric on a quarterly basis. 

Kindred is yet to meet its goal. On the same day Kalani’s hire was announced, the operator reported that there had been a slight rise in revenue from high-risk players in the first quarter of 2024, compared to the final quarter of 2023, with 3.2% coming from that group. But the ambition is there and the transparency and accountability around it are central to achieving it. 

It may be, in the UK at least, that now that the gambling reforms from last year’s White Paper are finally being communicated and, ultimately, will be in force next year, responsible-gambling functions in the UK will evolve to meet the new regulatory requirements. Until now, after all, no one has really known what they would be contending with. 

After almost a half-decade of uncertainty around the White Paper, the latest sword of Damocles is the UK’s general election that looms this year. That too may deter compliance teams from making major changes, lest the goalposts move again.  

These aren’t good excuses for inaction, though. In an industry evolving at the rate that gaming is, there is no right time to take action on responsible gaming or any other environment, social and governance issue. Now is the time. The U.S. has looked to Europe for much of its technical know-how when launching its igaming industry, but on this one, we’d be well advised to take a leaf out of their book.