Should adverts call out offshore operators?

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Tim Poole proposes an aggressive advertizing strategy to highlight the threats posed to players by illegal gaming operators. This article was originally published in the March/April edition of Gaming America.

It is almost needless to remind you all of the precarious time facing operators in the European gambling industry right now. The situation is such that one of our GI Friday Guest Columns – which is well worth a read – zones in on the regulatory and margin-related pressures 2019 brought UK operators alone.

In the US however, public sentiment is rather the reverse. Yet similar challenges remain when it comes to educating both politicians and the public. Some of my own conversations with those from the industry, both during and since ICE London, have also reflected on these challenges. But they have also focused on how little those outside the sector actually understand about these challenges. That is, in most cases, not the fault of others – it’s the fault of the gaming industry itself.

An internal/external divide

In a B2B sense, especially at Gaming America where our job is to provide analysis and information to the industry, we as a sector are well-versed in discussing the pressures which face us.

That’s particularly true when it comes to problem gambling and channelization, topics frequently addressed at trade shows and on conference agendas.

But ask a member of the public or a politician about channelization and will they even know what it means? Speak to someone working for a regulator, meanwhile, and see if they will be able to list all the current responsible gambling policies and software operators currently use or have in place.

Again, this situation is in a better current state in the US than in Europe – but the issue still remains. The likelihood of knowledge in both scenarios is very low, because the industry hasn’t quite figured out a way of highlighting what are actually two of its biggest strengths:

1. While problem gambling is an undeniable challenge for operators, the amount of R & D already conducted within the field has led to great strides towards helping players. Customer service, cooling-off periods and responsible gambling technology are at the forefront of the online industry – but you wouldn’t think it listening to the unfounded claims of anti-gambling critics. Land-based casinos have also come on leaps and bounds when it comes to responsible gambling and anti-money laundering measures.

2. Gambling will always be in high demand and regulated operators are a market’s only chance of protecting a customer who wants to gamble. Politicians and members of the public aren’t aware of the damage offshore operators cause and don’t realize excess regulation will push gamblers in the direction of these operators, creating an even bigger problem but hiding it from official figures.

Point one is well worth emphasizing amid growing speculation about online stake limits within the UK market, as well as an inevitable reticence from certain US states which have yet to legalize gambling. Restricting limits on fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK market was a complete different ball game for this precise reason. In the online sphere, a range of safeguards exist, which politicians calling for limitations are conveniently ignoring.

Emphasizing these safeguards in the right way at the right time – avoiding appearing defensive and argumentative as the industry has in the past – can help reduce the occurrence of the second point. Should online stake limits be introduced in the UK, the majority of online players will be welcomed with open arms by offshore operators who don’t have to enforce the same policies or standards; they, unopposed, can squeeze as much revenue out of customers as unfairly as they want, with none of this revenue being taxable, of course.

Make the message clear

While this is not currently a reality in the US, the UK market is far more mature and could potentially set a precedent for the future on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

So why not get the message out accordingly? The American Gaming Association is leading the way here but why don’t regulated operators do the same, taking the fight to black-market firms and educate the public at the same time? In other words, why don’t licensed operators call out offshore operators with their adverts?

Picture it: a TV ad is split into two frames. The left screen shows a delighted player joining a regulated bookmaker, where the phrase ‘Gamble Responsibly’ features prominently. We can call this operator ‘SafeBet’ for hypothetical purposes but DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, William Hill et al can all adopt this tactic, too.

At the same time on the right frame, an equally excited player joins ‘OffshoreBet,’ where there is no mention of gambling responsibly and phrases like ‘Win Big’ and ‘No Limits’ are plastered across the screen.

Flash to the next scene and the frame on the left shows all the available responsible gambling options – much like TV adverts in the UK already do – such as cooling-off periods and deposit limits. It can even show a deposit being turned down and a company representative talking the player through why on the phone.

Simultaneously, the right frame shows a multi-figure deposit being accepted and encouragement to bet even more, along with a clear disregard for player wellbeing. Subtle elements could be enforced, such as hypothetical advertizements from illegal or unlicensed companies.

Educate and inform

In the final scene, the player on the left is delighted after winning big, completing their withdrawal and being congratulated by the operator. OffshoreBet’s unfortunate victim however, has the smile wiped from their face when reading the following error message: "We’re sorry, there was an unexpected error and we cannot pay out your winnings." At the end, the advert could contain an operator logo alongside the message: 'Only gamble with those you can trust. Bet responsibly with licensed operators.'

It's a format that could easily be replicated online, on social media and even in print. These scenarios would naturally be tailored for the purposes of advertizing, as regulated operators naturally still need to attract new business – as any company would. But the message would be an honest and crucial one.

If channelization and problem gambling create such pressure for operators, and are of such importance to players, why not arm members of the public with the knowledge they need to help themselves?

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