European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) Secretary General Maarten Haijer has argued that casino operators who take player protection seriously are the only ones with a future in the regulated industry.
Speaking as part of the Player Protection Symposium at SBC Barcelona Summit on Wednesday, Haijer said that while regulators used to focus on building viable markets, they are now operating under the weight of public opinion.
“I feel that whatever the percentage [of gambling harm] is, the focus of the operator should be safer-gambling policies and to deal with that percentage of people in a much more engaging and productive way. So I think we should let go of this idea that the percentage is relevant as an operator”, Haijer said. “Those are the operators who have a future in regulated markets.”
However, Nordic Gambling founder and Managing Director Morten Ronde argued that not even the regulators are entirely behind the concept of player protection. “You think that the most important arguments should be player protection”, he said. But he argued that what most worries regulators is not the risk of players being driven to unsafe unlicensed sites, but to untaxed unlicensed sites. “The winning argument is that if they’re gambling elsewhere, the state is losing revenue”, he said.
Asked where the most effective regulatory regimes could be found, Haijer said it was hard to say. “It’s in flux.” But he added, “A lot of political debate is not necessarily based on facts and figures, but on people, stories, and anecdotes”, leaving the industry little option but to respond to public sentiment.
He said that operators need to focus on player protection irrespective of the statistics on how many players are subject to harm. “If you don’t have that attitude, I think it’s extremely difficult to keep a license in most European jurisdictions”.
Entain head of regulatory affairs David Foster said he hoped that the regulatory “pendulum might swing back in the industry’s favour” at some point in the future.
“If you look at the alcohol industry, they’ve done a pretty good job. I think going back 10 or 15 years, they were in a relatively similar situation to us. And I think they did a really good job in tackling that. They’ve managed to win back a few allies in political circles as a result. So if you use that as a template, then there’s some cause for optimism there”, he said.
Likewise, Ronde said he could imagine a situation in which regulators had to reflect back on the effect this period of heightened regulation had on the industry, including consumers being pushed to the black market as a result of regulation making the licensed product less appealing.
“In five years, I think the market is going to be different all over Europe. There are some markets where they’ll push it too far. They’ll push viability over the cliff and they’ll have to restart”, he said.